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October 2014

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A tale of two concierge desks

Establishing brand expectations represents a “must do” in order to get someone to try your product or service, but delivering on those expectations may be even more important.  Those expectations must be set so that the customer continues to believe the brand promise in every encounter with your offering.

Consider some experiences from a recent one-week trip to Orlando. I stayed at two resort hotels: the first being the Hilton Grand Vacation Club at Sea World, and the other was “On Property” at a major entertainment mecca I’ll call Mouseville. (To paraphrase my mother: If you can’t say anything nice… don’t provide a link.)

The Mouseville brand has been cultivated as the penultimate in leisure and entertainment experiences, claiming that its “cast” will always go the extra mile for guests in every interaction. Even though a majority of cast members exemplified the brand as projected, many just seemed exhausted by their roles, and “costumes” often seemed forlorn and worn in a disheveled way. A number of Mouesvillians were outright grumpy.

The resort concierge desks represent a good encapsulation of brand fulfillment, and a perfect opportunity for contrast. 

As someone who must eat gluten-free (GF) for health reasons, I went to the Mouseville concierge desk the first night after viewing the menu in the dining hall and not finding a proper sit-down restaurant. Upon asking “Is there a place to eat other than the cafeteria? I have gluten issues and don’t see anything on the menu I can eat,” I was told there was no other restaurant, but to talk to a chef, “… not one of the costumed cast, they don’t know anything.” (A. There is a sit down restaurant 100 feet from the concierge desk, just not well identified.  B. Nice support of your coworkers.) A second individual joined in to help me and provided a freshly printed list of GF foods at all the destinations in the park. Unfortunately, it had not been updated since 2007. Enough said.

On the night before leaving the resort, I joined my wife, who was asking a stoic concierge about paying to stay a few extra hours in our room. She told us how much it would be, we agreed to the charge, and she went off to find out why she was getting an error message in setting it up. She returned to tell us that because the hotel was completely booked, we could not extend our time in the room. Rather than attempt to make other arrangements or suggestions, at that point she simply stared at us, like an animatronic figure that had reached the end of its performed task. Meanwhile, the other three clerks milled about chatting with each other. Over-staffed and underperforming, this team was among the worst concierge people I have experienced anywhere.

By contrast, the Hilton also had multiple people managing its two desks during our stay.  We realized the second day that we had been treating the events desk the same as the “real” concierge desk. In spite of our error, no one at the desk ever sent us away.  Rather, they made sure absolutely every question was answered and need fulfilled before leaving their care – even when it was outside the boundaries of the resort. Isn’t that the purpose of a concierge?

These experiences with resort staff were not particularly extraordinary for any hotel chain of that stature, but in recent years Hilton has applied its brand to various levels of accommodations. The association of the Hilton brand with Doubletree hotels, for instance, raises my expectations of service there. While I would not be surprised to receive extraordinary service in any Hilton property, the bar has been set within reason – leaving room for staff and management to “wow” even the most demanding and jaded traveler.

Our friends in Mouseville have established expectations of exemplary experiences for everyone… a difficult thing to achieve under the best circumstances, and more difficult to maintain over time. That doesn’t take anything magical, but it does require a great deal of stamina on the part of marketing to assure that every customer interaction meets the standards (and perhaps more marketing cops watching the customer service people).

I’m always behind the idea of more opportunities for marketers, but it might make more sense to manage customer expectations.