Park Resorts Innovates

Some times a totally different approach to a problem delivers a winning solution.

Guests enjoy clean accommodation in Caravans at Park Resorts Lower Hyde on Isle of Wight
Guests enjoy clean accommodation in Caravans at Park Resorts Lower Hyde on Isle of Wight off the coast of Britain.

In the hospitality industry one of the major challenges is maintaining reasonable standards with lower skilled jobs.  In food service, bussers, and dishwashers and in lodging, housekeeping staff are in this category.  Poor service delivery can have a negative effect on customer experience.  We’ve all checked into hotel rooms that we not up to our standards.  Good housekeeping is subjective but the guest’s reaction is all important.

When a guest gives a review that says “Go and sleep on the subway, it’s cleaner” or “A jail cell would have been better than the room we stayed in.” or “Avoid this crack den.” or “NASTY!!” the hotel has clearly missed the mark.  These are Tripadvisor reviews for Hotel Carter in New York.  This property made the review site’s list of dirtiest hotels in America in 2007.  They seem to be steadfastly holding on to this standard.  If you are morbidly curious check it out.  There are 2,787 reviews and 35% the guests rated the hotel “Terrible.”  Click on “Terrible” to filter out the “Average” and “Poor” reviews, and marvel.

Typically, housekeeping jobs are some of the lowest paid positions in hospitality.  For a property that is making a genuine effort it is a challenge to recruit and train people for these positions when one needs to have rooms prepared to a desired standard and in a timely fashion.  For a manager, turnover is an additional challenge.  With high turnover, quality and consistency are difficult to maintain.

One organization that found a solution is Park Resorts in the UK which features “caravan holiday parks.”  The accommodation is in caravans which in North America, would be called a mobile or manufactured home.  They appear to be similar to the cabins at Fort Wilderness at Walt Disney World in Florida.

I first became aware of the company when they were featured on the British version of Undercover Boss.  Andy Edge, the Marketing Director went undercover.  Andy worked in various position at different locations.  Park Resorts have three Holiday Parks on the Isle of Wight, a small island off the coast of the UK.   At Lower Hyde on the Isle of Wight, Andy worked in housekeeping.  The manager of housekeeping at this site was Fiona Page.   Fiona’s approach was to hire the best housekeeping staff she could find and pay them a higher wage.  Rather than having supervisors inspect every room, the number of supervisors was reduced with the understanding that the housekeeping staff were expected to manage themselves and deliver at a high level.

Andy tells me that “we did indeed roll out the model across all our holiday
parks in 2010.  The brand was all about “Creating Amazing Memories” and clearly accommodation cleanliness was key to that.”

Look for different ways to solve challenges in your company.  If the standard solutions done harder or faster aren’t delivering breakthroughs, look for ways to break the old model and construct a new solution.

Disney Does it Well

Disney street cleaners, customer service specialists.

Most people that go to a Disney theme park have a good, sometimes great story to tell.  In reading the book “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions” by Guy Kawasaki, I read a personal story in which the individual tells of a situation in which a Disney employee “enchanted him for life.”  This prompted me to tell my little story from our very first trip to Disneyland.  First, a little background.  Our daughter had been wearing braces.  The Orthodontist said she could have them off in time for the trip but had to promise to wear her retainer for two hours every day.

The big wow came about from a moment of panic.  It was late in the day.  As many families did, we grabbed a spot on the curb, to have a good spot for the “Main Street Electrical Parade.”  We had dinner, which was probably hot dogs and drinks.  Our daughter was dropping her retainer into the ice at the bottom of her mostly empty drink cup, getting it cold and putting it into her mouth.  Street cleaners go up and down the street while the pre-parade show is happening.  During they day they have brooms and small covered dust pans.  Prior to the parade they have a garbage can on wheels.  Near the beginning of the parade we gathered up all of our garbage and deposited it in one of these trash containers and off it went.

Of course you know where this is going.  When we realize what has happened, the street cleaner is out of sight.  My daughter and I race down the street to catch him.  We meet a street cleaner but he’s not the right one.  He says there is another just down the street and goes with us to catch him.  Hurrah, it’s the one that took our trash.

I’m ready to start digging through the trash barrel right there on the street.  The two fellows calmly say no we’ll go “back stage.”  They take us into a staff only area and they go through the garbage and find the drink cup.

