At the BDO Biennial Conference in Lucerne in October 2012, we were pleased to invite Mr Andrea Kracht, Chairman of Leading Hotels of the World and sixth generation proprietor of the five star Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, to present to over 350 BDO delegates. Here, Mr Kracht shares a few of the insights he gave us on the topic of delivering exceptional client service.
Client service holds the key to keeping ahead of competitors
By Andrea Kracht, Chairman of the Executive Committee of Leading Hotels of the World
Having worked in the hospitality industry for over 25 years, it’s fair to say I’ve seen my fair share of good and bad customer service. As Chairman of the world’s largest network of luxury hotels, Leading Hotels of the World, we pride ourselves on delivering a unique and authentic client experience. That experience directly depends on each and every staff member putting our customer at the heart of what they do. Client service is not a luxury we can dispense with. It’s the precondition to everything we do and stand for.
In my time in the industry, one of the biggest challenges to our customer service offering was the advent of the internet – our ‘big bang’ moment. At once our biggest threat and greatest opportunity, overnight we faced a new wave of competition from a host of online travel web sites which not only were able to offer and make reservations much more cheaply than the established players but, crucially, started to offer instant reviews and comparisons of thousands of hotels. What potential guests read about you on social media sites is a huge influencer: marketing is no longer about what we and our PR companies put out there.
We soon realised that the greatest challenge associated with this was to define what we meant by exceptional customer service and to make sure that these standards were readily accepted by our members as objective and fair. We also knew that, if we were going to rise to this challenge, we were going to have to look at how we could set ourselves apart from the crowd and make sure our exceptional service offering would continue to set us apart from our competitors.
We concluded that we’d need to change the mindset of our business on a global scale to ensure our high quality offering was delivered in any of our hotels across the world. We decided that we needed a set of exacting quality standards that would help us measure ourselves against our competition and ensure that all hotels in our portfolio would meet them. Indeed, an entity like Leading Hotels is only as strong as its weakest member.
Working with an independent organisation, we created a joint venture solely dedicated to measuring quality service. Each of our member hotels was to be rated against 800 internationally-benchmarked best practice standards and given clear, personalised feedback on how to improve its service further.
We then took another bold decision to help us firmly place customer satisfaction at the heart of our business: we decided to link part of our profits to our client service. We introduced a new paid-for guest loyalty scheme which would reflect our guests’ personal commitment to our brand. The new scheme gave our members a vast array of benefits while at the same time creating a strong database of customers loyal to our hotels. It also improved each of our member hotels’ commitment to the global brand by reinforcing the business need to deliver consistently high quality service.
My world is that of hotels, but I can see a great deal of relevance for other businesses too.
Firstly, I believe that our experience proves that delivering exceptional client service isn’t a myth; it is tangible and can be implemented and crucially measured in every business.
Secondly, it is important to remember that even while measuring the quality of your client service, exceptional service relies to a huge extent on peer and staff motivation, and on instilling a true belief and passion for excellence among your people. Wherever we work, exceptional service resulting in client satisfaction should be at the heart of everything we do, and this is a message that has to come from the top.
And, finally, we shouldn’t just focus on what customers expect from us; we should aim to go the extra mile and delight them with the unexpected. This is about providing tailored service rather than ‘off the peg’ solutions, and making your service memorable for all the right reasons.