I think great customer experiences can leave a deeper impression in travelers than locals. Like anyone, locals expect a good experience, but if a local experiences poor customer service at one store, he will either find another store or go somewhere else to get a similar product. He is willing to explore.
A traveler is a little different. Because the traveler isn't familiar with the location he is visiting, every experience is "new," and by nature of being a traveler, he is exploring. The traveler is searching for what is unique to that city, but he is also searching for the familiar feelings of comfort, being welcomed, and the security of "home." Anything that reminds him of feeling at "home" will help him adopt the city he is visiting as a "home away from home." It could be as simple as someone remembering his name, making coffee similar to a coffeehouse he visits daily, helping him find a chopped salad like he is used to eating every day. The hospitality industry has a tough job.
I have 3 stories to share that illustrate this:
- The good - loyalty built from a conceirge's memory
- The bad - training opportunity to be more helpful to customers
- The hungry - this is another loyalty story and I didn't end up hungry, but don't you love the alliteration!
I stay at the Hyatt Regency Boston every time I come to Boston. It just seems to work out that way, and I kinda like this hotel. I think part of the charm is its brutalist architecture. Believe it or not, I hold a soft spot for that design style. So much potential, even though the interiors aren't particularly user friendly - lots of split-levels, lots of indirect routes to get around, and an excess of elevators.
I remember when it was the Swissotel next to the Lafayette Mall. The mall had an interesting layout - it was circular inside, almost like the touring experience of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The challenge of the mall was that it was so dark; however, in the late-80s and early-90s, dark was the trend. I personally liked it, but then again, I like brutalist architecture.
The hotel's location is incredibly central to everything, and since Boston has been cleaning up the theater district (maybe gentrification is a better way to phrase it), it has become fairly safe to visit.
What surprised me this year at the Hyatt is how many people remembered me in general - and how many people remembered that I was there Christmas-time last year. I felt so welcome! And yes, it has influenced me to come back to the Hyatt Boston next year.
I have noticed people in the lobby wearing slippers and now I understand why. I feel like I'm in less of a hotel and more of a home. Sure, I have a bedroom separate from others, but the staff recognizes me as belonging here and I feel like I'm part of the hotel. It makes me feel like I belong in Boston.
Even after a year away, I feel like I'm part of the Hyatt Regency Boston family.
The other day I had to return my rental car. Usually, I like to fill it up before returning it because I think $10/gallon for gas is ridiculous when it only costs about $3/gallon and I could save $30-40 just by returning the rental with a full gas tank.
I tried to find gas stations near me the night before I returned the car on Yelp, but it just wasn't helpful with figuring out what's really nearby and locations, so I figured I'd ask the concierge (see The good section).
This particular morning, I was so focused on returning the car, I forgot to visit the concierge and went straight to the car. At the car, I figured I'd ask the valet instead. I assumed that because he deals with cars all day, he'd probably know what's around. My mistake was assuming anything.
I drove out of the garage and asked the valet where a gas station was. His response was to tell me to use my phone to find the closest one.
Seriously. He told me to use Siri to find a gas station nearby.
How is it helpful to tell a customer to use his phone?
I told the valet that yes, I did use my phone last night to find a gas station and it wasn't helpful and I was wondering if he could help me. After some nervous giggles, he admitted he didn't know where there was a gas station, and I just drove away. He suggested one location, but admitted he wasn't sure if a gas station was really there. So there is no suspense - there wasn't one there.
After driving around for 10 minutes, I got annoyed and pulled up to the car port of the Intercontinental Hotel. Usually, staff is well trained at the Intercontinental and typically helpful. A valet reluctantly came out and I asked him where I could find a gas station. He suggested I go to one in Charlestown.
If I am told to use my phone to solve my own problems, how is that like visiting someone's home (the hotel)? I didn't feel like I was asking a trusted source to help me - I was told to solve my problem myself (and my asking for help showed I couldn't solve the problem myself to begin with). How is that providing comfort to the traveler? Or making him feel welcome? Or even friendly? I mean, would you tell a friend that?
If I could give advice, here's what I'd suggest:
Hyatt: Most of your staff is well-trained in this area. What happened? I was unpleasantly surprised that one of your employees would shrug and tell me to use my cell phone. I think he needs training.
Boston gas stations: There are great opportunities to market yourselves better. Get to know some of the valets and concierge desks - people like me who want to know where to fill'er-up before returning a rental. We want to buy your gas! We just don't know where to find you.
There is a new cafe nearby the Hyatt Regency Cambridge, which is a great alternative to Starbucks - Cafe Nero. The coffee tastes awesome - no burned flavor - and the treats are made each day (not from a sealed package as Starbucks now offers).
A few days ago, I went to Cafe Nero to get breakfast. It was morning and I was hungry, but there was someone ahead of me in line requiring complicated coffees and heated treats (complicated coffee to me means anything that needs milk or foam). I only needed 2 iced coffees and a muffin - pretty quick and easy. I decided I would zone out and listen to the music on my iPhone while waiting.
I didn't notice that another barista came by to take orders. As I was staring at the floor, the guy behind me gladly took my place in line. After he paid, the barista asked me what I ordered; I told her I didn't. She apologized for skipping me in line and offered me a free order of coffee and pastries because of the inconvenience.
Yes - she offered me an entire order for free because I was next and she should have helped me next.
I was so surprised that someone would make such a gracious offer for an oversight that could happen to anyone. It told me that Cafe Nero values not just its pastries and coffee, but the experience that customers have in its store. I was very pleased that a business would care so much about my experience in line.
I couldn't accept the offer - it was my fault for zoning out and missing my place in line. I should have told the guy that I was next and pushed my way forward rather than staring at the floor.
The gesture won my loyalty. I now go there multiple times per day for meals and treats, and I can't wait to come back to Boston and experience the hospitality of the store. I felt welcome and that they would go above and beyond what was needed to make me feel at home and welcomed.
When I travel, I want to experience a new location, but I want to feel like I'm welcomed and experience some of the feeling I get from being home. When someone in a hotel or restaurant acknowledges me and treats me as if I belong in the city, I feel comfort and want to be more active in my surroundings - going to events and participating in the city. Great customer experiences are so important for cities for that reason - locals and tourists feel more welcome and at home. And feeling welcomed and home builds community. And community creates a better customer experience for locals and travelers - it's all circular.