Why COVID is not a valid excuse (and other musings from a crazy year) Part Two

In my last blog I reflected on how customer experience has been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis and which brands are succeeding in spite of it.

One of the hardest hit sectors in the is the hospitality industry. Smith+Co has worked with a number of leading hotel brands over the years, from luxury to budget, and so we were fascinated to see how they are coping given that the experience in staying at a hotel is so dependent on the emotional engagement. So, we recently decided to have a short staycation in the UK to see how hospitality was faring post-lockdown. We stayed at three of the best-known luxury 5-star hotel/restaurants in the UK.  

The first decided to keep their buffet breakfast but place all the pastries in brown paper bags so that you couldn’t see what was in them without picking them and opening them us thus defeating the objective. Their juices were in plastic bottles and yoghurts in plastic containers, so the experience was more like Starbucks than a Michelin star restaurant. (which they are).  Their messaging was apologetic and focused more on what they couldn’t do. Perhaps, as a result, the staff were disengaged and largely absent. The second decided to seat all the guests in one corner of their large dining room to make it easier for staff to serve (perhaps because they were short-staffed?) rather than spread guests around to maximise social distancing and create a better experience. As a result, we were surrounded by three families with noisy children for what became, a very short breakfast. The third had a notice informing guests that due to Covid they had suspended their usual breakfast buffet but were using this as an opportunity to enhance the guest experience by providing a full hot and cold breakfast service at the table. We enjoyed a wonderful leisurely silver-service breakfast experience served by smiling and attentive staff. Same regulations, different response. I have no doubt which guests and employees were finding the situation easier to cope with.

In the mid-scale/budget sector our former client Premier Inn, has bounced back quickly from the lockdown. It has introduced flexible rates and bookings to allow guests to quickly change their plans if required. Reporting their first half 2021 results they said “Since reopening, UK accommodation sales performance has been ahead of the market, benefitting from the fast reopening, the strength of the Premier Inn brand and our leading customer proposition “. The fact is that brands that focus on enhancing the customer experience recover faster from downturns according to research by WPP/Kantar. (BrandZ. Top Global Brands 2020).

Finally, we have all seen the impact of Zoom and virtual meetings on organisations. People have quickly innovated new ways of working and improved efficiency so why can’t organisations bring that same agility and innovation to their customer service and actually improve the experience. A few have, to give you a personal example, one of my local restaurants, the Terrace in Yarmouth, has installed four large see-through ‘bubbles’ on its terrace overlooking Yarmouth marina. They are lit, heated, have music and each seat six people around a circular table. A great experience and perfect compliance with the social distancing regulations. The staff are friendly and the service efficient. No wonder it is hard to get a reservation in the Terrace. 


     The Terrace. Yarmouth. (https://www.theterraceiow.co.uk)

So, what can we learn from 2020 and apply to the experience we provide in 2021? 

  1. Reflect on your Brand Purpose and how it can be applied innovatively to meet the new situation. (Find out how Purpose driven you are by taking our short self-assessment.)
  2. Reinvent your Customer Experience. Review your customer journey and ask how you can enhance the experience at ‘the moments that matter’ whilst still complying with regulations. What can you do to dramatise and deliver your brand Promise despite the challenging circumstances as First Direct did? For ideas on how to rethink your customer experience see our new online ‘On Purpose’ Masterclass. https://theexpertacademy.com/p/customer-experience-management-course-series
  3. Reboot your organisation and rethink your Employee Experience. Introduce new technology and innovate processes that help you to deliver a branded customer experience as the Terrace Restaurant has. 

The fact is that customers have long memories, and they will remember the brands that made excuses not to deliver, and those that used the opportunity to make their lives easier or better. As we said in our book ‘Bold- how to be brave in business and win’ when everyone else Zigs, the best brands Zag. If you would like to have a chat to see how we might help you Zag, in 2021 please email us. Covid-19 may go away but the need to differentiate through your customer experience never will.

Shaun Smith, Founder, Smith+Co

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