I have since learned that the strteet cleaners in Disney’s theme parks are asked more questions than any other cast member.  For this reason they get a great deal of training on dealing with guests.  One told me that he has met people from all over the world that he has helped, and he sometimes gets to visit them when he travels.  Disney is a company that is a benchmark in terms of customer service.  People work for Disney just to learn everything they can about how it’s done.  You can of now go to the Disney Institute or just read their book “Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service.”

Lessons from Pike Place Fish Market

The famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle.

The Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, WA is famous for WOWing people.  This is the fish market that is famous for throwing fish.  It’s a little bit of theatre and a must do on most Seattle visitors’ itineraries.  This is a company worth emulating and it is easy to learn from John Yokoyama’s great company.  He and long time business coach Jim Bergquist have created a business training division.  There is a training video and a book both called simply “Fish.”  The two men also speak to businesses large and small and at industry conferences.

There are four simple lessons:  1. Play, have fun in your job, it makes a difference for you and for those around you.  2. Be There, be present, be engaged.  3. Choose Your Attitude, you choose what your mood will be, it’s no one’s responsibility but yours.  4. Make Their Day, staff at the fish market entertain and engage the customers.  They take them behind the counter and have them try to catch a fish.  It’s an experience, and many a visitor walks away having had a fishmonger make their day.

Google, Pike Place Fish Market images.  People catching flying fish, kissing fish, and smiling.  Do you have those kinds of smiles in your business?  What can you do this week that will make a difference?

Did You Miss an Opportunity to WOW

I will start with what I consider a missed opportunity.  A young woman, let’s call her Stephanie, has drawn a name for a company gift exchange.  The individual she draws if British so Stephanie decides to put together a gift basket and include some English tea.  She goes to a shop for the tea, and after she gets it home she notices the best-before-date is less than a month away.  She returns to the shop and all of the similar packages have the same date stamp.  There is a smaller size of the same tea that has a much longer expiry.  Stephanie decides to accept the smaller size in exchange even though she has paid for the larger size.  The shop keeper agrees and Stephanie leaves.

When Stephanie returned for the exchange the shop keeper was busy and even though she was the only customer in the store she was left to her own devices.   What the shop keeper could have done was engage Stephanie and find out what she needed the tea for.  The shop keeper could have offered her two of the smaller sizes in exchange.  Although this comes to a little more than Stephanie had previous paid it’s an investment in good will.  The shop keeper could have suggested it was in consideration for her trouble, and perhaps she would like to try some of the tea for herself.  And in learning that Stephanie was giving a gift to an English co-worker could have suggested she put in a good word on behalf of the store.

In a previous post I talked about “Moments of Truth” which is borrowed from Jan Carlzon who wrote a book by the same name.  Moments of truth refers to those times when a customer comes in contact with your business.  It’s their experience during the interaction that defines your business for that person.  One of my mentors, Roy Williams, author of The Wizard of Ads series refers to “Personal Experience Factor.”  This PEF is a key element in the success of the businesses he chooses to work with.

Consider that there are four levels for each experience.  Is it a poor experience?  Is it an average experience; what the customer was expecting to happened is pretty much what did happen?  That’s not bad, but this becomes a baseline.  When you deliver below that level customers are disappointed.  Third, was it a good experience, and lastly did you WOW them.

Aiming for WOW is challenging but if you aim and miss you end up at good.  If you aim for average you never WOW anyone and when you miss you disappoint.  In 1994 Tom Peters released his book “The Pursuit of Wow! Every Person’s Guide to Topsy Turvy Times.”  These are once again topsy turvey times, perhaps it’s a good time to study WOW.

Let’s face it, even when you aim for WOW, you end up with situations where the customer is disappointed.  Interestingly, one of very best times to WOW a customer is after they’ve had a bad experience dealing with your company.  How you respond to a complaint can be more important than what you did in the first place.  This is especially true in today’s retail environment with all of the online opinion sites.  The better sites allow the business to respond to a complaint.  Most people are pretty reasonable and if they see a business has 4 or 5 good to great reviews and one bad review but the business made an effort to correct the situation they are fine and will consider the business a good choice.

Some business owners try to minimize or even dismiss a complaint.  I’ve seen many many cases where the business owner is in denial.  You cannot determine how trivial or important this is to the customer.  Let them tell you the problem but also how they feel.  Then ask them what they would like to make this right.  If you are the type of person that has no time for this “feelings cr-p” find someone else in the company that is a calm, good listener.  It can be a very simple gesture.

Are you Saving any Money?

