How the other 1% live – a look inside the Governor General Suite

On Friday, I wrote about how Fairmont had given me a really special experience when they upgraded my room at the Fairmont Royal York from a standard room to the Governor General Suite.

If you’ve ever wondered how the other 1% live (the 1% that definitely does not include me under normal circumstances,) I recorded a brief video tour of the Governor General Suite to share with you.

Click on this video, lean back and experience what one of the G20 leaders will go “home” to after a hard day sorting out the global banking industry.

Fairmont Hotels takes a smart approach to customer relations

This is a story about a company that understands the importance of going above and beyond what’s expected to show that it cares about good customers.

I stay at Fairmont Hotels a lot. I’m sure they consider me a good customer. And this week they showed that they understand they can still surprise and delight a customer by giving him more than he expected.

I had planned to stay at the Fairmont Royal York on June 24. However, the G20 Leaders Summit is being held in Toronto that weekend. The Fairmont Royal York is one of the hotels being used to house delegates – and it’s inside the exclusion zone. (Think big ugly fence that circles a multi-block area in the heart of Toronto.)

So, the people at Fairmont phoned me to let me know that they could not honour my reservation. They offered to place me at another hotel. I indicated that, given the expected transportation and business disruptions that will accompany the G20 Summit, I was going to cancel my trip to Toronto that week.

Fairmont could have left it at that. But they didn’t. They offered to upgrade my room on my next stay at the Royal York. A nice gesture.

So, I wasn’t really suprised when they told me at check-in this week that they’d upgraded my room. But I was surprised at what Fairmont upgraded me to – the Governor General’s Suite! 1,830 square feet of luxury. A fireplace. A separate parlour. A dining table. Wet bar. Views around three sides of the hotel.

Fairmont definitely didn’t have to do something this spectacular. But they did. And that’s one of the reasons why I stay at Fairmont. If they can make a regular customer feel special, they do it.

As a frequent customer of many other companies, I find that very few stand out like Fairmont by doing the special extra thing for customers. All too many seem to believe that they will deliver exactly what you paid for, nothing more, nothing less. While this does match my expectations, I think that those latter companies are missing a great opportunity to build loyalty. They should learn from Fairmont.

With the occasional gesture like this, Fairmont ensures that I’ll not only be a faithful customer, but that I’ll also tell my circle about my experience. And in the long run, they’ll no doubt get much more business than it cost them to let a customer use an expensive suite at the price of a single room.

That seems like simple good business sense to me. And Fairmont has it. Why don’t more businesses do this type of thing?

Managing through the recession – Focus on customer service

As the economy worsens, I continue to think about what Thornley Fallis and 76design can do to weather the recession. And as I do this, I look at what other companies are doing to cope with tough times.

No industry has been hit harder and faster by the economic downturn than the travel and tourism industry. One company in the industry, Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, has reminded me of the ongoing importance of customer service.

Great customer service is in limited supply today

Great service wanted

Customer service can set a company apart from competitors in an era when all competitors are only a click away. In this environment, products and many services become commodities. It’s the personal element that cannot be replicated and differentiates the great company from the pack.

Much of today’s so called customer service is really driven by time management considerations. Not the time of the client, but the time of the call centre rep or the customer service representative. In this environment, an organization that creates a work environment in which it’s customer-facing personnel can actually relate on a human level with the person in front of them will stand out from their competitors.

Fairmont Hotels is a case study of great customer service

I originally started to stay at Fairmont Hotels because of the unique physical plant and location of their Canadian properties (think grand hotels from the golden age of rail travel.) However, what drew me back time and time again was the warmth and attentiveness of the employees. They actually seemed to enjoy their work, showed pride in the company they worked for and made me feel like a valued guest. That’s not something that is common to all hotel chains.

Last week, Fairmont asked me to participate in a video interview for use in new internal staff training videos they are preparing.

Fairmont Hotels and ResortsThis is smart on the part of Fairmont. Not because I’m photogenic. (Brad Pitt I’m not.) It’s smart because I stay frequently at Fairmont Hotels and I have real stories to tell about my experience. And if Fairmont employees want to truly know the impact their decisions have on guests, how better to understand this than through the words and eyes of actual guests?

In setting up this interview, Fairmont didn’t ask me to gild the lily. Not at all, they asked me to talk about not only my positive experiences, but also the ones that weren’t so positive. To be truthful, I really couldn’t think of any negative experiences.

