Subjects: Listening to the customer, keep the human contact, and home is where the heart was
Authors: Ann Elliott, Glynn Davis and Karen Turton
Listening to the customer by Ann Elliott
Every day I hear of marketing teams being made redundant – I suspect there are more to come. Of course marketing isn’t the only discipline facing redundancies, it’s across the board, but having been in marketing for years it feels personal.
Marketing is often the first department to take the hit when sales and profit are under threat, which is probably understandable. The operations team is fundamental, HR and finance need to stay to sort things out so if customers aren’t coming out to eat and drink, why bother marketing to them?
In my mind marketing has always played the vital role in a business of ‘putting the customer hat on’. The marketing team should understand the customer, how they are behaving, thinking and, in our sector, spending their leisure time and money. They should be asking the customer the right questions and listening to what they have to say. Critically, they need to translate that feedback into recommendations to the board.
I have come across many clients who say: “I understand my customers thank you very much and I don’t need marketing to help me.” Often they are right but sometimes their understanding of customers dates to when they were first involved with (or set up) the brand and is far from up to date. Unless a brand is going to keep the same customer profile across the years, it’s vital this understanding is constantly reviewed so the brand stays fresh and relevant.
Appreciating the customer point of view helps to keep decisions objective. Customer feedback should never be taken personally, although it often is and now I run an Airbnb property I can appreciate that sentiment – anything less than a five makes me lose sleep. Feedback needs to be gathered in a way that ensures it is relevant, meaningful, reliable and consistent. The board needs to believe customer feedback is valid and can be relied on for their decision-making.
On the whole, I tend to believe you can’t argue with customer feedback gathered in this way. It should put paid to subjective, personal judgments and decision-making and silence the one who speaks loudest in a board meeting and often gets their own way by doing so.
Who is going to speak on behalf of the customer if the marketing team is no longer there? It could be operations of course. They are closer to the customer than anyone else. They can collect and analyse feedback and data and make decisions using that information.
In my experience, though, and generalising wildly, marketing is less effective when it reports into operations. It can, in the worst of circumstances, simply be a resource for implementation of the marketing (or ops) plan for running social. We all know of highly paid marketing directors who have ended up designing and placing Facebook ads and Instagram posts, answering manager requests for POS and being totally reactive. Again, in the worst of circumstances they don’t have time to listen to guests or think strategically using their feedback. They just get stuff done.
What about HR? Could that department put the guest hat on? How about finance? I’m sure they have that responsibility in some companies but to be honest I haven’t seen it work.
Of course the risk is that with marketing gone or greatly reduced, no-one is listening to the guest. Everyone else, especially now, is desperately trying to keep things going, at least break even on 60% (or much less) of pre-covid sales, hold on to cash, and maintain jobs. If they can’t do these things, listening to the guest could be counted as a futile exercise. So who’s listening to the customer now?
Ann Elliott is a hospitality strategist, connector and adviser
Keep the human contact by Glynn Davis
Regular users of the bathing ponds on Hampstead Heath have been getting hot under the collar over the recent introduction of an online booking and payment system brought in by the City of London Corporation to safely manage swimmers during covid-19.
Previously, the denizens of this smart north London enclave could pitch up whenever they fancied and pay into the honesty box if they felt that way inclined. However, the new system has brought about order – as well as enforced payment for hourly use of the pool.
This has gone down badly with many regular swimmers – probably the ones who never paid – but it’s clear to see how the most basic of technology (in this case a website with payment capability) has made the ponds’ operation much more efficient and has driven significantly higher revenues. There’s no way this system will be reversed post-pandemic, despite the ongoing efforts of the Save Our Ponds campaign.
A similar scenario is being played out throughout the leisure and hospitality industry, with covid-19 prompting the introduction of more technology-based solutions to remove points of contact – also known as friction – between customers and organisations.
The rise of apps for ordering and paying for goods – in venues and from home – was already in the ascendency along with massively increased levels of home-delivered meals. With covid-19, however, the move towards a world of contactless hospitality has dramatically accelerated.
On entering my local Wetherspoon for breakfast, I was bombarded by signs suggesting I use the company’s app to make my order. There was no need to speak to anyone, although I was informed the option to verbally place an order remained – which I took. It was a similar scenario at another local pub, whose table service-only policy meant its lengthy beer list wasn’t visible. It was suggested I download the Untappd app, which holds the pub’s live beer list. I simply asked the barman for a pint of his recommended pale ale instead.
