Turning a Transaction into a Relationship = Creating the Memorable Experience
By John R. Hendrie & Brecca Loh
Monday, 3rd April 2006
The Check-in at the Front Desk: a mechanical, soulless interaction, prompted by computer inquiry, dictated by robotic responses, and final direction down that dark corridor.

Food Service: bland presentation, perfunctory placement of entrée, and perhaps a disinterested, "Bon Appetite".  Retail Store:  languid associate, movement an effort, haughty sales techniques, an insincere, "My, that looks fabulous on you".  Ticket Taker: a sullen, "next".  These are the opportunities missed to engage our Visitor, Guest, and Customer and transform a typical Transaction into a memorable Relationship.  This connection guarantees high Brand Loyalty and Customer Satisfaction.

We are in the Experience Business.  Our success is shaped by the Relationships we establish, the Expectations we meet, the Senses we touch, and the Behaviors and Emotions we manage. The Hospitality Industry and much of Retail have been slow to recognize the obvious, although we have spent an enormous amount of time and money to craft behaviors which reflect positively on our products and services.  Boutique Hotels and smaller lodgings have figured this out; passionate restaurateurs mold the relationship; other unique retail shops and stores embrace their patrons. 

Finally, mainstream businesses, like Starwoods Hotels and Resorts, have begun to emphasize the "experiential" aspects of the Relationship.  Some may call this a Holistic approach. A Relationship creates a lasting connection which encourages loyalty and return business. A Transaction does not; it is devoid of essential ingredients which bring delight to the exchange.

The movement from the simple Transaction to the memorable Relationship has four stages:  Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, and the Goal – the Relationship.   As we know, a Transaction is an exchange between individuals.  Expectations must be satisfied, but the typical Transaction is flat, for we have not elevated the human connection. Our objective is to create a culture which radiates our sensibilities, where we demonstrate our passion and are prepared to see, listen and really care about our Customer and Guest.  This begins with some introspection, before we integrate our Staff and our Guests into the process.

The primary building block in this hierarchy of competencies that define outstanding service performance is Self Awareness. In this step, self-confidence appears along with a strong sense of one's worth and pride in what they do.  Customers respond positively to this type of person.

The next block, Self Management, encompasses self-control.  For example, a disagreement with a spouse before arriving at work creates discord.  One can remain upset with the situation.  This competency enables one to keep that in check and not project the personal situation all over the innocent Customer or Guest.  This is also where trustworthiness, being responsible for your own performance and being flexible in responding to unexpected circumstances come into play.  

We must understand and be sensitive to another's attitude and needs, as well as expected and demonstrated behaviors. This is Social Awareness.  It is the ability to be empathetic, sensing others' feelings and perspectives, and taking an active interest in anticipating, recognizing and meeting Customer needs. Consider the Guest in the Hotel Lobby.  Where have they been, what was their day like, how do they feel?  And, then we delve into the initial transaction at the Front Desk – the welcome, the procedural (check-in administration, credit card, registration information, room key) and the close, "have a nice stay".  The mechanics are just fine, but the Experience has been impersonal, with the impression left with the Guest, "They don't care about me?" 

The counter balance to the Guest is our Staff, our Ambassadors, who deliver on the promise.  Much has been written on how we treat them and then expect these very people to represent our fine standards. 

In the words of The New York Times writer, Sandra Blakeslee, brand loyalty is created by "strong bonds with the guest…built one transaction at a time, involving face-to-face contacts. We rely on the lowest paid, least acknowledged, most vulnerable and most often abused associates…to create, or fail to create, the emotional connections that lead to Brand Loyalty".   ("Say the Right Name and They Light Up".  12/7/04). 

We do not pay them particularly well, our Training and Development dollars are sparse, and high turnover is a matter of course, and we just do not learn.  Yet, there they are, serving our purposes and directly impacting our "bottom line".  Beyond this enormous gulf we have created with our Staff, we bring in a new realm of sensitivity – theirs. 

Just as we may have learned about the layers of emotions and behaviors of our Guests, our Staff has similar capabilities and concerns, so the efforts for Self-Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness  and Relationship Management  must be extended to them as well, in order to establish a threshold of exemplary performance, technical expertise for the Transaction and emotional appreciation for the sensibilities.

Each competency can be taught in a relatively short time to promote greater harmony and productivity. This allows your Staff to perform with confidence and display the star qualities which impact the Relationship.  Interestingly, they may have the same lament as our Guest, "Why don't they (Management) care about me?"

Richard K.  Hendrie, noted Retail Brand Marketing

Expert, captured the simplicity of Relationship Building very well in his "WOW's".   "The crux of being a successful brand in the Experience Economy revolves around orchestrating 'Branded Moments of Truth'. This is not only an exceptional exercise in service but also a seamless brand story built by the geometric progression of staged, authentic moments. It is here, through this ever deepening, ideal relationship, that brand loyalty is forged.  I've talked about the value of an experience that is book-ended by: "Hello." "Welcome." "Thank You." and, "Goodbye." Make it their daily mantra with every guest, then measure, reward and reiterate that behavior at every chance. You do this and you will be amongst the elite.  The fifth Branded Moment of Truth, defined as 'Doing What It Takes To WOW' offers Olympian riches to those strong enough to risk the climb. This 'moment' incorporates every other moment of import between staff and guest, where you can move from merely purebred to greatness. ..Give me the sense that they will do whatever it takes to take care of me, to allow me to "Live Well."  

Paul Levesque, writing for Entrepreneur.com, Inc. (April 3, 2006), had some wonderful recommendations in order to achieve operations "…where turbo-charged employees pursue customer delight with a passion, places that ignite a flashpoint of contagious enthusiasm in employees and customers alike". He suggested having Staff brainstorm means to elevate the Guest Experience and also identify organizational barriers/obstacles, which allow for "… workers to savor the motivational effect of the positive feedback that ensues from delighted customers. This level of employee ownership and involvement is a key".  He further recommends, looking at our traditional means to capture information (surveys, Guest Satisfaction, etc.), that we emphasize the facets of relationship building which are the positives rather than the complaints, seeking "…examples of employees going the extra mile to deliver delight. Such feedback becomes the basis for ongoing recognition and celebration. Employees see themselves as winners on a winning team."  And, he further explodes the myth about competition, based upon price, which has play when everything is about equal, which, of course, is never the case.  "Those businesses that deliver a superior total experience from the inside out (that is, as a product of a strongly customer-focused culture) are typically those that enjoy a long-term competitive advantage--along with virtual immunity from the kinds of headaches that plague everybody else."

And, our poor Guest or Customer, feeling abandoned, dismissed, cold, detached, shifting feet in the amusement park line, aimlessly walking the store aisles, waiting patiently to place a dinner order, or tapping their Credit Card at the Front Desk.  What seals the deal for them, moves the typical transaction to the relationship stage, remembering the delight of the engagement and the exceptional Experience.  It certainly begins with the simple courtesies, now a lost art.  It is furthered by our attention, sincere exchanges which demonstrate that we care, providing for their comfort, their pleasure and their safety.  They are special, and each has needs which must be addressed, just as our Staff.  It is about that coveted connection which drives a Remarkable Experience for all!

About the authors:

John R. Hendrie believes that Remarkable Hospitality is the portal to the Memorable Experience. Review the resources on:  www.hospitalityperformance.com

Brecca Loh is an advocate of promoting "Human Capital" as one of the strongest assets of any organization.  Please learn more on www.cobaltsp.com
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