The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, and associated restrictions placed on personal movement by Governments, have had an immense impact on organisations across the world.
Whilst many people have adapted quickly to working from home, sectors like travel and hospitality have been particularly hit hard. So what can the rest of us learn from the actions of organisations that differentiate themselves by their excellent customer experiences?
When your customers just aren’t coming through the door, how can you still build trust and create a positive customer experience for them? And where does a chocolate cookie fit into the picture?
DoubleTree by Hilton took a unique approach when facing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Little details make big differences to the customer experience
If you haven’t stayed at a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel yet, you’ve missed out on one of the little things that make a big difference to the customer experience.
Every hotel is looking for signature differences, and a key feature of the DoubleTree brand is greeting you with a warm, freshly baked chocolate cookie on check-in.
If you think that sounds like a gimmick, it’s one that works! 53% of Americans said in a 2015 survey that ‘melt in the mouth’ chocolate cookies were their favourite , with 78% saying that a cookie made them feel happy or content. In 2017, another survey showed the chewy cookie outperformed the crunchy cookie by 65% to 35% .
After checking-in to a DoubleTree hotel after a long flight, for a conference I was speaking at in Kuala Lumpur, I can tell you I didn’t need survey results to convince me of the benefits of a warm chocolate cookie on arrival.
It’s the little things that matter when you're creating a memorable customer experience
In fact, having listened to my travel story during check-in, DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur’s reception team noticed my obvious delight at being offered a chocolate cookie as a first time DoubleTree guest. To help me get over my jet-lag, they presented me with a bonus cookie and a smile as warm as the baked delight in my hand.
By listening, responding, and giving me something that exceeded my expectations, they created a customer experience moment that has lasted for years.
Differentiate your brand by putting customer service first
It’s clear that not every organisation thinks that way though. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a distinct contrast between businesses with a customer-centric mindset and those showing defensive and self-serving organisational cultures.
For example, Qantas responded superbly – and without me having to contact them – to help me change plans for an overseas flight. Pro-active communications, automatic and quickly extended flight credits, and frequent flier membership extensions were offered without request.
Qantas reduced avoidable contact at a critical time and immediately put the minds of myself, and many other customers, at ease. Not all airlines have reacted as quickly or efficiently as Qantas.
In another stark contrast, my travel insurance company insisted customers contact them individually by e-mail and has spent five weeks failing to answer any of the e-mails asking if they intend to keep my premium for a policy I can’t use or ever claim under.
Organisations have responded to the COVID-19 crisis very differently – and customers are watching
Like a warm chocolate cookie, customers will remember those organisations who helped them when they needed it. Research tells us they’ll reward those organisations with greater loyalty and punish those who didn’t, by switching to their competitors .
Good communication is about making an authentic connection
DoubleTree have also judged their customers are in a difficult situation. They've responded to COVID-19 by thinking about what their customers are going through during a lock-down.
Amongst other practical actions, in an innovative twist, they've given everybody the chance to experience their signature brand at home .
A warm chocolate chip cookie can’t solve everything, but it can bring a moment of comfort and happiness. We hope families enjoy the fun of baking together during their time at home.
We might think that releasing a recipe is a simple thing, but when it’s intimately connected with your brand, that’s a big commercial decision. A signature recipe is as much intellectual property as a logo or a slogan.
I asked Communications and Marketing expert, Claire Kidd, for her perspective on the DoubleTree cookie strategy:
"While it is of course very clever marketing, it does enable the customer to still feel part of the brand they know and love. It keeps the brand top of mind for the consumer - which is the basic aim of any marketing campaign, but it goes beyond that and it expands the brand's usual reach in more interesting and innovative ways.
This move could be something that doesn't suddenly stop when hotels, restaurants and airlines open up again, but something that keeps brand loyalty evolving in ways no one expected. This is the new way of marketing for smart brands."
There’s also a risk that some customers’ questionable home-baking skills may not create the high-quality flavour associated with the warm, DoubleTree cookie brand.
Whilst I’m pretty handy in the kitchen, that wasn’t a risk I was prepared to take, so I handed the recipe to the proven biscuit expert in our household. That was a very good decision and I can confirm that the home-baked DoubleTree cookie is an authentic brand representation.
The challenge facing my waistline at now having DoubleTree chocolate cookies available at home however, may question the wisdom of that decision.
What your organisation can learn from the DoubleTree cookie
Now before you rush out and commission the bespoke design of a corporate biscuit, there are three easier lessons you can learn from this DoubleTree cookie case-study:
- Customer-centric organisations think of their customers' experience and needs first.
- Customers’ loyalty is linked to their experience of your actions. This is especially true when there’s a problem or a crisis they need your help to resolve.
- When you’re adapting to meet a challenging situation, there’s always an opportunity to think of customer service first.
When the dust settles and customers return to more normal spending habits, what does your organisation want to be remembered for?
Making things hard when it counted the most?
Or, giving something authentic and unique that made the customer’s life better?
This article reflects the opinions of its author based on experiences as a customer and was written without the involvement of the organisations mentioned. This article was not commissioned and no inducement or payment was offered in order to be featured. Neither are any organisations mentioned clients of Price Perrott Limited at the time of writing.
Expert contributor • Claire Kidd
Claire is a Business Communications Consultant and expert in organisation communications, marketing and customer engagement.
She has over fourteen years experience working with a wide range of international organisations across the Asia-Pacific region.
- What drives customer loyalty with complaint resolution? Andreassen (1999), Journal of Service Research