They Won't Remember What You Said, But How You Made Them Feel

7 Things Luxury Resorts Do to Create a Great Customer Experience (Agencies and Freelancers, Take Note)

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Being served welcome drinks is part of the resort experience. What is the agency equivalent?

All agencies and freelancers want to charge more and be paid for the value they provide. But what many don’t realize is that much of that value is in how they make their clients feel. They should learn from luxury resorts – a type of organization that has figured out how to create superior customer experiences repeatedly.

If you’ve ever taken a vacation at a resort you might have noticed how some just seem to be in tune with you and foresee your every need. Other resorts appear to see you like one out of many anonymous money bags passing through their buildings and processes.

This is how clients perceive your company and your competitors too. The question is, which category are you in?

If you’re in the services business, you have a vested interest in being in the first category. The good news is that it doesn’t take much to stand above the rest when it comes to creating these memorable experiences. Whether you create marketing campaigns or run coconut island retreats, the principles of great customer experience are similar. In fact, it’s surprisingly cheap to create the kind of experiences that put you firmly in category one.

Let’s look at some of the ways top resorts create great customer experiences, and how you as an agency or freelancer can emulate them.

1. They Meet and Exceed Customer Experience Expectations From the Very Start

Cold welcome drinks are an appreciated part of the experience of being a customer at a resort.
Cold welcome drinks are an appreciated part of the experience of being a customer at a resort.

Imagine you’ve traveled for hours to the far ends of the earth. Your flight was delayed and then uncomfortable due to a late seat reassignment. You’ve also had to drive for several hours, a rather taxing endeavor since this is one of the countries where they drive on the “wrong” side of the road.

You finally arrive at the resort. Being well aware of the details of your trip, the staff greets you with smiles exuding friendliness and serenity. Fresh warm towels, for your hands and face, and cold drinks have been prepared, awaiting your arrival. The staff let you take in the surroundings at your own pace. As you relax they walk through all the activities they offer.

This kind of welcome isn’t uncommon in the resort industry. Luxury travelers expect to be treated this way. And as agencies and consulting professionals, we can actually adopt it to our niche with a few simple changes.

When meeting clients for the first time, simply adjusting your mindset can help set the right tone. If you have an office, you can stock up on things like towels to hand out if clients arrive drenching wet after heavy rainfall. Hot beverages, mulled wine or cider are a treat on cold winter days. You can find more ideas like these using our client happiness idea generator.

This might all sound tacky and pointless. After all, what do towels after a deluge have to do with how well you do marketing? It’s not a bad question. The answer is that clients don’t expect this treatment and will value you for it.

2. They Don’t Think That “It’s Not My Job” Is an Acceptable Attitude for a Great Customer Experience

When a client calls and need help, smart companies listens and addresses it, no matter who picks up the phone. That's creates a great customer experience.
When a client calls and needs help, smart companies listen and address it, no matter who picks up the phone. That’s creates a great customer experience.

Let’s continue the story about the resort guests from the previous example. You have gone diving on a reef and returned back to the resort. The restaurant is serving afternoon tea (it’s a truly fancy place). As it happens there are no waiters around and you try to pour a cup. The diving instructor, who normally doesn’t wait on customers, sees it and approaches to help. Finding the coffee pot empty, the scuba professional heads to the kitchen to refill. You’re delighted to get such a prompt service.

For someone who normally makes sure you don’t do anything life-threatening underwater, serving a customer isn’t an odd idea for this instructor. After all, the resort owner has made it clear that it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure great customer experience, regardless of role.

The problem is, most companies don’t work like that.

A common scenario involves a client calling an agency’s office to inquire about a file. The project manager isn’t available to help so a colleague answers. Chances are slim the colleague will try to find the information on his own. Instead, he may even ask the client to call back again later. In essence, shirking responsibility for customer experience. You’ve probably been on the receiving end of this idea of “service” and know what it feels like.

How to Make Client Experience Everyone’s Responsibility

As an agency you can easily address this by creating a culture of “client experience is everyone’s responsibility.” One way of reinforcing it is by regularly sharing stories in your team of how a team member solved client problems by stepping outside their formal role and how it made the client feel. If you’re a freelancer, you can be helpful even when the client asks about something that isn’t totally related to the work you’re doing for them.

3. They Sell “Fully Inclusive” Whenever They Can to Be Able to Always Deliver a Great Customer Experience

Worry-free days by the pool and fewer decisions are some of the pulls of fully inclusive resorts. How can you incorporate the same idea in your own customer experience?
Worry-free days by the pool and fewer decisions are some of the pulls of fully inclusive resorts. How can you incorporate the same idea in your own customer experience?

The more of an experience that you control, the better it can be. That’s why you have so much to gain by copying the idea of “fully inclusive” that many resorts offer.

You may, for example, think that paying your client’s web hosting bills isn’t your “core competency.” That’s beside the point. It’s about the entire experience you can offer by bundling all this with one single price. That positive experience will be attributed to you which makes your services even more valuable.

How to Include Complimentary Services to Augment Your Offering

Similarly, just like resorts offer complimentary mini-bar drinks to guests, you can also include services in your retainers. Buyers will appreciate the simplicity that comes with not having to make more decisions. When pricing your services, always do it in such a way that you can deliver beyond what they expect. Helping out with small tasks without “running the meter” is a simple way to offer a “fully inclusive” experience.

At a certain price point, customers will start expecting more inclusive experiences. Many companies fail to realize this. I was reminded of it a while ago after enjoying a traditional Christmas buffet at a rather steep price, only to be charged for the tea that I ordered after the meal. In pricing terms, they had unbundled the hot drink offered after the meal. I don’t think it was a particularly good idea. In these cases, the restaurant should charge more so they can offer an inclusive experience. Their guests would be happier.

