How to Create an Evaluation Program from an Outsider's Point of View

By John Ely Senior Vice President of Marketing, Signature Worldwide | December 18, 2009

I've often been asked about the value of external evaluation programs, especially in the world of customer service and sales. I believe there's no better way to truly understand your customer's experience than to pretend to be one. There are many reasons why, so let me share them in the following story.

Back in the early '90s, I was working for a communications company and we had recently spent a lot of money trying to improve our perception of customer service. As you know, communications (phone) companies were notoriously lacking in these skills, especially in the previous decade. The majority of the money and energy was spent on a customer tracking or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. At the time, it seemed like the panacea for all of our customer service ills, but of course it was not.

The system came with a lot of bells and whistles and promised to finally integrate all of our existing systems while also managing the customer experience from beginning to end. While it did that from a technology standpoint, we didn't account for the human factor. The greatest customer relationship software in the world is useless unless everyone using it understands the way it works and its relation to the important fundamentals of customer service.

As marketing manager, what I found was that our customers were still not having a good experience with us, and that customer service had actually deteriorated after installing the system. Management wasn't necessarily interested to hear that the multi-million dollar investment in customer service had actually worsened our reputation. But our marketing team couldn't stop discussing our customer service index scores (from surveys) and the fact that they were still declining!

"What do we do now?" was the question asked by a regional vice president. My suggestion was that we install a mystery shopping system to experience exactly what our customers were experiencing. I felt this was the only way to truly identify where and how we were falling short. We all had heard of these types of services, but his view (like most executives with this company) was of retail mystery shoppers and had trouble understanding the value to our firm (even though we did operate some retail outlets). We finally got the OK and began working with a company to map out the program. We started by identifying all customer touchpoints.

In this assessment process, we looked at every way a customer could interact with our company. To my amazement, we had hundreds of touchpoints and many thousands of interactions every day. Each one presented an opportunity to either demonstrate the best of our company or to fall short of customer expectations. We developed customer scenarios for each type of touchpoint, created shopper reporting tools, and began the mystery shopping process.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.