When traveling for work, I usually try to stay at the same hotel chain so I can attempt to maintain some type of status and possibly accumulate enough points for a free vacation. However, my criteria for hotels have drastically changed over my many years of traveling. This is quite possibly due to so many varied experiences plus the fact that I’ve become pretty discriminating and will be fairly vocal about both good and bad experiences. Sometimes it’s the smallest tactics that will gain forgiveness for larger issues. I often question how well my “favored” hotel chain really meets my expectations.
The same holds true for many customers’ retail experiences. As an analogy, my hotel chain of choice has done a decent job of upgrading their locations to ensure they meet the standards of their many business and family travellers. But a simple paint job and new furnishings only go so far. Outside of a visual observation, how do I know my standards like fresh, clean sheets are being upheld? My conversations with the hotel staff are usually fairly brief and transactional – “Here’s your room key, the elevators are to the right, and breakfast is from 6 to 10am.” There is little opportunity for them to delve into the specifics of the brand’s customer value proposition.
Here is where a well-executed communications strategy comes into play.
During a recent trip, I stayed in 3 different hotels of the same chain. This particular chain does a nice job integrating local scenery into their lobby and other common area designs, signage and artwork. They even go so far to incorporate messaging in the elevators. In the first night’s hotel, the message in the elevator basically was, “Here’s our website address if you have any questions.” Well…OK, thanks…but I already KNEW that, so it’s nice you want to talk…but I didn’t get any value from that communication and you didn’t tell me anything new. Seems like a waste of time and materials (even though the picture was tasteful).
Second hotel (second night of this trip): the elevator message was about how they change their sheets and comforter covers for each guest. They phrased it with catchy abbreviations (think: texting) and paired it with sweet photos of kids having a pillow fight or a child peacefully sleeping to make it really appealing to all types of travellers (I mean, who can resist adoring a sleeping, peaceful child?).
I now have the confidence of when I stay with this chain of hotels that not only my sheets, but also the comforter will be freshly laundered. I had always secretly questioned this fact previously, but now I know…I mean, they wouldn’t lie, would they?
The point is they answered my unasked question with a simple sign. I would have never made such an inquiry (and expected a knowledgeable answer) of a front desk or housekeeping staff member. Usually I’m in too much of a hurry to get settled in my room to even think about it. But the signage and message were carefully planned out and thoughtfully executed. This company – and in particular, this property – understands the concerns their patrons have, and knows what it will take to put their brand above their competitors.
Third night, third hotel. I was actually looking forward to seeing what the elevator messaging might be. (Perhaps this is a testament to how not exciting I find business travel?) In any case, I was severely disappointed when the signage was even more generic than the first night. Simple, somewhat appealing picture? Yes. Message that answered a question or provided value? A deflating “No.”
Why the messaging isn’t consistent within the chain may be due to a variety of factors. Admittedly, I don’t know the hospitality / hotel industry as well as I do retail, but I could speculate it’s due to individual property budgets, timing, management priorities, execution issues or a combination of those factors. However, even though my rooms and the quality of the amenities (aka the product) in each of these properties were virtually identical, I received very different messaging each night.
How well is your messaging planned and executed? Is it addressing key customer questions and needs? Are your stores and do your online channels sufficiently address these queries or are you forcing your customers to seek answers on their own or go to your competitors? While it would be nice to think your store staff or website “Help” function could anticipate and handle all of this messaging, it’s simply not reality. Consider your visual messaging and how it’s planned. Consider how it’s executed. Ensure it’s consistent across all of your channels.
Another key communication consideration – and one so very often overlooked – is what you cascade to your direct reports and employees. We’ve seen numerous examples of system changes, new tools, merchandising decisions, etc. that don’t get effectively communicated to the store level because these communications are either too decentralized or simply not done. Consider the impact of this on your operations: product gets on the sales floor at the wrong time, causing marketing and replenishment issues. Excess management time is spent on trying to figure out where the information now resides or how to access a certain report that’s been changed – or trying to interpret a new policy. Often a 15-minute conference call or simple email could minimize such issues and the downstream time delays of your staff trying to figure out something new.
With so much focus on driving sales and “beating” the competition, a well-planned and consistent communications strategy – both internal and external – and the subsequent execution is something that often goes by the wayside. In this age of on-demand information, effective communications is not something to be taken lightly at any level or to any audience. Leading companies have effectively focused on enhancing both their internal and external communications strategies – making them a key part of their overall business strategy.