I’ve noticed that some retailers are seriously understaffed.  I have gone into stores with the intention of making a purchase and left without the item(s) I needed.  I was unable to find the item and was also unable to find any help on the floor.  A few years ago when the economy was very strong it was hard to find staff.  Today, since the economy slowed, staff are available.  Why can’t I find help?

Some of my retail clients tell me they have benefited from the downturn.  They are able to get and keep good staff.  If a store has no staff on the floor they are cutting expenses which is false economy.  Good staff on the floor help customers find the things they need.  Well trained staff can also interest customers in additional purchases.

Your people are a critical component of your success in retail.  They are the point of contact with your customers and therefore they are the face of your business.  Jan Carlzon calls there interactions between customers and staff “Moments of Truth” which is the title of his book.  Carlzon was the CEO of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS).  He empowered his front line staff to deal with a problem in the way that they would want the problem dealt with if they were the customer.  Under his leadership the airline experienced a dramatic turnaround.  When a store has no staff they sacrifice not only sales but the opportunity to make connections with customers.

Make Your Computer Stop Calling Me!

     I have a computer that keeps calling me.  The dealer that I purchased my last vehicle from has an automated system to remind customers to bring the vehicle in for service. The system generates a phone call and a pleasant recorded voice tells me that my vehicle is due for service and please call this number to book an appointment. I hate getting these messages. I’m sure the thinking on the part of businesses that utilize this type of technology is that they are staying in touch with their customers. The truth is, they are not in touch at all and in fact they are weakening the relationship they have with the customer. They are saying, we want your business but you are not important enough for a real person to call. If the person making this type of call was paid $12.00 and hour and could make 12 calls in an hour, that’s $1.00 to call me and I’m not worth it. Ouch! My last visit to service the vehicle cost me just under $200.00.  In addition to my $200.00 the dealer was also paid by the manufacturer for my oil change plus two recall items.

     Customers don’t want to deal with faceless businesses they want to deal with people.  In today’s marketplace there is too little attention paid to customers. Customers want businesses to care.  Too often “Contact Management” doesn’t manage real contact as much as it manages systems that simulate contact.  A form letter can be personalized for each customer but it is still a form letter.    John Naisbitt coined the term “High Tech/High Touch” in his 1982 book “Megatrends” and followed up with a book on the topic.  We need to maintain personal contact in a high tech world.  Show your customers that you care.

Little Things

     The only way to get out of my community is to go north. We have a Provincial Park to the south which is a wonderful feature for residents but it cuts off access to and from the community to the south.  There is a community strip mall which is located south of my home. It’s a fairly typical retail center with convenience store, liquor, dry cleaner, veterinarian & doggie daycare, dental practice, barber shop, hair salon and a neighbourhood pub. The people that run the convenience store and the dry cleaner call me by name. I don’t do a great deal of business with either retailer, but they still make the effort to remember and use my name. If I were to choose strictly on convenience I would stop at another location on my way north, but I make an effort to patronize these businesses.  Dale Carnegie says “No word sounds as lovely as our own name.”

     It’s a little thing that can make a big difference.  I am just one customer.  Imagine how much of a differnce this small gesture makes to the well being of this business.  Sometimes business owners are so focused on the big issues and the small things are ignored.  Take some time to look at small things that might make a big difference.

Jumping to Conclusions

     Here is an incident that illustrates the importance of finding out what a potential customer needs before you offer your “best selling point.” On a fine sunny Sunday afternoon we were touring a parade of homes. Each builder was showcasing what they felt was a great example of their craftsmanship and expertise. In each home we were greeted by a representative. In one home the representative handed us their “package” which included the developer’s promotional material on the area, along with the builders promotional material. While handing over the package, the young gentleman said matter-of-factly that they had the lowest cost per square foot in the area.
Apparently he felt that their claim to fame was that they could build cheaper than anyone else. He didn’t think that their quality was a selling point. With this bit of information as an introduction to their show home experience, one tends to use that to frame all that you are about to see. Hmmm, perhaps their kitchen cabinets are not as nice. Gee these bathroom fixtures are not as good. I wonder what corners were cut is inside the walls, that I can’t see.
     When someone is touring a show home, or viewing your offering for the first time, remember that you want the customer to first think “What would it be like if I owned this?” In the case of the home; can they see themselves living in a home like this? If there is some hesitation, what changes would they like to see? They have to imagine owning it before they will buy.
     Don’t jump, find out what they are thinking before you offer your best points, it might not be what they are looking for.