September 28, 2016

The secret to extraordinary guest service.

Two years ago, Sandra the housekeeper at the Delta Halifax in Nova Scotia stole my heart and forever sealed my loyalty to that hotel.  I thought the happily-ever-after story ended there…but I was wrong.  It gets better.

Since that famous visit (the blog post about it was read/shared more than 100,000 times), I’ve returned to the Delta Halifax often.  And given the widespread recognition of the story, it’s not surprising that many of the staff there know me, or at least know who I am.  I treasure the bond that we’ve forged, and their extraordinary guest service has remained intact on each visit.

The guest in me revels in that consistency.  But the hospitality business counselor in me realizes that the stakes are getting higher and higher with each stay.  Can they keep hitting the mark EVERY SINGLE TIME?  Surely, they’re bound to be off their service game at some point.  What’s going to happen to this magical bond between us when they disappoint me for the first time?  What’s going to happen when they fail?

Happily, on my most recent visit, I learned that The Delta Halifax will NEVER fail at delivering extraordinary guest service.  I discovered their foolproof secret, and here it is:

After a grueling five-hour drive, I arrived at the hotel at 9:30pm…parked right in front of the door, flew out of the car, ran past the front desk agent, said nothing but “Hi, I need the ladies room before I can check in,” and then scooted out of sight.  When I returned to the front desk, the agent (who I didn’t know) had my room keys ready and said, “Welcome back, Ms. Miranda…we have you in Sandra’s section, and will you be needing assistance with your bags before we park your car?”

I didn’t ask how she knew who I was.  Perhaps I was the last check-in that evening.  Maybe they have a photo of me in my guest profile.  Who cares?  I was just grateful for the friendly expediency and headed back outside to deal with luggage and car.

The young bellman gent who shepherded me (and seven large bags and boxes) to my room was also unfamiliar to me, though he too also seemed to know me.  While chatting, I asked how long he’s been working there.  Answer:  three weeks.  After he got me settled into the room, I asked him if I needed a valet ticket for my car.  Answer:  “No worries, Ms. Miranda, we know who you are…just call down when you’re ready for the car and we’ll bring it around.”

I couldn’t hold back any longer.  I said, “You just started three weeks ago…how on earth do you know who I am?”

Answer:  “Are you kidding?  You’re a legend here.  I learned about your pillow story during my orientation, and everyone who works here gets excited when you’re coming back.”  Cue mouth agape and slight sting of happy tears on my part.

But wait.  There’s more.

I gave him a $25 tip when he left my room…that was a lot of heavy baggage AND he parked my car.  A minute later, he knocked on my door to give the 20 back because he thought I mistakenly gave him the wrong bill.  Seriously.  I almost gave him ANOTHER 20, just for being adorable.

Adorable gent gone, I surveyed the room.  Yes, my special towel-pillow was there, with a welcome note from Sandra.  And this time, she upped her game, surrounding my complimentary bottle of water with hearts that she hand cut out of paper water coasters.

fullsizerender-8Life was good.  I was home.

But now I was curious.  Was it JUST me?  It seems that my blog post had earned the hotel some measure of recognition among its peers and corporate office, and Sandra was certainly given praise for her role in the famous pillow story.  But was everyone in this hotel extra nice and helpful to me just because I got them positive attention?  I needed to know.

So the next day, I sat and observed…at the restaurant, in the lobby, outside on the benches.  I watched every single staff member interact with guests at various points throughout the day.  And guess what?  It’s not just me.  They may not know everyone’s name or face, but good heavens…they are THAT NICE AND HELPFUL to everyone.  I saw anticipatory, gracious, and extraordinary service at every touch point – servers, bell staff, maintenance dudes, front desk team, executives walking around…every interaction, with every person.

How was this possible?  The Delta Halifax is NOT a small hotel.  But surely they can’t have simply hired every amazing person in the city?  And surely they can’t just hand out a training manual and teach people good judgment on how to be gracious without being annoying?  If that were possible, then every hotel in the world would be a giant bundle of amazingness.

And then, upon reflection, it hit me.  It’s pride.  Staff at the Delta Halifax are instilled with a sense of pride in the hotel, and in each other.  They enjoy nurturing the hotel’s stellar reputation, and they conspire together to make guests happy.  They care deeply – collectively and as individuals – that guests are made to feel welcomed, special, and loved.  And…here’s the best part:  it’s genuine.  They don’t just act it.  They FEEL it.

