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@Your Service » 2011 » December

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A Tale of Expectations

Posted on : 16-12-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Customer Service, Social Media

Tags: , ,

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A tweet says so much yet may not provide clarity. A few days ago I tweeted about two experiences over the past week with hotels. The more I think about the tweet the more I realize it is a tale of expectations. We tend to tweet or post to Facebook items we are passionate about or the extremes of our own expectations. This is the story of both extremes of my expectations.

When it comes to service I typically have very high standards and I am frustrated often by poor Customer handling. At the same time I have come to expect poor service. It is a sad state of affairs for the service industry. We were attending a wedding at a resort in Atlantic Beach, Florida (near Jacksonville). I had low expectations for the hotel. I knew it would be nice based on the Internet pictures, but I never expected to be wow’ed by the experience. I can count on one hand how often I was wow’ed by a hotel. Anyway the One Ocean Resort was not only able to wow me, they have moved to the top of my list for hotels. It all started upon arrival. We decided to drive down from New Jersey. The plan was a few days for the wedding and a few days in Disney prior to driving back. Due to a police incident in Virginia, we were stuck on the highway from 11:00 PM until after 2:00 AM. At that point stopping at a hotel seemed a waste, so we drove straight through, arriving at the resort around noon or 1:00 PM. We pulled up to valet, introduced ourselves to the attendant, and let him know we first wanted to see if the room was ready before off loading. He turned to us and said “Mr. Eliason, not only is your room ready, I have your key right here. There is no need to check in, let me take your bags right up”. It was a tremendous start. The hotel room had a beautiful view of the ocean and loaded with snacks to meet any tastes. The hotel, prior to arrival, also emailed asking snack and drink preferences. The room was loaded with our selections. What a great touch. During our two night stay we were greeted by name from many of the staff members. The wedding was beautiful and a brunch we threw for the wedding guests was perfect. I loved One Ocean!

After the wedding we took the few hour ride to Orlando to visit Mickey and all the Princesses. This was my third trip to Disney and the other two were magical, so I had very high expectations. This time, using credit card points, we were staying at the Grand Floridian. It was just going to be one night, so why not. During the few hour drive and after reviewing the weather, we decided to extend our stay 1 night, if the hotel had availability. So we arrived at the hotel. The guard was exceptional directing us to the front of the hotel to leave our bags before taking the car to self park. The bellhop was really nice as I have come to expect from cast members. We then drove to self park, which was full. We then found ourselves in cast member parking, which did not seem right, so we drove back and did valet. As we went past the security guard again he did let us know we could have parked in cast member parking but I decided to valet instead. Finally made my way to check in. Again another nice gentleman greeted me. I asked about extending the stay. He checked me in then had to call the reservation desk to see if they could extend (why he could not do it seemed disjointed to me). He then informed me that the reservation was not done through Disney but he could add a night at a different rate. I was fine with that. That night we attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. It was a magical, although wet experience. It was great being in Magic Kingdom with less of a crowd. The next day I got up and the first thing I did was work with the concierge for the girls to attend a dinner with Cinderella. I then went back to the check in desk because I realized our car pass had the incorrect date. The woman at the desk was confused by the reservation and was telling me it was not right. She made some changes and said that should fix it. It was at this point I started to expect problems ahead. Anyway it was time to head to Animal Kingdom to start the day. As soon as we arrived at Animal Kingdom I made a purchase at the gift shop (waterproof bag after the wet evening before) and charged it to the room. We then went in the park. I love Animal Kingdom, especially for the character access. After meeting a few characters we went to make another purchase. This time charging to the room was not going to happen. Our card was deactivated. I called the number on the card. The first person was very nice and listened carefully, she then had to transfer me to the hotels front desk. The next person seemed confused and had to connect me with someone in the back office. I am not sure what she did, but I found myself back in the queue and about 20 minutes later back at the front desk. I hate loops! Needless to say the new person had no clue, so I reiterated the story. Instead of reactivating the cards, she issued new keys that they would keep at the front desk. If I wanted to make any purchases, I just had to tell the person to key in the code at the bottom of the key and change the last two digits to 07. I would guess they can not reactivate existing keys. There system, to avoid risk, creates trouble for the Customer. Not uncommon but very frustrating. When we finally got back to the hotel, shortly before the scheduled dinner, I went to the front desk to pick up the keys, again explaining my frustration with the experience. Instead of getting the keys already cut, they printed new ones and handed them to me. I provided my wife her key and suggested she shop and I would take the kids back to the room. The hotel is spread over multiple buildings, so heading to your room can take time, especially with 2 girls. I finally made it there and you probably already guessed, the key did not work. This most likely meant my wife could not make purchases or get in the room if she beats me back. I made my way with the girls back to the front desk. I again explain the situation and my frustration. He seemed to think it was about charging back to the room an hands me back the key and says now you can charge. I said great, of course my goal now is getting into my room. He then reviewed a few things and said he had to go back and check with his manager. He then came back and printed another key and promised that one would work. All the other keys were now useless. I was fine by that. I was surprised that if he went back and relayed the story to the manager, I would have expected then to come out and apologize for the trouble, but none of that happened. Well the key did work, the bill seemed correct and the rest of the trip was as magical as I expect from Disney. I have seen similar key trouble in many hotels, but I had higher expectations for Disney, especially the Grand Floridian. I did not see the empathy from the staff as I would have expected. I loved the trip to Florida and I know I will be back to Disney but maybe next time my expectations will not be as grand.

