Last week, I went to collect my car from a local service center nearby. As I started from home, I received a few beeps on my phone. A set of 6 snaps of my car before service, and after service. This was followed by a pdf file with 2 pages. The first page contained the estimate and details of work. The second page was the invoice. When I reached the service center, my car had already been parked outside the workplace. One boy (with a mask) came and sanitized the door handles, steering wheel, gear knob and dashboard in front of me. I did a quick check of all the doors, and as I finished doing that, the same boy came up with a plastic card bearing the QR code for making a UPI payment. In a matter of 4 minutes, I was driving back home! The process that used to take me a minimum of 20-25 minutes was brought down to 4 minutes by doing nothing much, but a bit of extra thought and action.

The Disruption

The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have reconfigured the mindsets of humanity. 2020 dealt a disruptive hand to every business on this planet. For a few who facilitated business and human connect through technology, it was growth on steroids, but for most, it has been a challenge staring in the face. Hospitality is one of the industries that has been affected the most. After all, it is an industry that depends directly on travel. With travel taking a severe hit, the first to bear the brunt, as an offshoot was indeed, hospitality.   

But things are gradually changing. People are back at the airports and railway stations albeit in subdued numbers. Business travel is picking up and holidays and vacationing won’t be far behind either. But does that mean things are back to how they were? No. The new normal is not just in the way we do things. The new normal is also in the way we see and perceive things. Fear lurks in some corner in every social interaction.

The Mindset Shift

When a business traveler checks into a hotel today, the first thing he asks is not whether it’s a non-smoking room, but how and when the room was sanitized. From the corner of his eye, he checks out the crowd in the lobby. He also simultaneously maintains a safe distance from the front desk executive. A family vacationer will have an eagle eye on where all their kids touch and double check if they have enough stock of sanitizer ready.

These are mindset shifts and it will stay this way for a while, until Mr. Vaccine makes an entry into the market and manages to reach every nook and corner of the world. Maybe even after! Mindsets are an integral part of the customer experience. So, when there is a mindset shift, the customer experience paradigms will also change for the hospitality players.

People still need clean rooms, great food, and good service and so on. But in the new normal, fear is an integral part of the customer mindset. So, needless to say, hygiene and sanitation are of prime importance. But along with that, hospitality players will have to think deeper into the entire experience that they are creating for their customer. 

The Experience

In today’s attention-starved cluttered market, customer experience is the single most powerful differentiating factor for your business. Let’s go a bit deeper into it. What is customer experience? Is it the same as buying experience? No, in fact it is a lot more than that. For me, the hotel experience starts when the hotel is found on the search result and ends when I check out of the hotel and post a review while sitting at the airport. How I felt during this entire journey will prompt me to come back and also rave about my experience to my network. This is where the Extra Mile Magic comes into play!

The Extra Mile

A great memorable and unmatched customer experience is never created by one individual; the whole team produces it. As they say, the magic lies in the extra mile. Indeed, it takes visionary leadership, hands-on decision-making and proactive customer service to create the extra mile magic.

Let’s decode this extra mile magic now! Hospitality is an industry where every customer touch point is equally important. Doing something right 9 out of 10 times might go unnoticed, but that 1 out of the 10 when something didn’t go right will always be noticed. So, concentrating on the following aspects would lead you go the extra mile with precision.

Intent – Intent begins in the mind but manifests in what we do. The process of going the extra mile begins with inspiring the team to develop the right intent. The intent to create a great customer experience. The intent to not just serve, but also observe, understand and empathize. The intent to put thought into work on a regular, consistent basis. Like all great things, the extra mile magic too starts with the intent.

Observation – The intent is followed by keen thoughtful observation. The team has to be trained to observe customers with the objective of understanding them better. What customers prefer, what they say, what they express without saying, and so on and so forth. Every little information counts! Observation should not be reactive, but it should be proactive. Hospitality is the business OF people, FOR people and WITH people. So observation goes a long way in creating the magic!

Thought – Observation is absorbing visual data. Data leads to results only when it is sorted, segmented and interpreted. Applying thought to observation generates ideas, suggestions and creative solutions. By observing what a customer does at the check-in desk, we get to know their priorities and preferences. When every team member is mindful of observation, there would be a plethora of new ideas, creative inputs and suggestions to create a great experience for the customer.

Action – The last and final step in creating the extra mile magic is the most critical one. Taking action leads to results. The insights collected from the previous three phases should be distilled to a simple, actionable strategy. Going the extra mile is not about moving mountains for the customer. It is about making the customer experience as effortless as possible. Right from the point of checking in, to the stay, to the in-dining experience, to using the various facilities and finally checking out, true extra mile magic happens when we pre-empt the customer issues and clear the road for them to enjoy a great memorable stay.

The Extra Mile Magic is a simple strategy for business leaders and professionals in the service industry, especially hospitality, to create an effortless customer experience in the new normal. It starts with having the extra intent, observing their customers a wee bit more, putting in that extra thought and then taking consistent action to create magic! New-normal brands are not built on the highway. They are built on the extra mile!

About the Author

Vinay Pushpakaran is a sales specialist, communication coach and entrepreneur with over 16 years of experience in sales and marketing across 7 countries. He has co-authored 'Filter Koffee Chronicles' - a collection of short stories written during the lockdown. He specializes in audacious sales strategies for entrepreneurs.

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