We are at the peak of the holiday season. Schools have closed, the sun is shining and most of us are ready to pack flip flops and sunscreen to escape the stress and monotony of daily life and hide for a week or two in a different part of the world, caring only about ourselves and our loved ones. For many people this is the main holiday of the year, for others just another coveted opportunity to take a break – but for all, the summer vacation is impregnated with high expectations of a fantastic time. Whether you seek total relaxation, fun-packed activities or nightlife entertainment – it is all about experiencing what we love with whom we love.
And yet, expectations are often not met
Have you ever thought that the idyllic destination you had seen in brochures and online websites could win the Photoshop award for ‘reality improvement’? The pristine beach or unspoilt forest of your dreams seems to… well… just remain a dream! The deluxe resort you had been thinking about for the last 6 months looks more like a bad copy of a Pontins park. The crystal clear waters you were hoping to dive into resemble the turbid waters of the river Thames. And also the weather is playing up, with thunderstorms and unexpected temperatures.
A couple of years ago I found myself in this situation during a family holiday to the Dominican Republic, when we thought that the physical surroundings could have been the perfect setting for a National-Lampoon-style comedy movie. Buildings that had not received proper maintenance for years, an unusable beach infested by sand flies, a sea that was a smelly extension of the local mangrove swamp and vegetation destroyed by recent hurricanes. Nothing like the online pictures we had seen nor, strangely, reflected in the TripAdvisor reviews.
However, to our surprise, it turned out to be a great holiday – all thanks to the people. From the moment we set foot in the resort to when we left, the staff and indeed all the locals we interacted with were absolutely amazing and transformed a potentially catastrophic holiday into a fantastic experience. Proactive and impeccable service, attention to our needs, perfectly orchestrated activities and fun-time, great creole food, rum cocktails and a fantastic atmosphere throughout – all served with genuine smiles and happiness under the heart-warming beat of the steel drums. By creating an immersive Caribbean experience, also the sub-optimal physical surroundings suddenly became part of a memorable holiday, because it made it all feel like ‘true Caribbean life’, rather than a staged westernised modern holiday resort.
No wonder all the TripAdvisor reviews were so positive and did not mention anything about the environment shortcomings – the great experience created by the people and a fantastic service completely compensated for what nature or investment money had let down.
But my family holiday this year was a very different story.
I’ve just returned from two weeks in Hurghada in Egypt and differently from the previous example, the actual resort was amazing. The perfect location on the Makadi Bay, brand new facilities, amazingly large rooms, an unspoilt coral reef accessible from the shore, crystal clear waters, lush manicured vegetation and spacious grounds and beaches, all enveloped by the perfect sunshine.
However, this time bad processes and poor service ruined parts of the experience – also starting even before we left.
Having booked the all-inclusive holiday through TUI, in the run-up to departure time, all I received from them were emails where they tried to sell me other things – allocated seats on the flights, food and drinks onboard, room upgrades and all sorts of other extras. Therefore their ‘all-inclusive’ concept was not quite that inclusive…! Anyway, fair enough, as many other low-cost providers now do that… even if I did not think that TUI was positioned as one of them.
The online portal seemed quite good, providing access to all my booking’s details and, obviously, to all those extras I could have bought. I particularly appreciated the section where I could register my preferences from a pre-set list, which made it very easy to request adjoining rooms on higher floors and notify them of our 20th wedding anniversary. However, it was surprising that every time I signed into the portal, these had disappeared and I had to re-log them again. Another annoying thing were the emails a few weeks before departure announcing that check-in was open, which enticed me to sign in, just to find out that I had to pay for checking in and selecting seats, or I would have had to wait until departure time… which I did.
Guess what? Yes, all 5 of us ended up scattered around the airplane, surrounded by many other scattered and utterly disappointed people who, like us, had not paid for allocated seats. It felt like they almost did it on purpose to punish us second-class citizens for not having paid the extra! Anyway, it should not be such a big deal for a 5-hour flight, right? But… there was no onboard entertainment to distract us, the seats were as small and uncomfortable as Easyjet’s and needless to say, we all seemed to have ended up sat next to either a screaming baby, a large adult or the type of person who wants the window seat but needs to stand up every 30 minutes!
We finally landed, went through several endless queues for visas and passport control and managed not to fall asleep on the transfer bus to the resort, with a promise of a late dinner, as it was now 10.30 pm. At last! Let the holiday begin!
But at midnight we were still at reception! After what felt like an eternity at the main check-in desk, filling in paperwork and taking photocopies of our passports, we were escorted luggage and all to another reception hall, where we had to go through it all… again! More paperwork, more photocopies… and not even the customary welcome drink! Needless to say, there was no late dinner available and our 3 rooms were all on the ground floor, far apart from each other but too close to either a restaurant or bar entrance (and the related smell and noise) and definitely without the seaview, which was one of the extras we had actually paid for. After several tired conversations and lots of phone calls, we agreed to go back to reception the following day to re-assess availability after the day’s departures. How can they not know who is leaving the following day and therefore what rooms will become available? Really? After 3 more visits to reception the following day, that afternoon we were finally able to settle into better rooms and start enjoying our holiday.
Overall, the broken booking and check-in process and all the unmet expectations had created a very bad first impression and annoyed us to the point that it took a few days to get through it and start appreciating how wonderful the place actually was. This was not helped by the other ‘surprises’ and hidden extras that continued to defeat the concept of all-inclusive. And despite also notifying the resort directly, needless to say we did not receive anything for our wedding anniversary. Therefore, we actually enjoyed our holiday only thanks to the great location and attitude of local staff, but TUI did not really help us to “discover our smile”, as per their brand promise!
Experience defines the overall perception
These two examples show how important the customer experience is in determining the overall perception of a product or service. Independently on its quality and specification, what matters the most is how easy, accessible and enjoyable it is to use. A great experience can hide some shortcomings, but even more crucially, a bad experience can irreparably taint it all. And above all – ensure you deliver on the expectations you have set! Indeed, I will think twice about booking my holidays again with TUI.
Add a ‘start’ to the ‘peak-end’
Also, while the ‘peak-end’ theory states the importance of delivering a positive climax and ending to an interaction or experience, I would also add that getting things off in the right way is essential to create that extremely important first impression. But these moments do not happen by chance and need to be carefully designed into the end-to-end customer journey and delivered in a seamless way.
It is not only about you
A final point. The end-to-end experience does not start and end with you. If other organisations or suppliers are involved in delivering the customer experience, they need to be included in your journey design and the hand-off points need to be seamless. Very often instead these create the cracks that break the customer journey and reflect badly on the overall experience. Like in the second example above, TUI should have passed all our personal details and preferences to the local resort to ensure a fast and smooth check-in process, and clearly impose the importance of delivering a warm welcome.
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