Just how important is customer experience?

27 Jul 2017

"I’ll start by setting the scene. Back in 2009 I ran Tourism NSW as it then was, it’s now Destination NSW for five years. And shortly after I left the organisation, I joined the advisory board of Luxury Travel magazine. And I attended the International Luxury Travel Market up in Shanghai and I was really determined to try to get a handle on a definition for luxury travel.

I sort of was grappling, was it that people were prepared to spend $US 1000 a day, ex air? Was that the definition? Did your class of travel and the star rating of your hotel determine whether or not you were a luxury traveller?

And then one of my fellow delegates from the Kiwi collection, who people will know bills itself as the world’s largest and most diverse curated collection of luxury hotels, said “No, no you’ve got it all wrong. It’s about getting a cold glass of water just before you knew you were thirsty. That’s luxury.”

And at its essence really that’s saying just one thing. It’s about customer empathy. It’s about putting yourself smack bang in your customer’s shoes and being literally one step ahead of them. It’s understanding and anticipating their needs.

In this age of digital disruption, brands are much more about a lived experience than a perceived experience and customer loyalty I think is much shallower. And the challenge I think for the travel businesses is understanding, empathising with, anticipating and meeting the needs of your customers. And it’s never been more important to do that.

Some could say this is what hospitality has always been about. It’s just that the way in which we can do it, to better serve our customers today, has changed largely thanks to technology. And I think in the face of really intense competition, online price aggregators, travel companies have to provide unique experiences to set themselves apart. And you have to definitely stand for something beyond price.

I think you have to ask yourself, am I really giving value to my customers and an experience above the transaction. And you have to work out where and how to be different, what you want to be famous for and be very single-minded about that.

I think you should ask yourself if I could start again with a blank slate, how might I be doing things differently today. And if you would be doing things differently, then you probably need to find a way to change your business regardless of the challenges.

Of course all of this, as I’ve said before, depends on your ability to manage culture and change.

So I opened with the proposition that luxury is about your needs pre-empted. You can undertake a program of business transformation that will see your customers getting a cold glass of water just before they knew they needed it.

Thank you."