If we’ve learned anything in the past few months, it is that unexpected things can happen to anyone at any time. No one is immune to system failures, economic recessions, or global pandemics. My prediction for the coming months and years is that survival and success will ultimately be determined not by what has happened to us, but rather by how we respond.
Even without reality turned inside out, reacting appropriately to challenges is the single most important survival skill of any business. As the traditional leader in providing premium guest experiences, the hospitality industry now has the unique opportunity to lead by example and provide empathy-driven customer experiences in these unprecedented times.
I have worked in the hospitality and travel industry for more than 20 years and have seen my fair share of failures. To this day, the brands who have my loyalty are those who provide genuinely good customer service even when circumstances are less than ideal. I distinctly remember a Delta flight that had been delayed several times but was handled with so much respect, empathy, and human kindness that all the passengers remained lighthearted and happy. We were hours late to our destination, but no one was left feeling upset or angry because the team at Delta treated their guests in a way that promoted solidarity rather than hostility. In an industry that promotes brand consistency as the holy grail of success, I would argue that flexibility, empathy, and genuine connection win every time.
Today, there are technologies that can improve customer experiences, making their journeys more seamless and satisfying, but all of these things will forever play a supporting role to adaptable and genuine customer service gestures.
Like so many of us right now, I recently had to cancel hotel reservations for future trips due to COVID-19 concerns. One hotel was a brand I’ve stayed with frequently. The other was new to me entirely. When the hotel I had never used before generously returned my booking fees, that gesture went a long way in terms of building future loyalty.
Even without a global disaster, travel and hospitality can be challenging industries. There are innumerable factors that are interconnected, and disrupting one thing almost always has a chain reaction. These complications are amplified by interfacing with a customer base who are tired, stressed, and largely out of their element.
At first blush, this seems like a particularly difficult environment to foster good customer service. But for companies who want to rise above the competition, it’s the perfect opportunity to craft an adaptable and genuine customer service model that inspires growth and loyalty. Brands that stand out have a customer service model that’s a natural extension of good hospitality and good humanity.
Recently, during a conference for work, I was in the lobby of a Four Seasons with a colleague when she started coughing. Within seconds the concierge was at her side with a bottle of water as a courtesy. I was astonished at the unconscious, natural way he instantly noticed an opportunity to be of service. It is these kinds of experiences that truly connect us. His being aware of a guest enough to empathize with what she was experiencing and offering a solution instantly created a positive experience and likely helped solidify long-term brand loyalty.
Today, there are technologies that can improve customer experiences, making their journeys more seamless and satisfying, but all of these things will forever play a supporting role to adaptable and genuine customer service gestures. Service rooted in kindness and deployed with intention is the real secret to solidifying loyalty. None of us can predict or change the multitude of challenges we encounter, but it’s always good to remember we can certainly control how we react.
During these tough times, I am touched by how many of us have made tremendous sacrifices to put the well-being of others before our own desires. It gives me hope. Offering a small act of kindness and showing genuine care can make a big difference.
That’s why we must all rise to the opportunity to provide exceptional service now. It’s simply the right thing to do, and it will build enduring loyalties—business is certain to return when these difficult days are behind us. We never forget those who were there for us when we needed them most.