The Costumer is Always Right


Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group has aggressive expansion plans, with hotels opening in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Mexico’s Riviera Maya, Boston and Prague in the next two years. With even more properties on the drawing board for the future, the company is taking a close look at inspiring client loyalty by delivering stellar customer service. Here, Michael Hobson, senior vice president of sales and marketing, outlines what it takes to keep the world’s most discriminating travelers coming back for more.

How important is good customer service? It’s the common thread of a traveler’s total experience. Guest service has to be paramount, because that’s essentially what they’re buying.  

Is the customer always right?  
Yes. It’s all in the way they communicate their needs. Affluent customers actually know how to communicate better than those who are not. Those clients know how to behave, how to treat staff properly, and how to communicate well. It’s a circle in that regard. It’s about us recording our guests’ needs, wants and preferences, not necessarily by asking them outright, but by observing them during their stay. A customer history can then be built, so that when a guest revisits a hotel, the staff can deliver the things they know will delight the customer. If that’s done well, it provides repeat business.

How are the needs of affluent travelers unique?
Today’s affluent travelers have at home many of the products that we have in our hotel rooms: flat-screen televisions, Bose sound systems, the latest and greatest Wi-Fi technology. They expect to have all of that at the very least when they stay at a luxury hotel, so it’s unacceptable to offer anything less if you’re truly going to cater to the affluent.

How can luxury travel advisors be assured their clients get the best customer service?
It’s important to travel counselors that their clients have a great customer experience. We have to treat our travel counselors exactly as we do our consumers. At Mandarin Oriental we’ve developed a travel-agent portal on our website that records a guest history based on travel counselors’ bookings. They can see whom they’ve booked, which clients came to our hotels, and what their preferences are. This opens up a better dialogue between the agent and the client, allows us to better serve the client, and builds a sense of trust between the agents and their clients.  

Are the needs of business and leisure travelers different?
Business travelers go on vacation, and leisure travelers typically work. Largely, we’re actually talking about the same customer group. When they travel at different times, they have different needs. Our leisure customers spend more time on the property. The length of stay is longer. They spend more time in the rooms and the outlets because they aren’t hurried. It’s an opportunity for them to come more into contact with our colleagues and to experience the services and products of the hotel. Corporate travelers leave early, come back late at night, not capturing all of the services offered during the day.

What are the essential elements of good customer service?
Total quality management is all about systems and processes. Good service is a science—having those systems and processes in place—but there’s also the art of delivering that service, which comes from having motivated colleagues and a staff who feel passionate about serving the customer. Finally, it’s very important to measure guest satisfaction; otherwise, you really don’t know how you’re doing. That measurement is the driving force behind change—what gets measured gets done.

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