4. They Design Their Services Around and for the Customer

Customer focus is the starting point of mapping the customer journey in order to make it stand apart and be known for your great customer experience.
Customer focus is the starting point of mapping the customer journey in order to make it stand apart and be known for your great customer experience.

A key aspect of great customer experiences is thoughtfulness. Smart companies look at what they offer from the perspective of the clients. Clients pay attention to these signs of customer-orientation.

In hotels, the mint on the pillow is a classic way to positively surprise customers. In higher-quality resorts, the giveaways are free slippers and drinks. Couples celebrating their anniversary may be met with a flower arrangement and champagne.

The concept goes beyond gifts. Informing customers of your “rules” is a habit of cheap self-oriented businesses. If you aim higher, don’t stipulate rules unless you must and ideally, do so only in conversation. Never through signs. It should be noticed however that customers that spend more are often less rowdy than those with a smaller budget, hence less need for “do not steal our towels” signs.

How to Design Agency and Freelance Services for Clients

While as a freelancer or agency, you often don’t have any physical gifts to offer, you can often achieve the same effect using services:

  • You can partner with other agencies and companies to offer discounts on each other’s services to your clients. A copywriting agency can partner with a photographer, for example.
  • Word your communication in such a way that it communicates collaboration rather than conditions. Do not write “rules for providing files”. Instead, write “these are the easiest way to send us your files” linking the client to forms that are pre-filled or easy to complete.
  • If you must provide legal terms, keep them understandable. Legalese isn’t sexy, regardless of what your ambitious lawyer might claim.
  • Start your engagements by showing your intent to understand their needs. Then instead of dragging them through a long presentation of “how we do things,” have a conversation about the best way of doing things, according to your “considerable experience.” Having processes is key, but it doesn’t mean you have to be “square” about it.

 

A great way to understand the client’s perspective is to create customer journey maps or before-during-after maps based on client interviews.

 

5. They Do Not Underestimate the Importance of Beauty in Great Customer Experience

Bento boxes combine delicious food with a beautiful and sometimes playful presentation. It's one way to make beauty part of the customer experience.
Bento boxes combine delicious food with a beautiful and sometimes playful presentation. It’s one way to make beauty part of the customer experience.

It’s no wonder people pay premium prices for well-designed furniture and glassware. Beautiful items make us feel good. That’s why resorts spend money on quality furniture and hire globally recognized architects to design their buildings. Being in a beautiful place is part of the appeal of going on vacation.

As a service provider, you too can use beauty (and its psychological cousin fluency) to heighten and deliver a great customer experience. By making beauty a foundational part of how you do things, you can ensure you never hand over something that wasn’t designed with thought or intention.

How to Include Beauty as Part of a Great Customer Experience

  • Review how you design your proposals. Are they memorable for their beauty? Did you choose words with care?
  • Do your website and market communication convey a sense of beauty? Does the design convey balance and harmony? If not, is that intentional? Some brands want to communicate imbalance and chaos.
  • When you meet with clients, do you try to ensure there’s beauty in the room? Beauty can take many forms. Just consider the Japanese traditional “bento” meal and the simple beauty of how the dishes are presented and arranged. Consider its principles when preparing a meeting room.

6. They’re Crazy About Asking for Client Feedback, to the Point of Being Creepy

Curiosity and active listening play important roles when improving your services. Ask the right questions and shut up.
Curiosity and active listening play important roles when improving your services. Ask the right questions and shut up.

We can’t read minds. That’s why those who are eager to improve customer experience are so intent on asking for feedback. The feedback collection doesn’t only come in the shape of a form to be filled in. Resort managers who truly value customer experience will seek you out and be genuinely interested in how you perceive your stay. Being listened to so well can feel rather awkward at first. We’re not used to companies caring about how we feel.

You might think that it’s easy to emulate. You just need to ask your clients for feedback more often. Perhaps send a Google form they can fill in.

Wrong.

How to Get Honest and Actionable Client Feedback

It turns out it’s not that simple. A while ago, I interviewed three agency owners about how they collect feedback. According to them, sincerity and trust influence the quality of the feedback you receive. If clients think you may respond poorly to what they think, or will simply ignore it, they’ll likely keep it to themselves.

That’s why I recommend you collect feedback in conversations and do it face-to-face if possible. Ask open, sincere and genuine questions and practice active listening. Do this well and you’ll have access to a treasure trove of insights into creating a great customer experience.

7. They Make Empathy a Core Value and Competence of the Entire Company by Hiring the Right People

Empathy – being able to see a situation from someone else's point of view and understand what they're going through – is at the core of great customer experience.
Empathy – being able to see a situation from someone else’s point of view and understand what they’re going through – is at the core of great customer experience.

One of the resorts that I researched for this article says that what makes its staff and culture unique is empathy. Staff having empathy with colleagues, guests and also the wild animals around the lodge. Empathy may be the most important form of intelligence but it’s often ignored in favor of analytical thinking.

Many of the things I mentioned above are obvious if you approach what you do with empathy for those involved. It also means that you cannot create a truly great customer experience without first hiring empathetic people.

If you want your company to be fully responsive to client needs, a rulebook or playbook won’t take you all the way. In the end, it’s about ensuring your staff takes independent and unguided decisions from a point of empathy and without being told to do so. That requires the right culture and the right people.

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Author: Jakob Persson

Jakob is the founder and CEO of Zingsight, the company behind Bondsai. He's been involved with the web for over twenty years and has previously co-founded and grown a web agency from 4 to 70 people. Jakob holds degrees in media technology and cognitive science. He consults in product design and management, and business development. Jakob is an experienced skier and a learning scuba diver.