There is no such thing as “today’s consumer” – and that is a great thing. The travel and hospitality industry, for instance, serves a wide range of customers looking for a tremendous variety of experiences at a range of price points for different travel purposes. They simply can’t be lumped together. The same is true of consumers generally. When businesses step away from this type of generalization, it allows for better focus on something more productive: individualization. What approaches and practices will help them best understand their customers and tailor their offerings to satisfy their unique needs and preferences?
The individualized experience is paramount in today’s world, and effectively bridging the gap between individual preference and the highly-standardized offerings often found in businesses such as franchises should be a priority.
Let customers shape their own experiences
We live in an era of unprecedented personalization. People want as much choice and control as possible in all aspects of their lives. In a sales or service environment, different customers want to engage in different ways, to different degrees, at different times. This is where it’s critical to master the intersection of service and technology, providing customers with multiple paths to match their needs and preferences.
“We live in an era of unprecedented personalization.”
For example, in the hospitality space, hotels can set the tone for a guest’s entire stay by allowing them to choose how they check in. A kiosk and Digital Key capabilities allow guests in a hurry to go to their rooms as quickly as possible, something that many appreciate after a long day of travel. However, it’s beneficial to staff the front desk with a staff member for guests who need assistance or simply want to work directly with another person. Hilton research has shown that most guests like to have one-on-one interaction with staff, but they look for it at different times during their stay. Those who check in via Digital Key often come back down to the lobby later to browse the marketplace or ask about restaurant options. When guests get to choose the timing of these interactions, they enjoy them even more.
We also see a wider range of experience choices springing up in industries like food service. Starbucks announced earlier this year that it was exploring an express store concept, where some locations would only accept online or mobile orders, with no cashier or space to sit down. These stores are intended to supplement, rather than replace, traditional stores. If adopted more widely, express stores would give customers more options, allowing them to prioritize speed and convenience over a more service-centric experience found at a traditional store. It also allows Starbucks to better manage in-store traffic and cultivate more satisfying retail environments for all types of customers.
However, it’s important to note that for those in the service industry, technology will never replace service. It shouldn’t! The key is to find ways to leverage technology where and when customers and guests want it.
Innovate, explore and evolve
When developing a new brand for the consumer seeking that individualized experience, it’s important to recognize that businesses most likely won’t have a one-and-done perfect idea. It’s much more likely that innovations will require further exploration and evolution. Our feedback-driven culture makes this easier than it has ever been. Both customers and employees are more than willing to share their ideas and experiences in order to have a meaningful impact and evolve brands. Moreover, they appreciate when businesses demonstrate that they’re listening – it cultivates a sense of having a stake in the game.
Retail is a challenging environment today; Best Buys’ Geek Squad comes to mind regarding companies that are doing a nice job with this. It’s clear they have been listening closely to their stakeholders, further iterating the already-innovative technical help team. Now, the tech support experts are going beyond just helping trouble-shoot issues or install new gadgets – they also provide free in-home consultations to help customers figure out what to buy. Customers have a meaningful, personal interaction with the brand and can go into the purchasing process with more confidence. Geek Squad has harnessed an opportunity to both build customer loyalty and gain valuable insights to upsell products and services that customers will value.
While “today’s consumer” may not exist, businesses have countless opportunities to serve “the consumer I am today.” In the travel industry and beyond, businesses can use customer feedback to fuel more informed innovation and iteration, as well as create more opportunities for choice and control… that individualized experience.