What does Apple Computer have in common with your challenges as an innkeeper? Not much, you say? Well, you'd be surprised, and probably pleased with the reasons and the lessons.
As Pete Blackshaw writes in his Advertising Age article, "How Apple Is Blurring the Line Between Marketing and Service," Apple is an iconic company with some of the hottest products in the world, some of the greatest growth prospects in the technology sector, a history of making some of the hugest blunders in business, and, apparently, a less than stellar record in customer service and tech support. Well, they're trying to change, and in the process are demonstrating some of the most basic addages about marketing: SERVICE (not sex, well, that too…) SELLS.
Apple's new stores are pushing a whole new philosophy (for them) which is that if they provide great SERVICE to their customers, especially when they have a tech problem, the customer is HAPPY! The customer TELLS THEIR FRIENDS. To that end, they are hiring very knowlegable people to solve problems and help sell their products (duh). They call them "service concierges." Now, concierge is a word that has its origins in the hospitality industry, so Apple is just taking a page from you!
The bottom line lessons that Apple has perhaps belatedly learned are threefold. First is that "Service is Marketing." We've written about word of mouth marketing (WOM) in this blog before, and we all know that stellar service is one of the great advantages that innkeepers have over their larger counterparts in the lodging industry. But by providing service even BEFORE the guest books a room, you increase the odds that they will, in fact, book with you. And if they experience service above and beyond their expectations, they'll likely return.
Second, "Problems are Opportunities." In the bed & breakfast industry it's long been said that "a complaint is a gift." When you get a complaint, you have a unique opportunity to make it right. With the explosion of social media, you hear your complaints in places like TripAdvisor. Handled well, that complaint becomes a great marketing opportunity which arguably has the potential to make a bigger impression on a prospective guest that all the nice things people say about you and your inn.
Lastly, Apple has recognized that "Employee authority and passion aids selling." Again I say, what a novel concept!!! You love your inn and can sell a room, right? If you need to speak to someone to do that, you might be missing a sale. Does your passion show through on your website, just in case you don't get a chance to talk to someone before they book? Are your staff empowered to solve problems? Do they really understand your inn? If not, loosen the reigns and see what happens. But before you do, try something different.
We'd love to hear from innkeepers who not only allow but encourage all of their employees, from the lowliest to the mightiest, to spend a night at the inn as a guest periodically. How many housekeepers and servers and yard people might appreciate their job even more if they had a chance to experience it as a recipient? Try it, and tell us about it. Maybe Apple can learn a lesson or two from you. Cheers!