How to Give Your Customers an Upgrade – For Peanuts

IMG_2546I’m not talking about ripping your Customers off – just that there are ways to upgrade your standard offering that cost you very little.

To explain what I mean, I was upgraded this week – in a hotel I regularly use, where the rooms are fairly basic, but it has free wi-fi throughout, and a Starbucks, so it works for me.

The upgrade in question is billed as “The Most Unbelievable Upgrade Yet” – so my expectations were set high! The detailed offer was as follows:

  • “Free access to the Health & Fitness Club, 20m pool, steam and sauna
  • Great bed
  • Bose speaker dock
  • Sky movies
  • Snuggly duvet
  • Starbucks
  • Upgraded toiletries”

So far so appealing. my experience however, left something to be desired.

It was as if someone in a meeting had had an idea – “The Most Unbelievable Upgrade Yet” – a budget had been allocated, the investment in decor and gadgetry made; but the initiative had been carried out in a limited way, with little thought to the total Guest Experience. To avoid this post becoming interminable, I’ll summarise the issues:

  • On checking in, no special treatment was given. Even a smile, and a “lucky you, I see
    Bedroom Upgrade
    Bedroom Upgrade

    you’ve upgraded!” would have created a sense of anticipation.

  • The upgraded rooms were in the furthest part of the hotel from reception. They were also nearest to the adjacent motorway. Simple logic would suggest that premier rooms should be easy to reach and in a peaceful part of the hotel.
  • The room had been filled with oversized furniture, a lighting scheme that would have challenged a glow worm, and little attention to detail: for example, there was no light above the mirror, and the kettle was located nowhere near an electric socket. The setting for any experience should always work for the Guest; good design never hampers functionality.
  • The bathroom was exactly the same as in a standard room. (The “upgraded toiletries”
    Bathroom Upgrade (?)
    Bathroom Upgrade (?)

    consisted of one extra, wall-mounted bottle of conditioner). The bedroom and bathroom – every element of the setting – should be considered holistically. Genuinely upgraded toiletries (and towels) would have enhanced the experience even if the budget didn’t run to a superior bath or shower.

  • The Sky remote was complicated to use (I don’t have one at home) so was a minus rather than a plus point. There were, however, instructions provided so that was a positive.
  • The reference to “Starbucks” was quite misleading. There were two sachets of Starbucks Via instant coffee, two of decaf, two green teabags and two breakfast teabags (although none after the room had been refreshed!). And no biscuits! It would have been appropriate, and inexpensive, to provide a proper selection of beverages, biscuits, fresh fruit and even a bottle of wine (and maybe some peanuts). Incidentally, a vase of fresh flowers would have been more welcome than much of the “designer-ish” decorative detail in the bedroom.
  • On arriving at the hotel restaurant for my (inclusive) dinner, once again there was no reference made to my upgraded status. Instead, I was told, you’re on the set menu”, as a small (though, as it turned out, excellent) menu card was handed to me. It would have been so simple to create a branded, “Upgraded” menu card and to hand it to me with a flourish, enabling me to enjoy the illusion of superior living. Had they, at an appropriate juncture, delivered an unexpected sorbet or amuse-bouche, my cup would indeed have run over!
  • Unfortunately there were a couple of technical hitches too: the (much-needed) porch light was not working and nor was the heater (for which no instructions were provided). Any Customer Experience – let alone an upgraded experience – requires that everything is in working order. And if it isn’t, the Guest should never – as I was – be made to feel that it is his fault. (Two receptionists insisted that the heater was working and that I had failed to understand the controls. It wasn’t, and I hadn’t).
  • On checking out – you’ve guessed it – no reference was made to my upgraded experience. I wasn’t asked whether I had enjoyed it, or whether I had any feedback. So – and I don’t name and shame as a rule – my feedback is here! The hotel in question won’t receive it, but if it helps others think about  creating an upgraded Customer Experience then all is not lost.

I’d sum up by suggesting that almost any Customer Experience can be upgraded, and not expensively.

Follow these six top tips:

  1. Start by having a clear focus on the target Customer: what will add value for them (and what won’t)?
  2. If your upgrade initiative starts with a concept – i.e. “The Most Unbelievable Upgrade Yet” – check regularly that the detail will deliver on that concept. In other words, over-deliver, don’t over-promise.
  3. Remember that small, inexpensive details often make more impact than expensive decor or lighting.
  4. Always consider the whole Customer Journey and ensure the experience remains consistent throughout.
  5. Don’t forget that good design is about functionality as much as – no, more than – appearance.
  6. And finally (although you should start and finish here) – involve your Team throughout. How can they contribute to the development of the idea? And, how will they deliver it?

At my hotel this week I genuinely experienced “The Most Unbelievable Upgrade Yet”; just not in the way they intended!

For support with Customer Experience design or delivery click here.


Stephen Spencer is a keynote speaker, business coach and consultant, helping organisations create better Customer Experiences to unlock team and profit potential. He has over 25 years’ experience as a leader, trainer and experience developer with some of the UK’s most prestigious Retail, Tourism and Hospitality brands. Sign up for Stephen’s POSITIVE Customer Experience newsletter here.

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