It seems that we have all developed an unnerving feeling that we are locked in the same loop of time and events as Bill Murray in the film Groundhog Day, as we all battle our way through these ever so strange and challenging times.
As we sit deep in the mire of Lockdown 3.0 we have lost the novelty of the first lockdown, nearly 12 years ago, or was it 12 months or possibly Thursday? Who knows!
Listening to friends, clients, suppliers and anyone who will chat to me, quite frankly, there appears to be this incredible irony of being so busy we have no time given the pace we are all having to work at, but at the same time feeling bored with the same old, same old routines that Groundhog Day brings.
As a person of relatively advanced age (63 to be precise) I am in awe of families having to cope with work, home schooling, survival, furloughing, and the multitude of other pressures we couldn’t have imagined some 12 short / long months ago. Adults are missing the spark of their friends and colleagues, children the buzz of being with friends, extended family and even, might I dare say, those inspirational teachers who light up lessons and make learning such fun. But having said all this, the overwhelming pressure for businesses is to continuously adapt and evolve to meet the changing needs of our future customers, whoever they may be and whenever we will trade with them again.
We have so much insight from the past 12 months about customer behaviour, more efficient ways of delivering customer experience, getting things done at pace and the need to adapt to short term changes as well as maintain a strategic course through the storm.
So, what lessons should we take out of the past 12 months to fuel the eventual reopening of the leisure, travel and tourism sectors?
How do we learn from the last chapter of Groundhog Day, given that we will have to start up our businesses in potentially exactly the same way to last season? Opening with little time to prepare properly for the front of house teams, having to hit the ground running from day one, many members of teams coming off furlough straight into business at 110%, the pressures on those who have been holding the fort and working through. Ultimately, how do we deliver an improved experience to customers? People who are even more demanding because of what has happened and their desperate need to get out and commune with their families and friends away from their incarceration at home.
Throw into the mix that many millions of people who will not be going abroad any time soon and so become new staycationers with all the pressures this brings to their lives and those delivering their vital customer experience. It feels like the hospitality and tourism sector will be providing much needed well-being support as well as just the simple escape routes for people.
So after much reflection, listening, suffering and review over the last 12 months here are a few themes we have identified that I hope help you in the upcoming season;
It feels to us that there are 5 Macro themes that we should be considering, now, that should be guiding how we work and deliver for our customers seeking escape, togetherness, belonging and betterment, all themes from a global leisure attitudes insight piece we did recently. I know you probably doing much of this already…but just in case…
1. People + Process Operationalisation
Last year we all had to get up and start running instantaneously and be “on it from day one”
The new norms of 2021 will continue to be cleanliness and customer flow management but these are no longer new, they are brand basics so making mistakes by day 2 is too late.
If pain points have not been identified, their root causes analysed and innovative solution created and delivered using the front of house team, then you are committing theft. You are stealing the most precious commodity that we have as customers – time. They will not forgive brands that are not organised for the customer. No matter how unreasonable that seems to you and your teams.
The front of house have become business key workers, but so many were not listened to, as they just had to get on with the job. If the only thing businesses does now, in preparation for next season, is really listen to your front of house teams - you will learn so much. They are an instant insight team for both how work is getting done and what is getting in their way, both in operational delivery, customer reaction and experience.
2. Agile Acceleration
“We made things happen in 6 months which used to take 2 years” is a statement we will all recognise from last year and that one isn’t going away. Whilst this is true in business it is also true in the world of our customers.
They have been buying things online and they arrive the next day, restaurant quality food arrives through your letter box so you can have a night out, in; the internet is awash with advice, lessons and guidance at the touch of a finger. We expect things to happen almost instantaneously and this is now a basic expectation. Brands that struggle to deliver immediate gratification and resolution to issues will be amongst the next tranche of dinosaurs following many of the old school retailers into oblivion.
The digitisation of the customer journey has benefited both customers and businesses but in so many other aspects time and money is still being sucked up through process that have been made instantly redundant. The agile customer experiences required to meet these changes in attitudes and expectations simply cannot be delivered using the old, silo-based ways of working. Speed and agility need to be driven right down to the front line and those teams need to be trusted to deliver your brands at the point of contact with customers.
3. Attitudinal Intensification
Following a recent global study we identified 4 core attitudinal drivers for the leisure customer, and from everything we are hearing these attitudes have only intensified over the past year.
- Togetherness - Getting together with family and re-igniting those bonds that have been stretched to their limits and emotions will be running. Getting in the way of this bonding process rather than facilitating it will be damaging. We must support people to get more from their time together and in exchange for this they will be willing to pay more as it adds to their lives and is a genuine benefit. We all need to think “Family”
- Escapism - Leisure and travel have always been an escape from the everyday but now it is not the everyday. Customers will not be able to have the escape they envisioned a few short months ago so they will arrive with an intense need for nothing to get in the way of that escape. They will want it on their terms and brands that recognise this will be the winners. There is going to be a lot of “leave me alone”, “don’t interrupt my escape”. The opportunity is there to build authentic value driven experiences and teams to support these escapologists to get more from their time in the location of their choice.
- Belonging - A real opportunity presents itself to brands to inspire customers with a love of the place they are visiting, by delivering real experiences they create habits that last a lifetime, especially for this who currently do not visit. Understanding the emotional and rational drivers through insightful and inspiring customer attitudinal segmentation can help communicate the right signals that engage the right people with the right stimulus to get on their radar.
- Betterment - Whilst customers have been highly active, doing amazing things getting fit, doing DIY, gardening and a myriad of things they have never had time to do, the indications are that this has been slowing in lockdown 3.0. The opportunity to inspire people to get more out of their visits, explore the local area, learn about new places and support local communities appears to be something that resonates across much of the holidaying public. Helping them to do new stuff and integrate into the local area on more than just a superficial level can add real value to their visit and your brand.
4. Extraction warning
Every business will be looking to make up for lost time and revenue; just look at all of the reports of price inflation in the staycation market. Customers know what extraction looks like so just take care on the balance between the laws of supply and demand and greed, they are very close bedfellows.
Those businesses that take the short-term extraction route must remember that we have long memories.
5. Brand Lens Application
In all of these themes there is a common aspect that brands and businesses can benefit from in the long term. That is to use this opportunity to look at every touch point of the customer journey through the lens of their purpose, vision and values that it is trying to communicate to its customer through its colleagues and the experience they deliver.
Understanding that each touchpoint and customer interaction is a powerful communication channel that both customers and colleagues through what is done, rather than what is said to be done, is business and brand critical. The choice is as to whether these interactions are managed and improved continuously by colleagues using the purpose and values and or just left to random chance using historically based operational thinking driven by “we have always done it this way” thinking. Given the evidence of rapidly changing customer demands and challenges the choice, to me anyway, is pretty evident!
Whenever the sector is allowed to open up, the need to understand customers and colleagues, use inspiring and dynamic vision that guides the evolution and improvement to customer experiences that are enthusiastically repeated is the stuff of long-term sustainable business.
I am deeply aware that much of this work has been going on in so many businesses, not least our own clients, but 2 things still surprise me:
- The lack of genuine collaboration between departments that creates the silos that hinder brilliant performance.
2. The lack of empowerment to the people who really know how the business works when it collides with customers – the amazing key workers who everyday turn up to deliver the brand you are trying to create and sustain.