You can find ways to “wow” customers from time to time. Or you could make ways to “wow” them almost every day.
That’s how one small organization sees it — and its employees are winning awards with their grassroots, front-line approach to remarkable customer service.
The best part: These aren’t grandiose gestures that break the bank. Employees have done small, sincere things — such as warming cars in the cold North for a Southern guest, passing out cookies and flowers with personal notes and preparing condolences for guests who’ve lost loved ones — to win “Guest Love.”
“We’ve always erred to the side of hospitality,” says Julie Shaw, director of sales at the Crowne Plaza Wilmington North. “The ‘WOW’ Program has been the secret weapon behind our ability to create memorable stays for our guests.”
Crowne Plaza employees have always been encouraged and willing to go the extra mile for customers. And it’s earned them decent “Guest Love” scores — their form of customer satisfaction ratings. They turned it up a notch recently with the WOW Program and received its parent company’s Year Over Year Improvement Award. Plus, their employee satisfaction scores have surpassed all other properties’ in their corporation. The Crowne Plaza Wilmington North has also been ranked No. 1 on TripAdvisor’s customer reviews in its market.
How ‘WOW’ works
Employees were first given a stash of bonuses, such as coupons for drinks and breakfast and room upgrades, to hand over to guests when they felt it was appropriate. There weren’t rules on how or when to do it. Leadership just suggested they use them to make customers feel special.
When employees started doing that, they saw guests’ enthusiastic responses. So they wanted to do more, and asked if they could get more creative and personal with their “WOWs.”
“It’s been contagious,” Shaw says. “There’s a bit of one-upmanship. Employees are trying to come up with the next best idea.”
“‘WOWs’ are more a result of conversations,” says Rainin Brown, operations manager at the Crowne Plaza Wilmington North. “Employees hear things from guests, and they’ll want to do something to make the guest’s day more special. Or they might think, ‘What can I do to alleviate something for a customer?”
Case in point: An employee delivered coloring books, iced tea, popcorn and a movie pass to a rambunctious youngster who’d ridden in a car for 11 hours. The distractions were a huge relief to his exhausted mother!
Employees are encouraged to share the WOWs they deliver with a manager who compiles a daily operations report for the parent company. The manager picks a “WOW” of the day to add to the otherwise qualitative report. At the end of the week, on-site managers vote on the best “WOW” of the week and the employee gets bonus points in the company’s recognition program to cash in on rewards.
Take the cue
Here are 12 more unique “WOWs” that you might try (or use as triggers for ideas to wow your customers):
- A security employee who’d only been asked to walk a guest to her car at 4 a.m. cleaned the snow off and warmed up the vehicle because he’d learned she was from the South and not used to the Northern winter cold.
- When the Nichols College basketball team arrived in Wilmington, they had reason to be excited: They’d made it to their league’s playoffs. The staff gave them even more reasons to be excited. They decorated the lobby with a banner signed by all employees and balloons in the school colors. They made special labels with the team mascot and school logo, and put them on bottled water and trail mix.
- An employee took the photo of a frequent, pleasant guest when he arrived, turned it into a candy bar wrapper and put it on a chocolate bar, calling it his personal “Elite Treat” (named for their customer loyalty program).
- When an employee found that March 3 was National Oreo Day, she had tags commemorating the day printed, tied them to small bags of the cookies and handed them to every guest she encountered.
- Similarly, the staff had “love notes” printed and attached them to roses on Valentine’s Day and gave them to all their guests.
- After another employee got a group of guests out the door to a nearby bachelor party, he stocked their rooms with treat bags full of Gatorade, water, breakfast coupons and a hand-written note that included a tip on where to get pain killers if they needed them after the party.
- When a local employer called the hotel asking if any employee had seen or talked to a guest who’d been doing contract work for him, employees pieced together that the guest’s father had passed away and he had to leave abruptly. Crowne Plaza employees signed a sympathy card and Brown created a symbolic piece that’s meant to help people through difficult times. The guest “melted in Rainan’s arms” when he received it. He was so touched by their kindness that he encouraged his out-of-town family to stay there for the ensuing funeral and hosted the luncheon at the hotel.
- After chatting with a guest while giving him a ride in the shuttle, an employee bought a book they had discussed. The guest had said he wanted to read it, but hadn’t been able to get to it … until then.
- A maintenance employee learned while chatting with a guest where he was fixing a heating/cooling unit that she was so busy she didn’t get breakfast. They also talked about their mutual love of bacon. When he finished the repair, he went to the restaurant, loaded up a to-go container with bacon, filled a cup with juice and hand-delivered the breakfast to her.
- A guest mentioned that he picked up a last-minute gift to take to a party, but didn’t know what to do about wrapping it. The employee knew what to do: She called her colleague who wraps like a pro. Together they gathered what supplies they could and created a perfect presentation.
- When a blizzard was in the forecast, a handful of guests stayed and many more cancelled. To make their time (potentially stuck indoors) more inviting throughout the storm, staff made fresh cookies and set up a hot chocolate bar in the lobby for them to enjoy while riding out the storm.
- Some staff members noticed that a guest who’d soon check in was in their rewards program and had more than six million reward points — quite an accomplishment. So they created a personalized card with a “6 Million Dollar Man” on it and wrote a personal note thanking him for his loyalty to the brand. They also included an upgraded room and breakfast, which he didn’t normally take the time to eat. But under those circumstances he did!