Change the conversation about your brand through great service

Your brand is no longer defined by your marketing strategy. Your messaging and market position are only reflective of the words you choose to describe your brand. And while knowing who you are and what you want your organization to be is a necessary first step, your market message today is truly defined by your customers. Actually, this was always the case; it's simply that prior to social media and travel tools like Trip Advisor, we were lucky enough to have more control and influence over public opinion.

In the hospitality business, our customers talk. This is not news, and yet the time bomb is ticking faster than ever given how loud their voices are in today's consumer driven market. Denial will hurt those organizations who don't get service right every time.

According to a recently published independent PhoCusWright study commissioned by Trip Advisor, there are a few stats worth paying attention to:
•    77 percent of guests usually or always reference Trip Advisor reviews before selecting a hotel.
•    80 percent of respondents read at least 6-12 reviews before making their decision.
•    When asked about traveler submitted photos, 73 percent of respondents said they look at these as they help them make choices.

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We all know the power of the conversations happening on Trip Advisor and other social media outlets that talk about what we offer and how we deliver the experience—the real question is what you do with this information. Firms like Revinate and other harvesters of consumer feedback that capture reviews and social media commentary are only as helpful as what you do with the knowledge they provide. Knowing what your customers think doesn't change anything. The real focus has to be on how you respond to them: what you change to improve their experience and exceed their expectations.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could stop spending time doing damage control over consumer reviews, and start having tools like Trip Advisor increase your conversion rates? Smart hotels work feverishly to contact each customer that engages with them, thanking them for good reviews, as well as begging for forgiveness over bad ones. And yet, these properties may still hear the same feedback a month later. Where is the gap? The gap is in what matters most: correcting root problems rather than the negative symptoms they cause.

Why Your Service Culture Matters
Service is a culture. Training is a critical tool to reinforce your culture, yet at its core, your service is a reflection of your leadership's effectiveness (or lack thereof). Leaders must be proactive when it comes to correcting service problems, not reactive. Leaders must work with their teams to help them effectively address customer dissatisfaction. They must also develop and implement new processes, approaches, and learning based on the service problem that caused the dissatisfaction in the first place so that the problem does not recur. Resolving service problems—not just responding to them—means more customer satisfaction.

The key to instigating service improvement—AKA change—is starting with the right people. We all say we know that people make or break service, and yet I am constantly astonished when leaders value technical skills or seniority over people skills. Service is about connection; you need people who like people. More than that, you need people who are engaged and care about their work. People buy from people they like. Who cares if someone has mastered your computer software or been with the company for 100 years? If they can't deliver a great service experience, you'll keep seeing the same negative reviews.

Lead Your People to Provide Outstanding Service
As a leader, you set the example and the tempo around how your people treat your customers. Those who do not follow your lead and commitment to outstanding service need to be coached for improvement. If they don't improve, they need to leave the building. You can't afford bad service. When you allow people who get in the way of good service to stay, it sends a message that the behavior is acceptable. When you accept bad service, you accept that you will not be a market leader.

As the leader of a marketing and training company, I can tell you one thing for sure. It doesn't matter how fabulous your branding is or how much training you provide. What matters is how your people live your service culture every day. Without the right people (from the line to the leaders) you will never be able to serve your customers well. You will lose more and more of the 80% of customers who care deeply about the service experience. Take a look at Trip Advisor, and you will see that many hotels don't know what to do to change their service experience, or they just don't care. They are losing customers and money. It's time to be proactive around service, and it starts with you.

What Can You Do?
Here are 10 simple focus areas for growing your service culture and increasing market share today:

1.    Step back and look at your leaders. Are they service-oriented and engaging? If not, consider this the most important service gap you have.
2.    Can your people speak to your service mission in five words or less? If not, create one, post it, and speak to it every day. What you focus on comes true.
3.    What does your onboarding of a new employee feel like? There is only one chance to make a strong 1st impression, and your onboarding approach tells employees what matters most to you. Understanding the foundations of your service delivery approach is vital to your people being able to deliver effectively the 1st time.
4.    Do your employees know that how they treat customers is the most important part of their job, regardless of the job's function? Make service delivery a part of every job description.
5.    Service starts as a culture. People make the culture come alive through engagement and learning how to consistently deliver a specific service experience. Consistency requires reinforcement. If you do not have a formal service training program that is refreshed and reinforced annually, get one fast.
6.    Do you make sure every guest is highly satisfied before they leave your building? Compared to merely satisfied customers, people who are highly satisfied with their service are 6 times more likely to buy again. Creating a superior service experience significantly impacts guest loyalty.
7.    Service recovery before departure is essential for more than guest loyalty. It also minimizes the potential impact of a bad review. According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, a dissatisfied customer will tell between 9-15 people about their negative experience, with 13% telling more than 20. That was before Trip Advisor, where one negative review has the potential to reach thousands of people. Positive experiences are shared half as often. Focus on solving problems before they get bigger.
8.    Reward what matters. Rewards and recognition are the simplest and most economical way to keep your training alive and your people delivering the service you want.
9.    Leadership is a results game. Post results. People notice!
10.    Be fanatical about your service expectations and proactive with your guests' feedback. It will save you time and money. Never let up on what will truly define your brand—your service!

Study after study, including our own at Aspire, have proven that REVPAR and profitability have a direct correlation to your service effectiveness. If you think service training is expensive, take a look at the cost of a loud, unhappy guest. Choose to focus on what matters most today. Choose people who are committed to service, and more customers will commit to your brand.

Renie Cavallari is the CEO and Chief Instigating Officer of Aspire, an international marketing, training, and leadership development company that ignites change to improve financial performance. If you aspire to disrupt the status quo and improve profitability, reach out to Renie at [email protected].

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