Posted March 22, 2017
Leonardo Inghilleri literally wrote the book on customer service in the hospitality industry – and an international bestseller at that.
Over his career, Inghilleri has helped transform the customer service offerings of some of the world’s most widely recognized travel and hospitality brands. His previous job titles have included executive vice president and brand executive for BVLGARI Hotels and Resorts, senior vice president of human resources for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and director of human resources for The Walt Disney Company in both Orlando and Paris.
Today, when he’s not speaking about the latest trends in hospitality, he serves as founder and president of Inghilleri Consulting Group, Inc., which provides clients in the hospitality industry with customer service insights and expertise.
TELUS International recently caught up with Inghilleri to discuss the vital difference between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty, and how contact centers play a critical role in building loyalty that lasts.
Q: Your book, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit, emphasizes the distinction between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. What’s the difference between the two?
A: They’re two dramatically different things. A satisfied customer might use your product or service for decades, but he or she is not emotionally connected to your product, brand or service, and therefore belongs to the market. A loyal customer belongs to you; he or she is emotionally connected to the brand. They’re willing to spend more on your logo, because it creates a mental association. The strategic value of your business resides in loyal customers, not satisfied customers, because you can bank on them.
So how do you satisfy the customer? You give them a perfect product delivered by nice people, on time. How do you then transition that customer from being a user to being a loyal advocate for your brand? You need to understand the unique needs of the customer. Give me what’s important for me, not customers in general, just me. One person. You remember those preferences, and you make use of it.
[For example], it’s like going to a bar, and the bartender knows you. And as you walk in, they greet you by name and they offer you your usual drink. You say “Wow, they can read my mind,” and there’s no reason for you to go elsewhere. You’re loyal, you’re willing to pay a little more, you’re going to speak positively of that experience, and you will be more willing to experiment in the future. If that bar opens a new restaurant, because of your past experience, you’re willing to try it. That’s the concept of brand extension.
Q: What role do call centers play in building that sort of customer loyalty?
A: When I call the best premium providers’ customer service number, they call me by name when they answer the phone, and I’ve got a complicated name. The technology enables them to see what issue I’m calling about, and to anticipate my needs. And the quality of the interaction is flawless, because the employee is very well-trained.
The experience that I have with premium customer service providers should be the norm. Why would you want someone to answer the phone if he or she is not quite ready? Why would you not equip them with all the necessary skills and knowledge? You may need to pay them a bit more. You may need to select them more carefully. You may need to train them more. But those are relatively easy things to accomplish, and if the result is giving the customer a great experience, from my viewpoint it’s a worthwhile investment.
Q: But you’re only getting this personalized experience with brands you’re already loyal to, and you’re loyal to these brands because of that customer service. Are you saying that brands should offer premium services to the average customer?
A: Absolutely! It’s not that complicated. The agents at these premium desks aren’t from a different planet. They might have better training, and they might be selected differently, but that should be a mandatory condition of any good customer service organization. Make sure you hire the right people, train them well, equip them with good technology and good processes, and give them enough authority and autonomy to take care of the customer needs without going to a supervisor.
All of this is very possible and easily implemented in the first tier of the contact center, not only at the highest level.
Q: Do you think technology will enable customer service providers to deliver that premium level service to every customer?
A: The system always evolves, and what was only available to the luxury customers 30 years ago is available to the average customer today. At the same time, the expectations of the luxury customer, regardless of the segment, have evolved dramatically too. I think technology will continue to deliver better, more personalized, more tailored experiences to the vast majority of consumers.
Q: So how can technology be used to improve customer service delivery?
A: Today you have systems that can help you capture the preferences of the customer. The tricky part is that they still need to be populated, they still need to be captured, and most importantly someone needs to actually read those preferences and do something about it. It’s not as easy as it might sound. Technology is great, but at the end of the day, because we’re talking about experiences and not transactions, they require human intervention. It’s all about the human factor.
Q: So would you say that no matter how technology evolves in the future, providing the best service will always come down to the ‘human factor?’
A: Absolutely. I can’t tell you how disheartening it is for a customer to call the call center and perceive that the person on the other end of the line really does not care about them, especially if they’re experiencing a problem. So how do you prevent that? Invest in your people. Identify the right attributes and talents and desired behavior for those jobs and hire accordingly. Train them well, equip them well, and then give them space to use their mind. Give them a mission to please the customer, rather than make a transaction. Exceptional service is just human, nothing else.