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"The Customer of the Future - Will Tomorrow's Customers Be Yours?"
By Christine Corelli   Printer Friendly Version

Who am I? I'm better educated, more individualistic, and more discriminating than my predecessors were. I expect you to know what I want and I expect you to know what I am willing to pay for it.

If I call you on the phone to make any type of inquiry, whether it's about room availability, to give me directions, provide group rates, or anything I want to know about you, I want you be able to give me an answer in no more than three seconds. - You can thank modern technology for that!

I'm extremely computer literate, so I want to be able to find you and communicate with you on the Internet, whether you are a start-up, small Bed & Breakfast or established conference hotel. I'm very demanding. If you don't have a good reputation, I probably won't consider setting foot on your property. If I do decide to become your guest, I want you to be available for me at any time, and I don't want to stand in any lines or be put on hold. I expect your property to have all the comforts of home and the amenities I want it to have. If you cannot deliver what I want, when I want it, at the price I'm willing to pay, and how I want it, our networked society will tell me where else to go to get it.

I expect a great deal, and if I don't get what I expect, I can become your strongest critic. I expect your front-line people to be customer-friendly, knowledgeable, and be able to anticipate my needs before I even realize I need them. I want speed and efficiency, and if I ever hear the words, "I don't know..." I'll be so turned off, I'll grumble the rest of my stay, no matter how cozy a room you provide.

I demand courtesy and respect. If I am from another country, I expect your people to be able to communicate with me, and understand my country's culture as well.

If you do as I expect, I can be your ambassador. If you don't, I can be your assassin. Who am I?

I am "The Customer." Am I too hard on you? No! Because you need to take a good hard look at me today, to be able to learn the answer to this pressing question - "Will Tomorrow's Customers Be Yours?"

Sound familiar? It's all too true. Today's customer is definitely more demanding than ever. And any wise lodging owner who wants to ensure the future success of their business can figure that they must take a good hard look at today's customers in order to be able to anticipate what it will take to be able to win the business of the customer of the future.

First, let's examine today's business customers. They are working in a world where a global economy has emerged-an economy characterized by rapid change and an unprecedented level of competitiveness. Takeovers, mergers, downsizing, and reorganization are the norm. Sophisticated technology has created an "Era of Speed" where they are expected to work, learn, receive information, and finish projects faster - all to be able to service their own demanding customers. Most have no support staff, are feeling the pressure to perform. The common cry is "I have too much to do, and too little time."

Many are travel-weary, and the lack of life-balance is a major issue. This causes them to become impatient, and all too often they are short-tempered when traveling for business purposes.

When they finally get a break, for a weekend or a brief vacation get-away, their expectations of the lodging facility where they stay are very high. Do you blame them? They may be suffering from "job-burnout." So when they do get away, the want every aspect of their experience on your property to be efficient and hassle free.

Now, let's look at the leisure travelers. They are predominantly baby boomers, which are the driving force behind consumer spending and investing. They are also huge players in the travel and leisure market today. They have worked hard for their money and are consumed with achieving "Quality of Life." Consequently, they are looking for a "Quality Experience" when traveling. Also, they are computer literate.

Many have parents who are still healthy in their late seventies and eighties who also enjoy traveling whenever they can. And scientists are predicting that in the 21st Century people will live to be 100 years of age. So we will have to market to this "new generation" of older consumers. Not only will today's baby-boomers travel more in the 21st Century, but let's not forget our Generation X'ers who want to go places and do things now. They don't want to have to wait until they get older like their parents did to enjoy life. They are the "Live Now" generation. They grew up with computers and are fast to find what they seek on the Internet. Then we have married people who both usually have jobs. When they do get that rare get-away, be it alone, they want to recharge their batteries and rejuvenate.

Whether servicing the business customer or leisure customer, there are several things these groups have in common, things we can count on if we want their business in the 21st Century. They will want even more incredible customer service, they will be even more well informed, and almost all of them will be looking for access to information about your property on the Internet.

Which lodging properties will be able to compete and win-over the Customer of the Future? Those who...

