Trump Hotel Wins By Not Taking Customer Experience Shortcuts

Brian Cantor

When you, a customer management leader, ask for insight on how to "be like Disney," you better understand the seriousness of your request.

If you’re looking for quick fixes or cheap shortcuts from going from point A to point B, you might as well not even bother—you are never going to attain customer experience prestige. True customer management success lies at the core of the organization and flows to every appendage; it is not derived or achieved from tinkering with a few metrics or assuring the team puts an extra-special premium on smiles.

In reflecting on my experience at this past week’s 7th Call Centre Week Canada conference, I can confirm that the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Toronto, ON fully understands that customer experience is a commitment valued in the very lifeblood of the organization. It is not something to be achieved by copying a few "best practices" from the elite.

With a building this beautiful, interior design so brilliant and rooms so exquisite, it would be very difficult for a customer not to appreciate the escapism of the resort. Similarly, with a hotel staff so friendly, cordial and helpful, it would be very difficult for a customer not to feel valued at the resort. For many organizations, one would seemingly be enough.

After all, if you checked into a hotel room that had luxuries like heated bathroom floors, rainfall showers and touchscreen light controls, you’d likely feel a bit petty for crying about the concierge not greeting you with a bottle of water every time you walked downstairs.

At the same time, you would also be a bit hesitant to fully endorse the hotel, especially to upscale, professional clientele. For all the beauty of the resort does in trivializing complaints about poor customer service, it also highlights any flaws and shortcomings in the customer experience. A hotel this nice should have people who treat me like a king—every facet of the customer experience should dazzle.

Similarly, if the staff killed you with kindness upon check-in, you would fully expect them to care enough about customers to have glorious amenities. You would have a hard time swallowing the customer-centricity of receiving a "hot towel" and bottle of wine at check-in if your bathroom housed a cockroach and broken coffee machine. Customer experience is a complete system, and efforts to boost the experience should do so at all checkpoints. They should not serve as trade-offs.

That is why the efforts to "be like Zappos" often go nowhere. People think about some famous tenets of the Zappos experience, like its return policy, and think that these tangible elements are the pathway to greatness. They forget that if Zappos had overly-inflated prices, a poor selection and/or offshored, non-English-fluent call center representatives, the great return policy would mean little for satisfaction—and actually serve to highlight the other flaws.

The Trump, luckily (given that it was housing an event for customer service professionals), did not fall victim to that logic. It perfected every step of the process, recognizing that it has only one chance to make an everlasting first impression. And when they not only hook you up with complimentary access to a local athletic club (as compensation for the fact that their gym is still under construction) but actually walk you to the gym to make sure you get in properly—and then have a bottle of water waiting upon your return—they are seizing that opportunity.

Best of all, though some elements of the experience adhered to general, luxury hotel gimmicks (the aforementioned hot towel at check-in, turndown service, insistence that the bellhop carry bags to the room even if you’re an athlete and weight lifter somewhat emasculated by others doing your heavy lifting), so much of the experience was tailormade to the actual experience.

All staff members made an effort to connect on a personal level. And when I, for instance, asked the well-trained, savvy mixologist about bar recommendations—he spoke in my language, that of a twentysomething looking for a fun crowd and the ability to watch basketball rather than hockey, rather than in the stuffy, "I like blowing $50 on every cocktail so I can feel important" language likely more typical of luxury hotel guests. He made an effort to help me, Brian Cantor, have the most enjoyable possible experience in Toronto rather than the abstract "customer."

Without taking anything away from Toronto, which made for a simply beautiful, welcoming, pleasant home for our event, I have a strong suspicion that my eagerness to consider moving to Canada was fueled, in large part, by the experience I had at this hotel. It was impossible to feel anything less than excited knowing that I would wake up in a wonderful palace with access to fantastic customer service, all the while knowing that the conference attendees with whom I would trade customer management stories and learn about call center strategy would be in the same great mood.

And that comes from recognizing the customer experience as the centerpiece of the organizational system.

Though Ritz-Carlton has a monopoly on the "go-to customer experience examples" market for hotel chains, I now will be advising those in hospitality to "be like the Trump."

But when I do, I won’t necessarily be asking them to install the "Electric Mirror." I won’t necessarily be asking them to install remote-controlled drapes and fireplaces or have free-wifi that is actually fast. I won’t be asking them to speak to me as I am not as how customers usually are.

Instead, I’ll be asking them to shape the entire organization around customer satisfaction. From pricing, to design, to amenities, to service, to correspondence, to information, to food, to everything under the sun, the Trump works not because it does any one thing particularly right but because it won’t risk the harm of doing any one thing remotely wrong.