Knowing your customers is the key to delivering a great experience. This knowledge can be achieved by putting one's ear to the ground and listening intently to what customers are telling you, sometimes through their actions.
Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts has made it part of its mission to be customer-centric and understanding its customers is central to achieving this goal. Crucial to this is leveraging customer feedback. Scott Taber, the hotel's vice president of rooms, Americas, is responsible for testing and rolling out initiatives that improve the customer experience, and he's a firm believer in the power of customer feedback. While, as Taber notes, customer feedback has always been an important part of the hotel's business, today it has grown dramatically from a number of different sources. "Each form of feedback creates an opportunity to evolve our service and show understanding of guest needs," he says. "This voice of the guest is critical for us to listen to and quickly react to either maintain or win their business."
For any company, the true test of customer satisfaction is whether the client will return and becomes a promoter of the brand. Fully aware of this, Taber measures feedback and uses these insights to train frontline staff to understand guests, react to emerging issues, and improve experiences, leading to all guests leaving a Four Seasons property feeling special. The organization uses the Medallia platform to receive and analyze its email survey feedback. Taber explains that this data is shared among all staff in every property to be able to understand strengths and areas of opportunity. "This awareness of our leaders and frontline staff members is critical to understand the guest concerns." One of the hotels actually dedicated an office to what is called "the Medallia Cave," where feedback can be cross-referenced to champion employees and areas of success and also pinpoint those who need further training or management attention.
As part of the Four Seasons' goal to improve the customer experience, Taber was at the forefront in the development of Blue Water, an initiative that encourages properties to test ideas and allows them to share newly discovered best practices with the rest of the properties. Each of the 91 properties globally has a designated cross-functional Blue Water team in charge of coming up with ideas to improve the customer experience. For example, at the end of 2012 the company focused on service at hotels' pool and beach areas and resorts were given free rein to test out innovations. After surveying customers about their experiences, hotels submitted the best ideas. Feedback showed that customers appreciated being proactively approached in their lounge chairs and offered free suntan lotion and cleaning kits for their sunglasses. Taber drove the roll-out of this initiative across the board and it has now become a service standard in the hotel's pool and beach operations globally, leading to an increase in satisfaction.
Customer interactions also revealed that travelers were increasingly using their smartphones for connectivity and challenged hotels to better connect with guests through mobile. The Costa Rica property came up with the idea of supplying a tablet to guests being picked up at the airport, providing a mobile check-in experience by connecting them with a hotel guest experience manager. This allows the manager to confirm a few things about the guest-for example the length of stay, any bedding or newspaper preferences, or dietary requirements-prior to his arrival and has also led to guests booking more additional services. These learnings are being extended to hotels in gateway cities.
Having spent 28 years working at Four Seasons, Taber knows the luxury hotel chain's customer well. He also understands that customer service is the brand's secret sauce. But this cannot be achieved without the full commitment of frontline employees. Taber has spearheaded two important initiatives that have led to significant improvements in employee engagement. The first revolved around exposing all employees to information about customers, for example through listening to guest preferences and feedback both in person, by email, and on social media. Taber he also encouraged healthy competition among properties by publicly recognizing hotels that score highly in customer satisfaction and highlighting specific actions that made them successful. "Recognizing employees who have positively affected a guest's stay fosters engagement and motivates coworkers to create memorable experiences," he says. "Healthy competition and an insatiable desire to exceed guest expectations drive our employees to continually improve the services and amenities offered."
Finally, customer data is only powerful if it's being used. Taber instituted a new regional dashboard that goes to area presidents and general managers around the world, giving them insight into performance data based on customer feedback. This has drastically increased engagement at the general manager level, with team members logging in more often and customer data being used in staff meetings more frequently.