How Are You Making Your Guests Feel?

Do you have a destination, an attraction or an experience that calls your name? You know, “Phil, come back! Coma and enjoy all those good feelings that you had when you were last here.”

Which places do that to you? How many do you have? One? Three? Five?

Here’s one of mine: the Gulf Coast of Alabama, which includes Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. To me, it is my beach, but I live 11 hours away in St. Louis.

The feelings I get when my beach calls my name are peace, warmth, relaxation, familiarity and fun – at my beach there’s always the chance to rev it up when I want to. The front-line folds at my beach are always warm without even trying, it seems. I can taste the Shaka-Shaka shrimp at The Hangout, and that big, red rum drink at Bahama Bob’s little beach bar, and Im wondering if the FloraBama has gotten any rowdier since the last time I was there. Every time I visit that roadhouse I want a tattoo. At my beach, I can find an affordable condo with a kitchen and multiple beds, and the Tanger Outlet offers great shopping. My beach is a good value, which makes me feel good for choosing it.

What bubbles up in you when your favorite travel experience calls your name? What feelings do you think your destination, product or service invokes in your guests?

Welcome to the Experience Economy, where the only thing that matters is how good you make people feel about themselves. They want to feel good that they chose to spend their money and their time with you. Yep, it’s all about emotions. What I am talking about is at the core of what is driving the economy at this moment.

The Experience Economy differs from the Service Economy we had from the 1970’s through the 1990’s by the fact that satisfaction is not the name of the game anymore. Let’s face it: if you are not satisfying people, you are simply not around anymore. Now success is based on your ability to exceed guest expectations, so they feel good about the decisions they have made.

Since the recession began, consumers are placing a more equal value on their time and their money. The pressure for you to deliver exactly – or even more of – what you have promised has been elevated.

In the past three years have you asked your guests why they value you? If not, you simply don’t know. How can you exceed expectations if you don’t know what they are?

In the last three years I have interviewed more than 75 tourism organizations who are having great success despite recessionary times. Whether they are a DMO, an attraction or a mom-and-pop restaurant, they all have discovered these new rules to be true.

Rule #1

Transparency is the key. Be who you are.
Your brand, whether you are an attraction, tour operator or DMO, is making promises. Brand promises need to include those emotional connections that make people feel good that they chose you. In our current recessionary economy, if your brand promise is not kept, you’re in trouble. In other words, if you are saying that you are one thing and the guests find another to be true, you’re toast!

Do this! Discover what you are valued for and tell people that. Let them know that it came from them.

Rule #2

Loyalty is gained by routinely exceeding expectations.
Your great products and services are the price of your admission to the Experience Economy, but if these products and services aren’t meeting your customers’ needs and expectations, you will no longer be competitive.

Do this! Have a dialogue with customers to discover their new expectations.

Rule #3

Sacrifice is the enemy to loyalty.
Do customers have to muddle through some less-than-perfect experiences to get what they came for? If they have to put up with anything to get what they expected, they are experiencing sacrifice, which is the enemy to exceeding expectations. Sacrifice can be any thing from enduring two less interesting stops on an itinerary in order to have the experience for which they came on the tour to not finding enough variety at a buffet. sacrifice can be trying to ignore a lackluster service person or having to wait in long lines. But the worst kind of sacrifice is over promising and under delivering.

Do this! Identify areas of sacrifice and work on eliminating them.

Rule #4

Enrich the guest experience by echoing your destination’s brand messages.
A hospitality community that is educated about its DMO’s brand can enrich the guest experience at every attraction within that community I call it brand awareness training. It’s about getting the community on the same page and raising the bar at the same time.
Business Case:

Jack Ferguson, president of the philadelphia CVB wanted to educate its 56,000-member hospitality community about the Completely Philadelphia brand and get everyone on the same page with upgraded skills. How do you connect iwth 56,000 people working three shifts for 900 employers and make if affordable?

Here’s how. Danielle Cohn, vice president of marketing and communications for the Philadelphia CVB, and I developed a series of online video courses complete with testing and a completion certificate. The customized courses are eight to 10 minutes long and can be accessed by anyone who can get to the Internet via computer, tablet or smartphone. A Philly cabbie can actually take a course and be tested on his phone while waiting at the airport. An educated front-line tourism employee can execute tasks and exude an attitude that fulfills the brand’s promises more clearly. An educated front-line employee understands how his or her performance enriches the community.

Do this! Educate the front-line service people about what your community’s brand promises are so they can ensure the promises are kept.

Rule #5

Together we are stronger.
Work together. Members of your tourism community are your partners. Some DMOs who once thought they were rivals are now successful partners in regional efforts. Attractions ar partnering with tour operators and neighboring businesses in new ways and engaging the communities they live in as well.

In the Experience Economy, the search is on for experiences that will evoke those emotions that make me feel good. Blogs will be checked, online reviews will be read, research will be done and judgements will be made before decisions are made. What was once good enough might no longer be, because another experience or destination may have made adjustments that will meet my new needs even better. This is the way of the future.

Speaking of the future, we’re making plans to go to the beach in June and bring our brand-new first grandchild, Rylan Michelle. Guess that makes me a multi-generational boomer. Maybe I’ll get that tattoo this time.