How Luxury Brand Dorchester Collection Creates a Highly Personalised Experience
Ana Brant, Global Director of Guest Experience and Innovation at the Dorchester Collection of luxury hotels discusses the challenges of catering to individual customers, and how they have made this their competitive differentiator.
You check into your $1,000-a-night luxury suite. Your bathroom is lovely, stocked with shampoo, body wash, lotions, soaps. Your towels are plush, plentiful, neatly folded. This is great. But where’s the hair spray? You have a meeting in an hour. You need hair spray.
You call the front desk. The front desk says, “We sell that in the gift shop, Madame.” That’s not good enough. Why isn’t there hair spray in your bathroom?
It’s not there because a) it most likely wasn’t on the mystery shopper checklist from a ratings agency — such as AAA or Forbes Travel Guide – engaged by the hotel company to help it guarantee the consistency of its service, and b) the hotel has neither developed nor leveraged customer data at a level of granularity required to know that you are 1) a woman and 2) in town on business.
To do that, the hotel needs to know you on a much deeper level by leveraging data and turning that data into information it can use to deliver a customised experience. It can’t rely on a checklist.
Mystery shopper checklists are used not only in the hospitality industry, but also in automobile, restaurant and retail businesses, among others. Businesses design standard processes to make sure they get good ratings by checking all the boxes on the agencies’ lists. These ratings are then used by company marketing departments to impress customers, thereby driving volume and revenue. These ratings cannot be ignored. Get a bad one, and your competition will use it to sell against you.
However, trying to provide luxury service by implementing standardised processes that will ensure compliance, with checklists designed by third parties that do not know your business as you do, will inevitably fail to address individual customer needs. These kinds of checklists address the fundamentals of good service — but meeting the requirements of the ratings agencies with standardised processes will inevitably disappoint the individual that you, as a luxury business, most need.
Catering to the individual is what defines luxury; in the luxury segment, it is the critical competitive differentiator. The challenge for any business seeking to deliver a luxury experience is to be knowledgeable enough to go beyond the standard, to have hair spray for the person who needs it whether or not it’s on a checklist.
SEE ALSO: How to Evolve Your Customer Experience Strategy Through Personalisation
It’s not easy, and it may not be appropriate for businesses catering to a mass audience. However, it is the challenge the Dorchester Collection has set for itself as a luxury service company, and as Global Director of Guest Experience and Innovation for our iconic hotels, it’s my challenge.
The Ratings Catch-22
Mystery shopping in the U.S. is estimated to be more than a billion-dollar industry, helping businesses evaluate their performance and letting them know how their customers see them.
Much of what is measured and rated by mystery shoppers represent the basics: sheets must have a minimum thread count; dining rooms must have flowers; the guest must be greeted within a certain time frame; room service must arrive within X minutes. This is all good and necessary, but the more subjective elements of the customer experience can be compromised by the very protocols designed to make them consistent.
One industry standard promoted by a ratings agency, for example, is that a porter or bellman must “explain features and functions” of a room when delivering your luggage. This requirement often has employees pointing at televisions, saying, “Here’s the TV”.
For a first-time guest, that may be helpful; for an experienced traveller, it may be an annoyance. But if a sensitive employee omits the information, a mystery shopper might note that the room’s “features and functions” were not explained, leading the agency to downgrade the hotel. That downgrade will mean a lot to a travel agent or a meeting planner; the black mark may cost the hotel future revenue.
This is the catch-22 for luxury service companies: they must comply to succeed, but success can invite failure with its most important customers.
How to Have It All
The keys to serving the individual — the sine qua non of luxury — while maintaining consistent service are research, customer segmentation, communication, and observation.
Research. Once a reservation is made at a Dorchester Collection hotel, we begin to assemble a dossier on the individual’s interests and preferences, drawing on the hotel’s CRM system (for repeat guests), Googling the guest’s name, checking social media, and analysing the data that came with the reservation: requests (if any), purpose of visit, and so on.
Every day, a team composed of the hotel’s various functions (rooms, food and beverage, front desk, and others) meets to review these dossiers to project the service the guest will require. The dossiers will be shared only with employees who will engage with the guest; room service won’t know the guest’s spa preferences.
Customer segmentation. We then associate the dossier with a suitable customer segment — including but not limited to men, women, business travellers, and families — to tailor the guest’s experience accordingly.
For example, business travellers do not need the bellman to point out the television. They want their suitcase fast, and they want to be left alone. We will also offer them 30-minute as opposed to 60-minute spa treatments (they’re busy), and, if they’re doing business in the restaurant (where so many deals are signed on a napkin), we make sure they’re not interrupted. For business travellers, luxury can mean being visibly invisible; they’re looking for seamless and effortless service without fuss.
For women, especially if they’re traveling alone, the standard has more dimensions. Luxury means safety, as well as comfort. Along with making sure their bathrobes are appropriately sized, we’ll point out the deadbolts on the doors, and make sure their room is close to the elevators. Staff will make them feel welcome but will take pains not to be intrusive.
Communication. Curiosity is a quality we look for — and hire for — in staff. Without curious employees asking questions and listening to guests, we can’t get the information to build future dossiers: “What brings you to the hotel?” “What can we do to make your stay enjoyable?” And we reward employees who engage, making their successes part of our hotel’s oral culture.
Observation. A celebrity DJ checked into one of our hotels under an assumed name. We had no dossier on him. But we saw he was taking hundreds of pictures. Our social media expert, alerted by staff, realised he was posting these pictures to millions of followers on Instagram, so she favourited his posts, retweeted his tweets, and posted them to our Facebook page. It was clear to us (from his assumed name) that he didn’t want a fuss to be made over him at the hotel in person. But it also seemed clear (from his social sharing with millions of followers) that he was interested in digital recognition.
As important as the ratings agencies continue to be, there now are millions of “mystery shoppers” flooding businesses every day, without checklists, reporting their subjective experiences on Trip Advisor and the like. Social channels are often described as complicated, but they’re not. The issues are simple: Are you growing your audience? Are people engaging with you? And, for the luxury segment, are you engaging with them as individuals — not items on a checklist?
This article first appeared on Harvard Business Review.