  • Lean on technology

    "Today's customers are looking for anytime, anyplace access to information. If you don't provide it, someone else will." (Online Resources and Communications Corporation)

As we move into the 21st Century, there is absolutely no doubt, that the customer is the lifeblood of your business. The Internet will be your lifeline. (Besides, the Internet is an excellent way to check out the competition.) If you still do not have a Web site, then you must answer this question:

"How much further into the future is your competition living?"

Some lodging property websites do more than provide their address and their rates. They provide on-line reservations; links from travel service websites, customer testimonials interactive driving directions, links to area attractions, etc. There's no limit what a good web designer might be able to help you innovate.

The cost for having someone develop, maintain, and host your website are not very expensive. With businesses across many industries moving to the Intranet, those who are last to get on-line will be last in line.

  • Can outdistance their current and future competitors with innovation

Differentiating your property from the competition is crucial. Creativity in the way you market and sell your lodging service will be the key to success in the future. If what you sell or offer is not much different then what your competition sells or offers, how will you stand out in the well-informed mind of the 21st Century customer if you don't advertise, market and service differently than others?

Look hard at what makes you different from your competitors and capitalize on those differences. You don't really see anything that makes you special? Then neither will your customers. Can you be innovative with your pricing structure? Can you offer activities for children or perks that other properties aren't offering? Can you develop more marketing and promotional relationships with area attractions?

If you don't do it, your competition will.

  • Are willing to take calculated risks to introduce new amenities or services to the marketplace that their customers are demanding

Focusing on the voice of the customer will breed success. Are you listening any time a customer says, "Why don't you..." or "What can't you...?" He or she is sending you a message that you must make changes to meet customer demands. And for every customer that gives you a "Why don't you..." there are probably dozens more thinking the same thing who never express it to you. Listening to the wants and needs of the baby-boomers, business travelers, Generation X'ers, and senior customers will give you creative ideas on what to provide. Don't wait for them to come to you.

Use comment cards if you must, but get out and talk to people. A warm, friendly, and sincere "What more can we do to make your stay even more pleasant?" will probably get you honest feedback, plus it will show the customer that you are concerned about them as an individual.

  • Provide a Quality Lodging Experience

Our customers today, and those we serve tomorrow, want and expect a quality experience. And that involves every aspect of the business process- from your Web Site, the reservation process, check-in, facilities, cleanliness etc., and most importantly, the way they are treated by your staff. That is why, as we approach the new Millennium,

"The race for quality has no finish-line."

If you think you can compete solely on the basis of price, you are mistaken because there are many lodging properties that have found a way to compete on the basis of both price and service.

  • Instill a "Quality" culture in their facility

It's not enough to say that you provide people a quality lodging experience without the involvement of those who work for you. A quality experience involves a "buy-in" from yourself and your staff to the philosophy of quality and being committed to service-excellence. What good are the best linens on the bed if the housekeeper is not thorough? What good is best pool if the attendant talk doesn't chat with patrons? What good is a sophisticated telephone system if the operator is slow to answer?

  • Develop customer relationships and establish a reputation for outstanding customer service

Once your people have bought into the quality culture, they must work to treat each customer as if he or she is the only customer you have. Think about that. If you business depended on a solitary customer, wouldn't you do whatever you had to do to make sure he or she comes back? Sure, we all have much more than one customer staying at our property, but when we lose business to a competitor, we lose it one customer at a time. This is especially crucial not only meeting planners business customers, but leisure travel customers as well.

Your staff must exhibit behaviors and actions that help build customer loyalty. A strong focus for developing and sustaining customer relationships is, and will always be the key to success, lest we forget that this is a service industry.

There's been a lot of talk these days about the "new millennium." It seems that every competitor in every industry claims it wants to be the one to lead the way. Each wants to position itself for the future and win the race.

You should make sure that you've positioned yourself to be one of the winners, but the truth is, when the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2000, we all enter the New Year at the same time. (At least in this time zone we do.) But in the race that really matters, Time does not determine the winners and losers. The customer of the future will get that honor.

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