Building Customer Loyalty

No matter what your small business, the hospitality industry has tips for all.
Author:
Publish date:

I recently spoke with a resort manager about a stunning Asian hotel I had stayed in. His first response to my appraisal of the beautiful surroundings and exotic culture was, "Oh yes, they have fantastic service there."

Hoteliers know that the key to their business lies in hospitality. It's too bad, says Jonathan Tisch, chairman and CEO of

Loews Hotels, that other industries don't take the same credo to heart.

As chairman of

The Travel Business Roundtable, a coalition of chief executives in travel and tourism, and

NYC & Company, New York City's official tourism marketing organization, Tisch shares his hospitality expertise in his new book,

Chocolates on the Pillow Aren't Enough: Reinventing the Customer Experience

, released February 2007, with co-writer Karl Weber.

Customer loyalty is declining in all industries, says Tisch, because of gross neglect. "Companies today are taking their customers for granted," he says.

Even worse, companies are thinking of their customer base as unintelligent, forgetting the power of resources such as the Internet to educate and inform.

"

Many companies have no appreciation for the knowledge base and sophistication of today's consumers," he says. "Thanks to the Internet and amount of information out there, the customer is highly educated and making tremendous choices in how they do business."

It's becoming increasingly vital for companies to break through all that mass-marketing noise and connect with customers in a real way, says Tisch, "so they know you really care about them."

Just as we shun (or don't tip) an unsmiling bellhop or inconsiderate room-service staff, we ignore the companies that ignore us. But the upside is that no matter what your industry, companies can turn customers into guests.

Personal Personnel

"Our industry is very much based on service, and the individuals who offer that service need to be recognized constantly for their contributions to our success," says Tisch, explaining how employee training which involves educating them about the goals of the company is vital in an industry where quality of service differentiates one company from another.

Loews, for instance, implemented a skills-training program called "Living Loews," which consists of a two-day training program that hones employee etiquette and hands-on selling, among other skills.

"No customer experience is more effective than extraordinary personal attention, and this is something that can always be refined," says Tisch, who emphasizes perfecting your company's "welcome," or first impression.

Incognito Transaction

Create an experience surrounding a transaction that will make the act of buying exciting, says Tisch.

According to Tisch,

Build-A-Bear

(BBW) - Get Report

nailed this concept. (Just look at its child-friendly

Web site.) "

A child can give birth to a bear that is their very own," says Tisch. "They are taking ... a transaction and, for a young person, turning it into an experience."

"The entire 'birthing' process is cleverly designed to fascinate children, entertain their parents and produce lumps in the throats of dotting grandparents," Tisch adds.

That Something Special

In an impersonal world, people want to feel unique and exceptional. Family-owned fast-food chain

In-N-Out Burger knows that nothing says special and exclusive better than a shared secret.

In his book, Tisch explains how the chain created a menu of reinvented food items, mostly brought about by customer word of mouth.

At an In-N-Out, only those in the know can order a "pepperbeer", a Dr. Pepper and root beer mix, or a "protein style," a burger wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun. Both are not included in the official store menu.

"

Companies need to find ways to ensure that the consumer can feel special and like an individual," says Tisch. "That's what we all want in our lives."

Keep in Touch

How many times have you navigated some company's phone-system hierarchy, longing for just one human voice? Tisch says lack of human contact for a consumer usually turns into negative impressions of the company.

An 800-number or a Web site should always ensure that "touch points," avenues that allow the consumer to make contact with the company, are maintained, says Tisch, but "senior management should often visit touch points to make sure they are taking the consumer into account."

A good homepage should immediately describe the products, services and offerings of a company. "Since we live in this post-9/11 world, safety, security and transparency are so important," says Tisch. "If

a company's Web site can show the ethos of a company, the product and what they stand for, a consumer will feel better about doing business with the company."

Companies large and small can take Tisch's ideas to heart. "In the past few weeks I have heard from CEOs of multinational corporations who found the ideas interesting

as well as individuals who run small mom-and-pop organizations," Tisch says.

Even if your company isn't in the lodging business, you can still turn customers into loyal guests by always communicating appreciation.

TheStreet.com has a revenue-sharing relationship with Amazon.com under which it receives a portion of the revenue from Amazon purchases by customers directed there from TheStreet.com.