Yes, there’s a Delta employee training manual.  And yes, there are workshops, brand standards, performance reviews and all that jazz.  But let me tell you something, folks:  you can’t teach pride. 

Full honors go to the executive team at the Delta Halifax for fostering that culture, because this type of environment can ONLY exist if the management team encourages it, shapes it, rewards it, and reclaims it when it goes astray.

Hospitality managers everywhere…here’s what you can learn from this story.  If your guest service isn’t extraordinary, find out why your employees aren’t taking pride in your organization and fix it.  Why should they love working for you?  Why should they care?  What are you trying to achieve together for your guests?  Fix that, and I guarantee you, all your guest service issues will go away.

Delta Halifax…I take my hat off to you.  You have my loyalty as a guest, and my respect as a hospitality business counselor.  I don’t know exactly how you instill that sense of pride in your staff, but you know what?  I don’t want to know.  Keep that part of your secret, and I’ll just keep coming back to enjoy the magic.

PS:  On the second morning of my stay, the server at breakfast automatically brought me cream with my coffee because she remembered I asked for it on the first day.  Just sayin’.

October 9, 2015

Catch more flies. Make more money.

A small restaurant in Denver, CO shows the world that when it comes to establishing your business philosophy, honey trumps vinegar hands down. 

Picture this:  You’re starving.  You’re weary after a long day.  You want to shed your troubles with good company, some laughs, delicious food, and certainly a cocktail or two.  And as you step up to the host stand, your request for a table is answered with the single most annoying phrase on the planet:

“For a party of two, the wait time is currently around one hour and 45 minutes.”

If you’re the restaurant owner, what’s the fallout from this scenario?

  • The MOMENT people enter your restaurant, they’re hit with something negative.
  • Most people will just leave and go elsewhere.
  • While they may not actively HATE you, they feel disappointment and frustration.
  • If it happens more than once, many people will stop trying.

Most importantly, you lose the opportunity to form a relationship with people who are just ripe for the picking.  They’ve sought you out and made the effort to land on your doorstep.  And now you have to turn them away?  This chronic problem of busy restaurants makes owners (and their marketing folks) weep.

But the smart, cheerful, positive thinkers who run Work & Class are shedding no tears over this issue.

On a recent visit to Denver, I was greeted at their host stand with that same annoying phrase.  I glanced at the teeny-tiny, jam-packed bar and said to the two hostesses, “Rats. We are only in town tonight and were dying to try this place, but that’s just too long to wait.  Oh well.”

The hostesses could have simply said, “Oh, sorry…come see us again on your next visit!”  And had they done so, that would have been the end of my relationship with Work & Class.

Instead, they said, “hold on a minute.”  And the two of them scanned the wait list, craned their necks to look at the locations of patrons at the bar, and whispered conspiratorially to each other.  Then one of them leaned in and said to me, “See those people sitting at the far side of the bar?  In around 20 minutes, I’m going to seat them.  If you want to wait right here at the host stand, I’ll take you with me when I go to tell them their table is ready, and you can grab their seats and eat at the bar.  And I could bring cocktails here to you while you’re waiting.”

Who could say no to that?  Especially since they both had huge smiles on their faces and were clearly delighted to be making my friend and me happy.  We said yes.  A champagne and a whiskey appeared momentarily, and then the best part happened:  we had a 20-minute front row seat to watch the magic of the Work & Class host stand in action.  Here’s what goes down:

  • The hostesses are not robots…they display empathy for each and every person’s plight with the wait time, and they remained genuinely cheerful and positive despite delivering unwelcome news.
  • Because the bar area is so small, the restaurant formed a relationship with the bar across the street to funnel patrons there for 10% off their entire bar tab while awaiting their “table is ready” call.
  • If you choose to stay and wait, there’s a $4 “wait drink.” (brilliant move)
  • The hostesses never – not once – let anyone walk away after hearing the wait time without ALSO hearing another solution… bar across the street, try us earlier or later, join us on Wednesday, come back for dessert, sit at the communal table outside… and the solutions were never the same.  They were based on what each particular diner needed/wanted.

The pounce-on-the-barstool strategy worked beautifully, and as the night unfolded, we learned that the hostesses were not alone in fostering the positive attitude that permeates Work & Class.  Bartenders, bussers, waitstaff, owner… they are ALL just ridiculously happy people.

And the tone of the restaurant fosters that same attitude in the patrons.  The “House Rules” are displayed on huge signs, and they’re written so adorably that you are inspired to follow them:

Work & Class House Rules

You can also read a more detailed version of the House Rules on their website.