Destroying A Brand in a Social World

Posted on : 15-12-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Marketing, Social Media

Tags:

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Much Discussion has been made about how successful companies can market themselves and their products through social media. I personally wonder if anyone truly cares about hearing brands do this, but that is a post for another day. I do know that companies can destroy their brand quickly in this space and I thought it would be fun to look at different ways this happens.

The first thing to recognize is that the brand image is owned by others and not the PR department or marketing. Both of these departments are important but they are no longer in the driver’s seat for brand image. I wonder if they ever were? Again, probably a post for another day. I am not sure things have changed in this regard but perception has. The masses, whoever they may be control it. In reviewing recoveries by brands who have had trouble, we can still determine how a brand can be destroyed in social media.

Many larger brands have had trouble in their history, even before social media became a large part of communications. McDonalds and Starbucks had difficulties at one point in their life cycle and both recovered nicely. Both had similar issues, they had inconsistent Customer experiences at different locations. They also strayed far from their core products. Both recovered in similar ways by working to create Customer experiences that were consistent from location to location. This will always be trouble for franchise type organizations or decentralized business model because the brand image is not as much in the companies control. In recovering they first outlined who they are and what they strive to be. Starbucks founder Howard Schultz returned as CEO. One of the first things he did was bring back the smell of coffee. Very basic but key to a consistent experience. McDonalds focus on cleanliness of locations and consistent food. How consistent is your brand? Are you doing what you are good at or are you trying to be too many different things to various constituents?

Your brand is also owned by your employees. Since there has been a long standing analogy of social media as a cocktail party, what story would your own employees tell at a cocktail party? Would they say what a great place your company is or would they bitch about their job? Worse yet, would they say nothing? Apathy is much worse than negative commentary. At least negative commentary means they want change or improvement but if they say nothing, they do not care at all. Employees have great power over the brand and could help build it further. There are also many examples of employees hurting brands, such as the Domino’s video from years ago. Domino’s did a great job recovery from that event but I am sure it fundamentally changed them.

Customers have the greatest power they ever have. Companies dream of Customers taking their message to others, but as a Consumer how often do you do that? I have done it for Apple and Samsung products as well as a few service brands that wow’ed me, but more often than not, I am more negative due to experiences that did not meet my expectations. Brands may have dreams, but the fact is people will not talk about your brand unless you give them strong reason to. Do you create wow experiences? If not, do not expect people to share your message. Also if you are not a well liked, but create something cool, they may share it with commentary such as ‘this is cool even if I do not like XYZ company.’ This happens because they are not playing to you, but instead they are playing to their crowd. They do not want to get blasted by their own friends for supporting a brand that others do not like.

You win or lose in this social world through the Customer and employee experience. Know what your brand is about and consistently deliver on that.