smith+co on
customer experience
Shaun Smith
  • By Shaun Smith
  • Dec 21 2010

Focus on the dollars, not the dimes

There is a saying in the US: “Don’t nickel and dime me”, which means to accumulate money in small amounts. There are examples of this in many areas of customer service and it is one of the business practices that drives many consumers crazy.

And it’s what drove me crazy at my recent stay at the Al Bustan Palace, one of Oman’s top hotels…

The immediate experience is one that envelops the senses: the soaring atrium and huge lobby area filled with the smell of incense; the ground-floor rooms with direct access to infinity lagoons so that you can literally swim outside your room; the beautifully kept grounds.

Sure, the hotel is expensive, but I expected that and when you book a top hotel you expect to pay a premium. However, what I didn’t expect was to have to pay steep charges for internet access for both our computers even though they were used in the same room. I didn’t expect to pay for using the catamarans when every other water-sports centre I have ever experienced provide these for free, and I wasn’t anticipating the sky-high cost of breakfast.

Now InterContinental, the managers of the Al Bustan Palace, would argue that if you stay in a luxury hotel you should expect to pay top prices and I would agree with them. But what I find irritating is to pay top prices and then find I am ‘nickel and dimed’ on services which are provided as standard in much lesser hotels. As far as I am concerned, internet access is more important to me than having access to the TV and hotels don’t charge for that, so why should they charge for internet?

The problem with this ‘nickel and dime’ approach is that you are continually reminded of how much you are paying throughout your stay - that is not what you want the guest to focus on.

The five rules for creating a great Customer Experience

Richard Chase and Sriram Dasu are behavioural scientists and they investigated what influences our perceptions of the customer experience. They suggest five rules for creating a great experience which help us to ensure that customers focus on the high points of their experience and overlook the low points:

  1. Finish strong. Finish on a high - do something unexpected at the end of the experience; perhaps give a small gift as a souvenir at check-out. The Banyan Tree Hotel and Resorts give guests lovely little stuffed fabric turtles as a memento of their stay for example. Giving a small gift (providing it isn’t tacky) helps to create a positive moment at the very point you are asking the customer to part with their cash.
  2. Get bad experiences over with early. If customers have to do something onerous, get it out of the way as quickly as possible. In the case of hotels, pre-register guests online so that their first experience of the hotel isn’t one of lining up at the front-desk and filling in a registration form with exactly the same information they provided when they booked.
  3. Segment pleasure, combine the pain. Spread the pleasure along the touch-line. So provide those little touches of fresh cookies served with coffee, cold face-towels on the beach etc. They cost very little but create little ‘spikes’ of pleasure. Combine the ‘pain’ by bundling internet and other facility charges into the room rate so that you experience them in one step rather than every time you wish to use them.
  4. Build customer commitment through choice. Give guests full information about your charges (like water-sports) on your web site so they are transparent and expected. Guests can then make informed choices about the package they need and, most importantly, won’t be surprised by them.
  5. Stick to rituals. Create on-brand rituals that customers associate with their stay with you. For example, whenever I stay in the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong I always anticipate and appreciate the welcome Chinese tea that is served in the room whilst I am unpacking.

Source: ‘Want to perfect your company’s service? Use Behavioral science.’ Chase and Dasu. HBR 2001

Don’t be remembered for the ‘dimes’

What behavioural science tells us is that the customer’s memory of an experience is formed at every touch-point with a brand. Generally speaking, the greater the number of positive or ‘branded’ touch-points, the more positive the experience is. When you ‘nickel and dime’ customers you create little moments that jar with the customer and if these happen at the end of the experience that is what they will likely remember.

For example, some years ago I stayed at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok which has been voted the best hotel in the world on a number of occasions. It was a wonderful stay but what do I remember most? There were some Mandarin Oriental Hotel postcards provided in my room which I sent to friends and family to tell them about my stay (and in so doing advertise the Mandarin Oriental). So imagine my surprise at being presented with a charge of $5 for these few postcards when I checked out. Now $5 represented a few ‘dimes’ when compared with the many dollars that my stay cost, but it was the dimes I remember.