Cost-conscious restaurant owners may read this and say, “Are you nuts?  Why would I send people to my competitor, much less pay to have cards printed to send them there?  Why would I discount a ‘wait drink’ when people who decide to wait would end up buying them at full price?  I’ll never get my hostesses to be that personable, and besides that, if they have to spend extra time with each individual person at the host stand, I’ll require more hosts per shift.”

And to them I say… everyone who visits Work & Class is put in a good mood, even if they decide not to wait.  And Work & Class is packed to the rafters every single night.  You do the math.

So if you are visiting Denver, you must eat here.  The delicious food is just a bonus…the infusion of joy is the real daily special.

January 12, 2015

Eat more lamb, Larry Bird.

We humans are an unruly lot…we are busy and distracted, and frankly, we just don’t like being told what to do.  This means that informative and useful signage is often overlooked as white noise competing for our attention amidst a barrage of sensory input.

Savvy businesses know a fool-proof cure for this:  unexpected humor that seduces people into reading the otherwise-boring sign.  It’s a brilliant strategy.  Not only do people read it…they get the message AND they are left with an impression of a business, company, or brand with a groovy personality.  Behold:

Bennett’s Store in coastal Maine could say “No Parking” or it could say…

larry bird

Wood ‘n Hart Farm at the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market in Nova Scotia could say “Lamb for Sale” or it could say…

Halifax sign

The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority in NYC could say “Don’t Drink and Drive” or it could say…

Toll

An airport in Fort Lauderdale could say “Pardon Our Construction” or it could say…

airport sign

The Weylin B. Seymour’s glamorous event space in Brooklyn could say “Wheelchair Accessible Bathroom” or it could say…

wheelchair

These signs have stopped countless people in their tracks…and quite possibly prompted them to snap a picture just like I did.  Mission accomplished.

So, the next time you have something important – but boring – to communicate, take a few minutes to answer the question:  how can I make this message interesting?

Need more inspiration?  See what the Inn at Manchester did with their housekeeping tip envelope.  Seriously…if they can make THAT fun, anything’s possible.

July 9, 2013

Brilliant use of a housekeeping tip envelope.

They are a necessary evil.  And yet…it IS kind of weird that so many US hotels leave an envelope in your room, encouraging you (obligating you?) to tip your housekeeper.

I understand the need for it, as it’s easy to forget – or ignore – tipping someone you likely never see (and gratuities are often part of a housekeeper’s overall compensation).  But it seems so tacky.  No one likes it when a bellman or doorman stands there with his hand out, and the “begging envelope” is equally ungracious.

That’s why I laughed aloud with pleasure when I saw the housekeeping gratuity envelopes in the rooms at The Inn at Manchester in Manchester Village, VT.

 IMG-20130507-01750

 

Absolutely brilliant.  This envelope single-handedly…

  1. Creates a relationship with guests
  2. Makes people feel taken care of by a human being (not a fill-in-the-blank housekeeper du jour)
  3. Showcases the warmth and personality of the brand
  4. Surprises the guests and makes them smile
  5. Softens  “the ask” with a bit of humor

What’s the lesson here?  With a little bit of love and thought, you can find ways to make ordinary guest touch points create a lasting, positive impression.  And you can’t “fake” making something personal…if you put love into it, that’s what will shine through.

Case in point:  I saw this envelope when I was visiting the property with another Redpoint staffer just for a site tour.  And even though I wasn’t staying in the room, I wanted to give a tip to Alice and Ade…just for being adorable.

September 20, 2012

A marketing throwdown: worms, 1…PR professional, 0.

It’s a running joke among my friends and family that I find marketing lessons everywhere I turn.  And recently, worms taught me a pretty big one.

I stumbled upon this “Live Bait” vending machine while driving through the Muskoka Lakes region of Ontario, Canada.  I wanted a soda.  What I got instead was a new perspective.

Worms sold in vending machines?  It was like I discovered a new planet.  Though I don’t fish, and have absolutely no reason to ever purchase a worm, I thought this idea was the coolest thing ever.  Just like the Jetsons!  I took pictures, sent them to friends back in NYC (who shared my awe), and enjoyed the rest of my drive with that warm glow marketers get when they feel like they’ve discovered something truly “new.”

Until I got home, and then…Enter:  GOOGLE.

Turns out, worms are sold in vending machines all over the world.  As are gold bars, live crabs, mashed potatoes with gravy, bicycles, fresh bananas, sneakers, hypodermic needles (scary), eggs, freshly made cupcakes, inflatable inner tubes, and a host of other items that I had never considered vending machine material.

