It is not every day that one has cause to trumpet the work of the Centre for Hospitality Research at New York’s Cornell School of Hotel Administration – much of what they produce is as dry and dusty as it gets – but two recent studies touch on issues that should provide food for thought for Dorset businesses.
The first takes a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at hotel guests’ tolerance levels, investigating how long they will wait at a check-in desk before storming off in disgust to stay somewhere else. The second is a rather more weighty discussion on the value of customer loyalty.
Both have wide-ranging implications for businesses of all sizes, and across many sectors.
The “wait-watchers” report suggests that British guests (and, by extension, customers in general) are generally content to queue for six minutes, after which their mood deteriorates. At around the 17-minute mark, we blow a fuse, and take our business – and our wallets – elsewhere.
The loyalty study indicates that satisfied clients can be persuaded to become repeat clients, but that they won’t spend any more money when they do come back. They can, however, be persuaded to spend a similar amount of money, more frequently.
The two research documents may have been published separately, but they are clearly inter-linked. First impressions count; lasting impressions count even more.
Customer service needs to be as immediate as it is attentive. Restaurants’ increasingly-ubiquitous “Please wait to be seated” signs can indicate a desire to offer a personalised welcome or, after a minute or two, a desire to keep staff costs down while the hapless hungry kick their heels.
Customer service also needs to be as considerate as it is continuous – “up-selling” can be a dangerous game. The repeat customer will welcome a reward for his or her loyalty (a drink on the house, for example) but is unlikely to be impressed by an exhortation to consider the wine list’s more expensive options.
The Cornell study indicates that if the product and service levels are up to scratch, customers will return – but they will expect to pay roughly the same, no matter how often they come back. As the “usual” £40-a-head bill creeps up to £50, £60 or more, they will start to look elsewhere.
Hotelier or restaurateur, butcher, baker or candlestick-maker, the balancing act remains the same. Your customers may love you, but they are working to a budget; break the bank, and you break the bond.
In any successful business, customer service is, or should be, a given. To take it to the next level, however, customer service needs to become customer knowledge – an understanding of his or her expectations, and the ability and readiness to meet those expectations.
To return to the first of those two Cornell reports, one should perhaps be aware that US citizens will just about put up with a two-minute wait. After five minutes, they’re off.
And they won’t be back.