What makes a guest loyal?

July 16, 2010 at 7:55 pm Leave a comment


I was startled by a recent article in the Harvard Business Review.  The title was, “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.”  The title did its job and caught my attention.  The premise, it turns out, is that companies are trying too hard to exceed customer expectations.  Over the top efforts such as giveaways, upgrades, and promotions, have margnial effects on guest loyalty.  As it happens, guests just want to have their problems solved easily.  If your product or service makes it easy for me to solve my problem, I’ll be loyal to your company.
The article goes on to explain that guests who have a negative experience are more likely to be disloyal.  So, while getting exceptional service may not have a positive effect on loyalty, have a negative experience is likely to have an adverse effect on loyalty.
The article reminded me of a guest experience I had as a restaurant manager.  We were encouraged to go out of our way to provide excellent service.  A guest left some memorabelia in my restaurant.  Rather than placing the item in lost and found, I framed the photo, tracked down the guest to let them know I had the item, and carefully wrapped the now framed photo in beautiful paper.  In my mind the guest was going to be overwhelmed by my kindness.  They would become an immediate ambassador for my restuarnt.  In fact, they waited several weeks to pick up the item, and offered a simple thank you for returning it.  That is the essence of this article.  Those efforts, although nice, do not return a reward on investment.  The time and money spent to delight guests, does not yield increased loyalty, sales, or profits.
Jim Sullivan makes a similar point in his article “Myths Do Staff a Disservice.”  One of his myths is that “A satisfied customer is not enough.”  He argues that “habitually satisfied customers are extermely likely to be loyal.”
The news for operators and managers is good.  If you understand the problems your customers have, and provide an easy solution, you will have a loyal client base.  The even better news is that emerging technologies make this even easier for companies.
ESP offers a screen that provides an overview of operations.  A coordinator can easily see where guests are being taken care of, where more space is available, and where staff is needed.  The net result is that their jobs are easier to do well, and you wait less.   Better still, the guest is connected to the service provider.  If you drop your fork (problem), you can immediately notify me to bring you a new one (easy solution).  Finally, the Hub provides immediate feedback about the service experience to the operator.  Real-time adjustments allow the operator to avoid negative service experiences.
Our beliefs about what makes customers loyal may be shifting.  It may be that exceptional experiences are not the ultimate goal.  Instead, service should strive to consistently and effortlessly solve the needs of customers.  One thing will not change.  Service will continue to provide a competitive advantage for those who get it right.

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