What Can The Hotel Industry Learn From Homelands B&B?

Homelands Bed & BreakfastDuring November, whilst on business, I stayed at Homelands Bed & Breakfast and thoroughly enjoyed my experience. It was so good that staying at Homelands occurred as staying at a home away from home.  My experience lived up to the five star rating that Homelands has earned on TripAdvisor.

Here’s what I think the hotel industry can learn from the folks (Erik and Nicola Burger) who own and run Homelands B&B Woodsmancote:

After Booking And Before Arrival

I think I made the booking via Hotels.com about a week in advance of arrival.  A couple of days after making the booking I received an email from Erik and Nicola confirming the booking, welcoming me, and letting me know that the normal check-in time is between 4 and 9pm. And if I was going to arrive outside of that window then they needed to know so that alternative arrangements could be made.

Further, they provided useful advice like which road to take and importantly which road to avoid unless I had strong nerves and a 4×4 vehicle.

After an email exchange it became apparent that Erik and Nicola make it a habit to welcome their guests. Yet few guests turn up on a Sunday night – business travellers don’t tend to stay there. And the Burger family had made plans to go out that Sunday evening.  This was not a problem we came to an arrangement that worked well for all of us.

What impression did this exchange make on me?  “Wow, these folks know I am coming. They want to make sure that I get there safely. And that when I get to their place they are either there to welcome me. Or at the very minimum, that I can get to my room without any problems. They are living up the praise they have received on TripAdvisor. I have made the right choice.”

Further because of this proactive email exchange I was able to let Erik and Nicola know that my breakfast needs were simple: fruit, croissants or cereal (granola), and a cup of tea.

Now compare this with the Holiday Inn Express where I stayed the first week of November. I made the booking. I heard nothing from the Holiday Inn Express. When I turned up I found there was no parking. Which came as an unpleasant surprise. And then I had to ask for car parking options.

Lessons:

  1. Reach out to your customers when they place an order and provide them with useful information.
  2. If standard ways of doing things don’t work  for this customer in this particular instance then look for creative ways around the standard ways. Creative ways that leaves the customer feeling valued. And yet does not damage the business.

Upon Arrival and First Night At Homelands

I arrived on Sunday night. It was dark. I was in the middle of the countryside. After asking a neighbour I found Homelands, used the pin code that Erik and Nicola had emailed me. Found the envelope with my name on it and key inside – as promised. Entered Homelands, found a friendly welcoming note for me. Then made my way to my room for the week. The room was tastefully decorated. The sheets were clean… Everything was in order – just as I had been led to expect it from the photos, from the reviews.

Lessons:

  1. The ‘product’  must match your description of your ‘product’. Put differently,  the ‘product’ must contain / do exactly what it says on the tin. In this case the picture of Homelands accurately represented Homelands. The decorations were tasteful – just as described…
  2. In the hospitality business the experience (total experience) is the product!  How you treat folks matters as much as the quality of the room you are selling or the breakfast you are providing.
  3. You must keep your promises – if you promise something then you must deliver it. Why? Because the customer is counting on you to deliver it.

First Morning at Breakfast Time

At the agreed time (7:50am) I came down to breakfast. I was greeted warmly and professionally by Erik. What I had asked for, for breakfast, was there: fresh fruits, jars of cereals, apple juice, orange juice, water….

During the process of getting to know one another I learnt that Erik was Dutch. That the night before he had gone to see the new Bond movie with his son…. I told Eric a little about me, like where I lived, why I was in his part of the world….

Then Erik asked me if there was anything else that I needed. Like a cooked breakfast. Or coffee. I told Erik that I was keeping things simple as I was on bunch of drugs due to back and neck problems. And that these medicines has a side effect: constipation.  So, I was being careful about what I did eat and what I did not eat.  Then Erik asked me if there was anything else that he could do for me.

After hesitating, I made my request. I told Erik that I had neck and shoulder pain. That he could help release that pain. And I showed him how to do it – by pressing his elbow at two points on the upper part of my body. Erik told me that this was the most unusual request any guest had ever made of him. And he accepted.  Frankly, I was surprised. After Erik had finished, I expressed my gratitude as I was truly grateful.

Can you imagine me making that kind of a request at a corporate hotel?  What do you think the likely reaction would have been if I had approached a staff member of Holiday Inn, Hilton, Radissan SAS.?  I guess I would have been told it is against policy for staff members to physically touch guests. Never mind press down hard with their elbow into the top of my shoulders!