As I perused slide show after slide show of website articles revealing quirky vending machines across the globe, I felt like a dope.  I had fallen prey to the cardinal sin of the PR profession:  thinking something is NEW when it’s really just NEW TO YOU.  How many times have my partner Vickie and I cautioned our clients against this very same PR sin?  Shame on me.  “A” for enthusiasm… “F” for marketing savvy.

These worms reminded me of two vital rules of marketing:

  1. Google is the greatest tool in a marketer’s toolbox – see if your idea is new, find a unique solution to a problem, discover how other cultures conquer challenges…all in less than 2 seconds and without leaving your desk.
  2. Every new discovery is an opportunity – don’t be surprised if a Redpoint hotel client soon imports an Italian vending machine that prepares pizza from scratch, including freshly kneaded dough.

I’ve been exposed to a lot of quirky stuff in my 20 years as a travel marketer.  I know why fish wheels in Alaska are as treasured as Red Sox season tickets in New England, that women in Armenian nightclubs dance with themselves in the mirror to attract the attention of men, and that you can turn a tractor supply store into a bar in rural West Virginia (while still selling tractors) and no one will bat an eye.  Each new discovery has fueled my sense of wonder at the world.

But worms sold in vending machines trumps them all.  Why?  I thought it was so cool, it actually made me want to go fishing…just so I could buy some.

Now THAT’s good marketing.  🙂

March 27, 2012

A marketing secret: if you can’t beat ’em…play a different game.

Picture this:  you’ve spent a fortune on a gorgeous half-the-length-of-a-football-field booth at the largest trade show in your industry.  You haven’t exhibited at this show in years, and you want everyone to know you’re back…and cooler than ever.

But the booth to your left has celebrity chef Guy Fieri doing a cooking demonstration and book signing in their booth…and the booth to your right has Cat Cora doing the same in theirs…and two aisles down is a “Cooking Theater” with a veritable who’s who of celebrity chef demos…Curtis Stone, Paula Deen, Duff Goldman, Michael Symon, Ming Tsai, and a host of other star chefs performing all day long.  And sadly, you’ve got no celebrity chefs in your marketing arsenal. 

How do you battle such overwhelming star power to make your booth stand out from the pack?  Simple:  do something TOTALLY different.

And when longtime client Robinson Home Products asked us to help them do that at the International Home & Housewares Show in Chicago earlier this month, what’s the first thing we thought of?  The Hot Sardines and their tea-kettle-playing-trumpeter (see earlier post). 

While everyone else had their just-one-of-the-pack superstar chefs hawking their wares in a traditional and expected way, we had a 7-piece vintage dixieland band drawing crowds to the Robinson booth with hot jazz and gunbucket blues…but with a twist.  All of Robinson’s new product introductions were used as musical instruments:  graters, cutting boards, tongs, wooden spoons, spatulas, carving boards, cooling racks, pots, pans, mugs, bowls, collapsible funnels, and more.  If it had the ability to make a sound…it became a part of the performance.

Never in my life have I seen so many double takes, as passers-by stopped to see where the music was coming from, and then went… “wait…is that guy tap dancing on bamboo cutting boards?  And is she playing a cooling rack with a cheese grater?”  Watching the realization sink in was fun.  Watching all the camera phones, iPhones, and Tweets record it – and share it – was immensely satisfying.

And after three sets of music throughout the day in the booth, and one in the Cooking Theater to help spread the word show-wide, the deal was sealed:  Robinson was super-cool and stood WAY out from the crowd.  And all of us working the booth at the show finally understood the power of being able to say that coveted line… “Yeah, I’m ‘with’ the band.”  Instant coolness.

What’s the lesson here?  If you can’t meet your competitors on their turf, and you don’t want to spend the money to one-up them at their own game…don’t play it.  Be creative…and redefine the game.  Celebrity chefs have been a mainstay of the Housewares Show for more than a decade, but NOBODY expected a band.  And that made Robinson unforgettable.

Hats off to The Hot Sardines for embracing this unusual performance request and knocking it out of the park, and you can see them perform seven kitchen-tool-infused songs by clicking here (side note:  Some of These Days is my personal fave).  The level of product integration they incorporated into their music – without compromising the integrity of their addictive sound – was unreal.  They are a group of exceptionally talented musicians and Redpoint feels fortunate to have stumbled upon them at the Lincoln Square Winter’s Eve Festival on the corner of 63rd and Broadway last December.

