Roger Staubach once said: "There are no traffic jams along the extra mile."
It continues to amaze me that the sentiment still rings true in the consumer-empowered age.
Why is it that almost every time we hang up the phone with a customer service rep, we feel flat? Despite the profiling technologies, the predictive analytics technologies, the customer databases that companies have at their fingertips, it is still insanely hard for them to provide a breathtaking experience. Why?
I think it is because a lot of times companies are missing a key ingredient to business success - human passion.
Sadly, it not only isn't built into companies' culture and business mentality, it isn't built into companies' incentives and business objectives.
The only way your company will build lasting relationships with your customers is if you provide amazing experiences at every touchpoint with that customer. And the only way to ensure that is to employ people who are passionate about what they do and about serving their customers. Only passion will prompt them to go extra mile when the customer needs it most.
In this column I have already discussed the importance of employees as brand ambassadors and why a company is only as extraordinary as its people. I talked about the fact that for most customers it is about little things, about a human touch. It also only takes a small act of caring to turn a negative opinion around and create a brand advocate for life. And advocates are the ones that bring additional business revenue through word-of-mouth. The Retail Consumer Report, for example, states that 85% of consumers are willing to pay 5-25% over the standard price for the products from companies that deliver superior customer experience.
How do companies provide superior experiences? They give people an opportunity to engage with them. Sometimes it's just as simple as asking a single question. One simple question can do amazing things for brand affinity.
That was the case for my family and I last week when we visited Villa del Palmar resort in Loreto, Mexico.
A high-end resort, it boasted a beautiful remote property and exceptional service. It was our first time in Loreto and we were looking forward to our week-long experience. Unfortunately, there were several things that were not making a great first impression. Aside from several rather minor mishaps that could have been managed better by the resort staff, what couldn't be controlled was the weather. In the beginning of the week Loreto caught the effects of a tropical storm that brought strong winds and impacted the ability to go out into the ocean. I can't say we weren't enjoying the stay (we absolutely were), but several of these things had an effect on our perception. By the middle of the week we started comparing this resort with multiple other experiences we had in Mexico and surmised that, though we didn't have much to complain about, this probably wasn't our #1 Mexico experience overall. That is, until we met Mario Alberto Dominguez Torres, the property's restaurant general manager.
We were sitting by the pool one day when Mario Dominguez and Alejandro Flores, head waiter of the Market Restaurant, came up to us with a simple question: "How is your stay?" It wasn't just a generic question, they honestly wanted to know all the good, bad, and the ugly. They engaged us in the conversation, which ended up in an open sharing of feedback, our memorable experiences, and ideas.
Nothing new. A lot of businesses ask for feedback. Right? But this is when it went in a whole new direction. After a short, but great conversation I added half-jokingly that one thing I couldn't understand is why they didn't have a tres leches cake on their menu. Mind you, I didn't say having it on the menu would make the whole stay memorable. I just joked about the lack of one. Mario and Alejandro looked at each other. "Really?" Mario was surprised. Apparently in Mexico tres leches cake isn't anything special. To me, though, that makes the whole stay in Mexico magic. You can't get a good tres leches cake in the US. Our last visit to Cancun was dampened a bit for me when I couldn't find one on the dessert menu of any of the 3 restaurants our resort had. Yes, I know, I am strange in that I am very particular about my desserts. But remember, sometimes it's the little things that matter.
Imagine my absolute delight when that night the dinner buffet displayed the cake up front and center. Not only that, by the end of our dinner, Mario and Alejandro surprised me with a beautifully decorated piece of my own. I was ecstatic. The whole restaurant staff watched in amazement as I grinned like a fool and hugged people, all for a little cake. Like I said, I am passionate about my dessert. But what delighted me the most is the extra effort that the team took to go out and find a cake, just to make one guest happy.
Then I started noticing other things. Like the next day when my 5-year old daughter marched right to Alfonso Peregrina, executive chef, and asked for a chicken noodle soup. I was a bit mortified, but chef didn't even blink, he just smiled at her and said "Si, senorita, don't worry, I'll make sure I bring it to your table." And he did. Which sparked our conversation with Alfonso about food preparation, his favorite recipes, and other things. We made fast friends. I am proud to say that I am now an owner of chef's tres leches cake recipe (among several other very delicious dishes) which chef emailed to me the next day.
This wasn't all. On our next to last day at the resort we came back to the room to the note from general manager, Sixto Navarro, wishing my husband a happy birthday. The bed was decorated with coral beads with the same wish, and a beautifully designed piece of cheesecake awaited my smiling other half on the table.
On the last day Mario asked us to meet him for a special dinner surprise by the restaurant. He proceeded to take us to the beach where the table for three was set up by the candlelight. Chef Alfonso prepared a special meal for us, which we will not soon forget. It was amazing. Mario told us how much he appreciated our friendship, our willingness to provide direct feedback regarding our stay, and our direct style. He and his staff wanted to do something special for us before we left. Throughout our stay we made friends with many resort employees. Every single one of them had an interesting story; several of them had families with kids the same age as ours, and similar hobbies (such as fishing) which we discussed at length.
Our minds were blown. As far as the restaurant service goes, it was the best we experienced so far in any of our global travels (which are many). During our Cancun stay last year no one even bothered to address my request for dessert. And here I was, in the small town of Loreto, at a resort where several people turned my neutral disposition into one of a raving fan and probably a life-long advocate.
And it only took one question.
The resort's staff opened themselves up to the opportunity to engage, to improve, go from good to great as a business, and win the hearts and minds of current customers long-term before they potentially lost them forever. They not only graciously accepted constructive feedback, but went the extra mile for the opportunity to improve our perception of their brand. That, for us, was a game changer. Several employees' customer-focused behaviors made the difference between a vacation and a memorable experience we want to share with others.
Many companies are afraid to ask. Why? Because when you open yourself up to engage with your customer, you won't always get positive feedback, and that isn't pleasant. What's worse though is companies asking for feedback, but not acting on it. There is no better time than present to turn a customer on the defensive into a fan, no more golden business opportunity to make a present experience remarkable, to convert a neutral customer into an advocate.
When I asked Mario Dominguez why he and his staff did what they did for us, he looked surprised by the question and said simply: "We love what we do. We love our customers and want to make them happy."
Companies need more Marios, Alejandros, and Alfonsos on their staff, people who are passionate enough to go extra mile for their customers and build relationship capital for the business which will ultimately drive additional revenue.
As for us, we are already discussing our next trip to Villa del Palmar.
Originally published on Forbes