Lessons:

  1. If the customer selects from a range of options then make sure that you deliver on the selection that the customer has made. No point offering / giving more than what the customer needs e.g. like laying out a cooked breakfast that a customer is never going to eat.
  2. What really takes the customer’s breath away and builds gratitude, loyalty, advocacy, is your ability to do something special (as defined by the customer) for the customer – especially when the customer asks for it.

Second Night At Homelands

One of the most frustrating things I find at hotels of all kinds is that they don’t feel like home. At home, if I need water I can just get some water. If I want some fruit juice I can get some fruit juice. At hotels I am stuck, at best with an overpriced, mini-bar.  And that leaves me feeling like I am being milked for all the milk the hotel can get out of me.  I usually respond by either buying a large bottle of water from a restaurant – which is still cheaper than the hotel. Or by finding a local store and buying it from there and taking it to my hotel room. I have an aversion to being milked!

Not at Homelands. At Homelands there is kitchen and in that kitchen is big fridge. And in that fridge are fruit juices, and water bottles. There is milk. And there are extra mugs….

So when I woke up in the middle of the night and had to take some pain killers and muscle relaxants, I made my way to kitchen and helped myself to the Apple juice. Exactly the kind of thing I do at home. I wake up, I find myself in pain, I walk down the stairs, I find a glass, open the fridge…..

Lesson:

  1. It is amazing how the little things – like being able to get a small glass of fruit juice, or water without having to pay – matter. And how much they matter.  But to understand which little things matter and how much they matter you have to be able to access your humanity. To genuinely have walked in the shoes of the customer – as a normal every day human being rather than a marketer or a process/six sigma guy…
  2. There is absolutely no substitute for kindness / generosity. Stan Phelps calls this Lagniappe.

Second Morning at Breakfast

After waking up and having a shower, I took the time simply to gaze out at the fields, the green grass, the trees, and the horses. Such a refreshing change to staring at buildings, tarmac, and hearing the noise of vehicles on the road.

When I made my way down to breakfast, I noticed that the range of fruits had increased. In addition to melon, and grapefruit there were berries and prunes.  If you don’t know, prunes help with constipation.  Clearly, Erik had listened, used his listening to learn about me, and most importantly acted on his insight into my health and condition.

How did this leave me feeling? I say it again, it left me with the feeling of being at home away from home. Why is this important? Because home is where I feel safe. Home is where I am with people I know care for me. And people I know I can count on for help if I need help.

Whilst having breakfast Erik and talked a little bit more.  I learnt that Erik is Dutch. That he is into nature and conversation. That Erik and Nicola make their own honey…. A human conversation the kind that I am used to having at home whilst I have breakfast.

 

Lessons

  1. If if you show up in the correct manner and simply engage in conversation, customers will tell you a lot about themselves, the situation they find themselves in, their hopes and fears, the constraints they are working within….
  2. Insight in and of itself has no value. Value, as experienced by the customer and repaid through loyalty, is generated when you act on the insight in a manner that leaves the customer feeling grateful because your action/s have made his life easier, simpler, richer.

Time to stop. I could go on and on. And my back is beginning to hurt and that is not good.

By writing this I have kept my word. What word?  Upon leaving Homelands for the second and last time, I told Erik that Homelands had occurred as home away from home.  And that I would be writing about Homelands and sharing my experience.

If you are on holiday or on business and looking somewhere great to stay then I thoroughly recommend that you check out Homelands Bed & Breakfast.  I cannot praise it highly enough. And neither can all the other folks that have stayed there – Homelands gets a five star rating on TripAdvisor. 

A la prochaine – until the next time.

Corephone: a great example of the service ethos, customer experience and customer centricity! (Part I)

If your smartphone or iPad needs fixing then contact Spencer at corePhone

It is rare that I come across a person, a company, a business that has cracked the customer-centricity code.  It looks like Spencer and corePhone have done just that.  All you have to do is to take a look at the website (the entire design of it) and read the testimonials to get that Spencer / corePhone is a world apart when it comes to the customer experience they generate and the delight they engender in customers.  So if you have a broken smartphone or iPad then you should contact Spencer at corePhone (www.corephone.co.uk).

Have you noticed that smartphones have a design flaw?

