Building Great Memories – WOW!
By Andrew Lo
I still remember when Steve Jobs presented the first iPhone in January 2007. It was a WOW moment so creatively packaged that the audience was left mesmerized. When was the last time you experienced a WOW moment? Was it when you received that offer to join that company you’d been dying to work for? Perhaps when your friends surprised you with a huge birthday cake? Or when you got upgraded to first class from coach?
Every day, we have a variety of different ways to deliver WOW moments to our guests. These WOW moments do not have to be grandiose nor do they have to put a hole in the monthly P&L. What these moments have to be, however, are genuine and from the heart. Internationally acclaimed business coaches B. Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore have argued that we are in a new age of competition called the Experience Economy. In a Harvard Business School Press book of the same name, they show how businesses should embrace theatre as an operating model to stage unique experiences. In a world where all brands seem to be alike, it is the experiences that keep customers coming back. They wrote, “Most parents don’t take their kids to Walt Disney World just for the event itself, but rather to make the shared experience part of the everyday family conversation for months, and even years, afterward.” Chances are pretty good that ol’ Walt would probably agree.
Exceeding expectations is not a new concept. Guests have always been looking for memorable experiences, but those desires are even more magnified today. Customers yearn for those personalized and unscripted interactions. If you can WOW each guest that passes through your doors just once and have them tell one other person about their remarkable experience, you’re already well on your way to the party. These days, with TripAdvisor and social media, telling one person is akin to telling 10,000.
Life is full of surprises
When executed well, surprising a guest can actually be very effective. This doesn’t mean you have to give out free rooms or run a lottery. Simply anticipating needs is more than sufficient. A guest staying at the Four Seasons Silicon Valley at East Palo Alto once tweeted prior to arrival about how much he was looking forward to using the spa after his long journey. To his surprise, the hotel replied to his tweet fairly quickly and asked if they could make reservations. A second tweet the next morning about how much he loved the bathroom led to a handwritten note and a bottle of bath salts to enjoy the bathtub experience. He was eventually blown away when, on his departure, the lady responding to his tweets came to wish him a safe journey.
To another guest, this would have been par for the course, but for this one, it was a true surprise. You’d be amazed how many weary travelers can be WOWed just because someone was paying attention. Train your associates to listen without being intrusive. If a guest mentions she is celebrating her mother’s birthday, is feeling ill, or has a lunch booking at 12, she’s just revealed important information about herself. Even in difficult times, you just might be able to win a lifelong customer by turning a bad situation into a positive lasting memory. The key is to listen, react, and create an experience that is worth sharing about.
Empower your employees to go the extra mile
The Ritz-Carlton group allows each employee to use up to two thousand dollars on service recovery without asking for a manager, per incident, not per year. The idea behind this initiative is that associates are encouraged to push boundaries and be creative in order to exceed expectations. This empowerment revolves around the aspiration and desire to provide genuine hospitality. However, finding, training, investing in, and retaining the right people who are able to provide this level of service is crucial.
On a business trip to Chicago, housekeeping at the Hotel Palomar (by Kimpton) had thrown away the paper that I used to stuff my dress shoes to slow creasing. A little bothered, I made a quick call to guest services and apologies were extended. Upon return to my room after dinner, there was a pair of new shoe trees sitting next to my shoes with an apology note from the hotel. Was it unexpected? Yes. How much did it cost the hotel? Ten dollars. Was it a memorable moment? Check. Sometimes, it helps to think of customers as your own guests staying at your home. If you’d go above and beyond to ensure your relatives’ stay was as smooth and flawless as possible (i.e WOWing your house guests), it might actually be beneficial to do so in the workplace as well.
It’s the little things that count
This is not a cliché. I heard a great story the other day about a family who stayed at The Upper House (by Swire) in Admiralty, Hong Kong. A 3-year old boy in the group apparently kept talking about Captain America during the check-in process. At the end of their stay, guest services sent a Captain America action figure to their room with a card saying “Be strong, just like your favorite Captain America”. All it took is for that colleague on check-in to listen. Locking in future revenue? Probably. Note that it wasn’t Swire that listened to the 3-year old. People don’t talk to brands. People talk to people. Encouraging and training your associates to spend an extra two minutes getting to know the customer can do wonders for the overall guest experience.
Some might argue that the act of gifting an action figure to a young child is trivial and one-off. However, an accumulated number of “little things” delivered often and consistently, will surely leave a lifelong impression. Each WOW moment is a magical experience in which the bond between customer and company is forged and strengthened, hopefully also contributing a boost to the return customer rate.
Never forget the internal guests
Writer Tom Peters once tweeted, “If you want to WOW your customers, you must first WOW the people who WOW the customers”. As a company in the business of creating experiences, we need to make sure that our associates who are expected to deliver those experiences are being WOWed as well by the company they’re working for. It doesn’t take a lot of effort. Take them to drinks periodically. Ask them about their career. Learn the names of their kids. Write them a handwritten note. Spread the good cheer.
Show your associates that you appreciate work-life balance. One of my close friends works at a digital marketing agency, where he gets 12 vacation days each year, including a day off each on his birthday and work anniversary. In Hong Kong, ten vacation days annually is considered normal. All things considered, an extra two days off per year will not drastically impact office productivity, and if in turn you get happier, more efficient employees, that’s a return on investment in itself.
Above all, companies need to trust and invest in the recruitment process, recognize and reward associates to make them stay, then promote and constantly train them. Your hotel might be outfitted with the most lavish furnishings, but if you don’t have the right people to create those WOW moments, it’s a losing proposition.
Treat others how you would wish to be treated
Any brand, from affordable to luxury, and any one, from the general manager to the shift engineer, can create WOW moments. Lauded New York restaurateur Danny Meyer once said “You get more when you give more.” I’m willing to bet that if we all went the extra mile for our customers and colleagues, we’d create ravings fans on both sides of the fence. WOW moments are not hard to create. The challenge is finding and keeping the right people to deliver that experience and making WOW an integral part of your company’s culture.
How will you WOW your external and internal guests today?
- 1. Strategic Horizons, “Joe Pine,”http://www.strategichorizons.com/joePine.html
- 2. B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore, The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage, (Cambridge: Harvard Business Press, 1999), 13