And…hats off to Robinson as well.  Redpoint has brought some quirky ideas to clients before, but not all of them have the guts to take a marketing risk like this.  But we’ve been working with them since 2005, and in their words “it’s easy to put trust in Redpoint…you’ve never steered us in a wrong direction.”

Awwww.  Warms our little PR hearts, that does.

December 14, 2011

The brilliant branding move of Angry Birds.

Actions sure do speak louder than words.  And Teija Vesterbacka just proved it.

Teija’s husband Peter is the chief marketing officer of Rovio, the Finnish company that created the insanely addictive game Angry Birds.  Last week, the couple attended an event at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki to honor the country’s Independence Day.    Here’s what Teija wore:

Now…many media outlets have been crucifying – sometimes affectionately, sometimes cruelly – this “fashion nightmare” since the moment the photo was distributed.  Words used include hideous, ridiculous, the ultimate style sacrifice, and “no one else would be seen dead in this.” 

To all of these stinky-at-the-party journalists and bloggers, I say:  Damn, she sure got YOU.  Here you are wishing to shine the spotlight on what you consider to be her poor taste and yet…you’re shining the spotlight on her.  Do you honestly think she wore this gown because she thought it was high fashion couture or is trying to start a trend?  And had she worn a “normal” gown, would you have run her photo or written a single word about her attendance that night?  Doubt it.  So, basically…you played right into her hands, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that her husband is the chief marketing officer.  My little branding-and-PR-oriented heart is giving her a huge hug right now.

Think about it.  In a media interview, Teija could have said:

  • I love my husband and I am so proud of him
  • Finland takes such pride in the creation of Angry Birds that I can wear this dress to the Presidential Palace with honor
  • I am playful, and don’t take myself so seriously…just like the whimsy of the Angry Birds game
  • My husband doesn’t just “talk the talk” on brand integrity and marketing…as a family, we join forces to “live the brand”

And yet, if she had merely said all of this…who would have cared?  And who would have believed her?  Instead, she wore the dress and she didn’t have to say a word to get her point across.  Brilliant.  That she’s sporting a serious face…not grinning constantly like a mischievous idiot…only increases my respect for her in the branding department.   

Brava, Teija.  The branding enthusiasts of Redpoint think you’re the cat’s meow.  Can’t wait to see what you wear to the company picnic.

Check out this earlier post to see how our friends at the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater showcase THEIR brand integrity when people talk or text during a movie.  Sometimes, good branding makes us crack up.

June 9, 2011

A hilarious lesson in brand integrity…and manners.

How does a cheeky brand deal with complaining, abusive customers? They give it right back to them.

Here at Redpoint, we are frequently tasked with helping our clients “maintain their brand integrity.”  Sounds fancy, huh?  But what does it really mean?

It means you don’t just “talk the talk”…you “walk the walk.”  Spending the extra money to have a renowned fashion designer create your staff uniforms when you tout your brand as hip and stylish…hiring that additional staff person to man the otherwise-self-serve afternoon tea station in the lobby when you tout your brand as offering gracious and personalized service…offering unusual, provocative, and unexpected amenities when you tout your brand as being “cool.”

Many companies have trouble doing this.  They know what they WANT to be…but they miss the mark on committing to the execution of that vision day in and day out. 

Not the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater in Austin, TX. 

They SAY that they believe in protecting the moviegoers’ enjoyment of the cinema experience, and they are quite cheeky in the way they present this point of view.  Basically…if you text or talk on your phone during the movie, you get kicked out.  And they mean it.  Indeed, they actually do it.

Now, given this upstart and frisky personality they’ve defined for themselves, when someone gets kicked out and complains, do you think they’re going to take it lying down?  No way.  This brand is no shrinking violet, and they are fiercely passionate about this policy.

So what do they do?  They turn the complainer’s voicemail into a hilarious – and highly effective – “commercial,” that they now show before every movie, warning others to beware of the same fate.

Read the story and watch the commercial here, to have a good laugh.

Now THAT’S walking the walk.

August 3, 2010

I rest my case…

Further to yesterday’s post about a cool photo shoot being worth every penny…

No amount of words could better describe the experience delivered by attending La Tomatina, the annual tomato festival and town-wide food fight in the Valencia region of Spain.  This photo was in the Sunday, August 1st travel section of the Miami Herald.  No question that every single person who saw this photo took the time to read the caption.

Side note: If you’re curious to see hilarious videos of this festival, check out www.latomatina.org.  You’ll never look at tomato sauce the same way again.