Smartphones are easy to use & useful so they are heavily used.  In the process of using them we drop them and that is when we find out that smartphones have a serious design flaw: they are fragile, they don’t bounce.   Have you dropped your smartphone?  What thoughts/feelings did you experience?   I dropped my iPhone 4 and was shocked to find that the expensive case ‘fell apart’.  Yet, thankfully, it did that when it hit the ground and so my iPhone was ok.  I let out a sigh of relief as I was not looking forward to paying £400+ to get a new one.  Some of us are not that lucky.   Recently one of my colleagues dropped his iPhone, allow me to tell you his story using his words:

“We’ve all either seen it happen or had it happen to us…shiny iPhone one minute, a moment of clumsiness / butter fingers and the next minute it looks like this…

This is what happened to me today. I have no idea how it happened but I saw it all take place in slow motion and I was left cursing …. To make matters worse, my iPhone did have a bumper on it but as happens when you drop a piece of buttered toast on the floor, my iPhone landed face down……. I couldn’t even answer the phone when it rang as the cracked screen had affected it ‘touch screen ability’!….

Luckily sense prevailed and I left the screw drivers and claw hammer in the draw and Googled ‘iphone 4 cracked screen and Portsmouth’…..and bingo!! I came across a helpful chap called Spencer.

A quick phone call later he gave me his address and instructions to be there at 6:30pm (no earlier please as he has his tea at 6pm !). By 6:45pm I skipped out his front door £60 lighter but with what was effectively a new looking iPhone. All fixed, cleaned and shiny !

…… If you find yourself in a similar situation I cannot recommend Spencer enough. Whilst he’s an air traffic controller by day, he’s running a handy side line fixing iPads, Blackberrys, Nintendo’s, Camera’s, laptop screens etc.. by night.   A link to his site is below…probably worth book marking!  As I live local to him I’d be happy to hand deliver your broken item to him should you want me too!     Core Phone

Let’s take a closer look at Spencer / Corephone: testimonials to die for!

It is not often that I read that kind of review, that kind of delight, that kind of enthusiasm, that kind of advocacy.  So I took a look at the CorePhone website to see if my colleague’s experience was exceptional.  It is not.  I was totally blown away by the testimonials – specifically the way that Spencer  is treating his customers, how he is making them feel and the impact he is having on their lives.  Here are a selection of testimonials (I have highlighted what speaks to me by ‘bolding’):

I cannot start without saying how amazing this company is! My iPhone was smashed front and back and my home button was faulty after dropping the phone. Spencer replied quickly to my request of a repair and he offered me a next day service. In addition, he offered an amazing price for all jobs. When the repair was conducted, it was an amazing job, the phone looked brand new and Spencer even cleaned my earpiece and other ports out of courtesy. And even more amazing, it was fixed in 20 minutes! I would definitely use this service again and would recommend all to use corePhone for any iPhone repairs as the service you will receive is first class.     Gary Coldwell, Hampshire, March 2012

“Many thanks Spencer. It is nice to find such a genuine guy who could repair my iPhone. I texted Spencer to see if he could repair my iPhone. He texted me back and booked for the repair to be done Monday night. I waited for the repair to be done and could not believe how fiddly it was, but it was soon all put back together and looks like a new phone. Phone this guy; you cannot go wrong.    John Tucker, Titchfield, September 2011

“I would like everyone to know what a fantastic service spencer(corePhone) extended to me. I texted spencer at 7:40 am on Saturday and he replied straight away. I asked if he would take a look at my I phone 3G home button as it hadn’t worked properly for a while. He allowed me to come to his home at 8am and had my phone all fixed and ready to go by 8:15am !! Nice, friendly, quick & professional service is worth every penny,especially at Spencer’s fair rates. I recommend this service 100 %.    Jim, Pickfords Segensworth, January 2011

What can we learn from Spencer / corePhone?

The testimonials show that Spencer / corePhone create superior value for people who have damaged their smartphones.  Let’s take a closer look at this superior value.

Customer Insight

The central insight that corePhone is built upon is the understanding that customers are attached to their smartphones.  Smartphones break – especially the screens.  Getting these screens replaced through the high street retailers is both time consuming (long delays) and expensive.  Customers want a fast turnaround and more affordable repairs.

Value Proposition

The value proposition is what converts people with a problem into customers who reach out to you and buy from you.  So what is corePhone’s value proposition?  According to the website, “affordable iPhone repairs”.  Read through the testimonials and you will find that this is a compelling value proposition.  Customer after customers speaks about the fairness, the reasonableness, the affordability of the repairs when compared to Apple and other high street retailers.

