When sleeping in your customer's bed is smart marketing

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Claridge’s, in London's Mayfair is one of the world’s most prestigious hotels, having hosted thousands of celebrities and world leaders in sumptous style over its 150 year history. It has been so popular with heads of state in fact, that according to one apocryphal story people used to ring the hotel and ask: "Could I speak to the king?" to which the telephone operator would reply, "Which one?"

You’d expect that Claridge’s would sport an equally illustrious price tag, and you’d be right - up to an eye-watering $12,000 a night. With such a brand to protect, the hotel has resorted to an unusual and very effective strategy to ensure that nothing get overlooked in providing a world-class stay.

Whenever a room is refurbished, a senior executive from Claridge’s goes ‘snagging’, staying a night in the room and checking everything from room service, to whether electrical cables under a desk can be seen. The smallest flaw is immediately fixed before the room is deemed suitable for a visitor to stay.

It’s an extreme, but very literal example of the importance of seeing things from a customer’s point of view. Claridge’s practice is becoming increasingly common across the hospitality sector, and in industries like architecture where catching defects before handover can ensure a client’s joy in taking ownership of their new space is not spoilt by a small detail.

These examples clearly make financial sense when considering the price of a luxury hotel room or a new home. But how else can a smaller business get real customer insights to help them improve their offering?

So why not just ask customers directly?

Direct customer research definitely has it’s place, as responses can be probed to get deeper insights.  However, customers may not always give you accurate and usable answers. Henry Ford (supposedly) said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said “faster horses". Unhappy customers may not feel comfortable giving you feedback, and instead tell other people without giving a chance to resolve.

There are other interesting ways to get deeper into what your customers are really thinking which can be done quickly and in a cost-effective way, without spending a night in your customer’s bed.

  • Mystery shopping. This tool can be used to measure a variety of factors from service quality to policy compliance by internal staff or external agencies.
  • Be the ultimate eavesdropper. Monitoring relevant discussion forums and social media allows you to get a gauge on public opinion and trending topics.  You may also be able to see the power of peer influence, and hear honest (and sometimes painful!) reactions to your latest marketing initiatives.
  • Online heatmapping. Crazy Egg is one site which allows you to actually see how customers navigate your website to identify opportunities to optimise to improve conversion. 
  • Close your mouth, open your ears. One of the most effective learning tools for me personally as a marketer was to spend time listening to calls in the call centre, hearing first hand frustrations, misunderstandings and needs which could be incorporated into new product ideas or marketing campaigns.
  • Let other people do the work. Secondary research (existing research you don’t conduct yourself) from sources like published surveys, newspaper articles, journals and government statistics can all be valuable sources of information.

One caution! Don’t take anything at face value. It’s important to use these learnings with some understanding of their limitations, and balance the insights you uncover with other analysis to ensure that you’re not making decisions based on a small range of opinions.