Many other operators are rejigging their models to incorporate technology-based solutions to limit personal interaction. Costa Coffee has refitted its Argyll Street unit in Oxford Circus to include a grab-and-go hatch that takes up half the store’s frontage. It is designed for takeaway and click and collect orders made via the company’s app.
Starbucks is also swiftly introducing on-the-go options such as drive-thru lanes, kerb-side pick-up and walk-up windows at many of its outlets and making them available as options on its app. The idea was to gradually bring in these elements during the next three to five years but covid-19 has meant it will now be undertaken within 18 months. Itsu is also making a major move to create a ‘store of the future’ that comprises self-checkout kiosks and no fridges out front.
Such has been the success of contactless-focused formats in the US during the past few months, questions are being asked about whether it’s worth reopening the dining rooms at all. David Gibbs, chief executive of Yum Brands, which operates Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut, recently said some chains and franchisees were seriously considering shuttering their dine-in option, adding that reopening dining rooms wasn’t “critical to our success”.
Such thoughts will no doubt be on the minds of hospitality leaders in the UK, who have found their new, technology-driven, largely contactless add-on operations financially healthier than their established dine-in models. While in some cases this might prove to be the long-term solution to their pandemic-prompted problems, I hope it won’t be part of a wholesale removal of the essential element of the hospitality industry – human contact and the personal service it engenders.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends
Home is where the heart was by Karen Turton
At last I have started to get out and about to do my bit to support the industry I call my home. Hospitality is not just the sector I work in – it’s part of me. My first job was in hospitality as a part-time waitress, my degree is in hospitality management, my first pub was obviously in hospitality and my subsequent corporate roles were all in hospitality. Now I’ve branched out with my own entrepreneurial business. Guess what – it serves the hospitality sector! Hospitality is my home and it grieves me to say I haven’t been wowed by my experiences during the past few weeks.
I understand we’re in a difficult trading environment but I worry the achievement of opening the doors and demonstrating a strict safety protocol might be deemed sufficient. We seem to have forgotten our prime purpose is to deliver memorable guest experiences and make sales.
In fact, I would go so far as to say we’ve taken a backwards step. The principles of emotionally intelligent leadership we worked so hard to cultivate as a sector seem to have been put on ice in favour of the safer, more task-focused management style. This worries me greatly. Task-focused management may enable the sector to survive but definitely not thrive. Memorable experiences are delivered by teams empowered and engaged by emotionally intelligent leaders who balance the needs of the team, guest and stakeholder.
A hospitality experience requires the degree of empathy that comes from mind, heart and behaviour, not words, statements and function.
As a sector we pride ourselves on the teams we promote internally from a capable general management pool – but now a problem arises. None of us could have imagined we would be where we are now but the fact remains many managers haven’t been equipped to react to the challenges we must now embrace. This reaction must involve a focus on behavioural skills to make sure the business not only survives, but also thrives.
Today’s fighting fit leader must be able to balance the needs of strict safety measures, operational standards and maximum sales while confidently leading their teams to deliver a personalised level of service that guarantees the holy grail of a top box score or high NPS.
The sector must readdress the need for leadership development now. The storm that’s hitting us won’t dissipate any time soon and we must react and adapt so that while the guest journey may have changed, it’s still one anchored firmly on the basis of receiving a truly memorable experience.
An emotionally intelligent leader is one who can pivot between operator, manager and leader roles to align their team to deliver what the customer wants and is paying for – the best experience ever. Now’s not the time to stop investing in talent throughout the business. Now’s the time to invest as the higher the NPS, the higher the sales and the more engaged the team, the better the business will thrive.
Nor can we allow ourselves to remain tucked into the comfort blanket of Zoom and other online alternatives that were a convenient option when we were isolated from each other during lock-down. Ours is a face-to-face business with customers and the leadership, training and development of teams needs to be similarly constructed. The person-to-person encounter lifts the session – it’s enjoyable and rewarding for team members and the whole experience becomes that much more effective in driving engagement and performance.
It’s survival of the fittest and the businesses that rise from the ashes of the covid apocalypse will be those with leaders who invest in their teams to display the critical soft skills that ensure they become the very best version of themselves. Good luck!
Karen Turton had senior operations director roles with Nando’s and Turtle Bay. She is an organisational performance and leadership coach and operates her own fitness studio business alongside her consultancy and as learning and performance director of TransitionAMP