The Customer Experience

It is the Customer Experience that generates delight, indifference, disappointment and/or anger.  It is the Customer Experience that generates advocacy, word our mouth recommendations, customer loyalty and repeat business. Why?  Because this is where you keep or break the bargain that you struck with the customer through your value proposition. This is the area that Spencer / corePhone excel in.

If you reach out to Spencer / corePhone then Spencer responds quickly even on a Saturday morning at 7:40am or Sunday when he is out shopping.  And Spencer fixes your iPhone quickly – one customer rang at 7:40 am Saturday, was at Spencer’s workshop at 8am (that day) and left delighted at 8:15.  That is the next clue:  Spencer fixes your iPhone quickly – seems to be between 15 minutes and a half-hour.  Furthermore, by the time the iPhone is handed to you it looks new, perfect.  Finally, it looks like Spencer does more than he has to (‘”cleaning out ear pieces and ports..”) and treats his customers well – his customers like him as a person not just as a professional.

In short, the Customer Experience exceeds the value proposition.  The value proposition only talks about affordability and sets that expectation.  The Customer Experience delivers that extra: responsiveness, speed of turnaround, the intimate contact – being with /watching Spencer fix your iPhone in front of your eyes!  What must it be like to see a master craftsmen open up your iPhone before your eyes and convert it from a wreck to a work of beauty?  And how many of us want to take a look inside our iPhone and see how it is put together?  This is all included in the Customer Experience!

Have you noticed that corePhone doesn’t have a loyalty or social media program to generate advocacy?

At a recent CMO dinner I asserted that companies that create superior value for customers through compelling value proposition/s and delightful customer experience do not have to pay the tax of customer loyalty.  Show me a company that has a loyalty program and I will show you a company that is selling ‘me too’ products, services, solutions.  Please notice that corePhone is not having to go out and bribe customers with customer loyalty and social gimmicks.  Why?  Because it is a strong value proposition and it delivers an amazing (wow!!) customer experience.

Part II coming next

Enough for today, in the next post I will take a look at the corePhone website, extract and share with you the lessons for building a website that works for customers.  Very few websites do that especially if they belong to a big company!


Want my loyalty? Then answer this one question

“I need to feel strongly, to love and to admire, just as desperately as I need to breathe.” Jean-Dominique Bauby

My fascination is us – human beings and the human condition.  As such when an opportunity comes to access us and our human condition from novel perspectives then I tend to take it.  Jean-Dominique Bauby  (“JDB”) provides a fascinating access to us and our human condition. Allow me to tell you a little about JDB in the words of the Independent newspaper:

“Jean-Dominique Bauby. He worked for journals like the Quotidien de Paris and Paris Match and for four years until December 1995 was the very successful chief editor of Elle. Then the unthinkable happened. A cardiovascular accident paralysed him and sent him into a deep coma, from which he emerged 20 days later in the Hopital Maritime at Berck, on the north-east coast of France, his brain intact, but able only to blink his left eyelid. He was diagnosed as suffering from the rare disease called “Locked-in Syndrome”, unable to breathe, swallow or eat without assistance.”

JDB’s mind (the butterfly) was locked into a body that was inert (the diving bell) so whilst all his senses worked he could only move his left eyelid.  Before departing from this world JDB dictated a book that captures his thoughts, feelings and experiences as “The Diving Bell And The Butterfly” and on of the aspects of his human condition that he highlights is the human need to feel strongly, to love and admire, just as desperately as our need to breathe. Put differently by virtue of being human we have a need: a need to look up to people and organisations, to feel strongly about who they are / what they stand for, embody in terms of values and what they are up to in life in terms of purpose / mission.  These people connect us with the highest aspects of our humanity: they remind us of what we are capable of, what we can be – the higher Self.

Which brings me to the question of customer loyalty.  You want my loyalty, you want my advocacy. OK, I get that and I have something for you to think about and provide a compelling and simple answer to:

I need to feel strongly, to love and to admire, just as desperately as I need to breathe.  What is it that you stand for, that you are doing and that you are up for creating in the world that enables me to feel strongly about you, to admire you, to love you?

What is you answer?  I should point out that “being the best, the largest, the most powerful, the most global…company in the universe does not do it for me.  Nor does increasing the share price my 100x and making your shareholders deliriously happy and filthy rich do it for me.

Again, my question: What is it that you stand for, that you are doing and that you are up for creating in the world that enables me to feel strongly about you, to admire you, to love you? 

Stunning silence!