My experience with Fairmont employees

One time I could not get an Internet connection in my room. The hotel put me through to the telephone support (fairly standard procedure.) When that didn’t work, a technician came to my room. When that didn’t work, the desk staff assigned a new room to me, a bellman showed up at my door and I was transferred from my existing room to another (and the Internet was tested for me). Throughout this process, the Fairmont staff were patient and willingly helpful. And what makes this even more remarkable was that I later discovered the problem was with my computer, not the hotel’s Internet connection. I repeat: Throughout the troubleshooting process, the Fairmont staff were paitent and willingly helpful – even in the face of a technically challenged guest.

I’ve experienced the same caring approach when I’ve travelled with my family (a time when a good experience is even more important than when I’m travelling on my own.) My children love to go to Toronto in the summer. One year, we were assigned a rambling suite that gave us room to stretch out in a comfortable sitting area and had a round dining table large enough for a family of five. The room was perfect. When I made my reservations for the following year, I couldn’t remember the room number. However, the reservation agent searched my stay history and identified the room we like and assigned it to us for our return stay. A small extra gesture. But small things leave big impressions.

What’s the bottom line for me on why I think that Fairmont charaterizes great service? In every interaction with someone who works at the Fairmont, I feel like I’m dealing with another person who’s treating me as an individual. And I feel that I’m dealing with people who care enough to make it that way and an organization that has created a culture and organized their work in a way that supports this type of behaviour.

Great service. I don’t expect it, but I have become accustomed to receiving it from Fairmont.

How do we achieve great customer service?

Good service cannot be generated by the imposition of “cookie cutter uniformity.” Good service flows instead from consistency in the values that are shared by employees. It also comes from a culture that encourages service providers to focus on the people they are helping as individuals, not as units in a quota to be processed. If the quality of the interaction, not the quantity of transactions, is the objective then quality of service will be the outcome.

Dealing with complaints is very important as well. I believe that most problems actually go unreported. We all make a cost benefit analysis of the effort we will need to invest in order to get a response. The smart organization understands that The unsuccessful handling of a complaint makes me question whether I want to repeat my experience again. A complaint acknowledged and dealt with will outweigh the memory of the original complaint. I will return to an organization that has acknowledged my complaint and responded.

As businesses of all kinds think about how to cope with the coming recession, it’s well worth looking at a company like Fairmont as a model. I bet they make it through the recession with relatively less damage than their competitors. I’d like to do the same for my business.

Fairmont Hotels wins my loyalty through great customer service

I travel more than I’d like to and I stay too way too many nights at hotels. Like every other frequent traveller, I know what it’s like to be stared through, made to feel like an anonymous widget being throughput at the security line, in the airport, on the plane.

But Fairmont Hotels delighted me tonight when, out of the blue, they upgraded me to a suite. Not just any suite, but the Prime Minister’s Suite. Now they’ve got a customer for life.

I stay at Fairmont Hotels because they were once a Canadian chain that traced its lineage back to CP Hotels. And they have some of the most unique properties in North America. All of the great old railroad hotels in Canada. The Chateau Frontenac . Banff Springs . Lake Louise . A few years ago, CP Hotels merged with Fairmont and picked up properties like the Copley Plaza in Boston and the Fairmont San Francisco . Yes, they aren’t the trendy properties that people flock to for something new. But they have something special. Every one of these hotels has character.

And Fairmont has worked hard to achieve a level of customer service that matches the architecture of their hotels. For the past two days, I was at the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver. And from the time I checked in through every meal to check out, I had the feeling that people actually cared about whether I was happy at their hotel. The Waterfront’s employees make it a special place by acting special. They really seem to like working at the Fairmont and they project a sense of pride in the hotel and the job they do there. Yes, it’s intangible. But I truly feel it.

So, that brings me to tonight. I flew from Vancouver to Toronto. And because I had a morning meeting, I could only take a mid day flight. All the direct flights were full. So, I had to route through Calgary. That means 8 hours with a connection. A long day after a meeting and an arrival after 10PM in Toronto.

(The fact that the first news I heard when I stepped into a taxi was that my hometown Ottawa Senators had just completed one of the greatest NHL chokes of all time by being eliminated in four straight games from the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by Pittsburgh only added to my sense that this was one of those days…)

But when I pulled myself out of the taxi and went to the registration desk of the Fairmont Royal York my day changed completely.

First of all, Fabio Gamberdella, who frequently checks me in when I arrive at the hotel (Fairmont, you’ve got a great employee in Fabio) told me that my room has been upgraded from the standard room I’d reserved. That’s nice. (And it’s even nicer that Fabio addresses me by name and actually remembers me.)

But when I arrived at my room, I discover that I haven’t just been upgraded to a nicer room. I’ve been upgraded to the Prime Minister Suite. Let me say that again. The Prime Minister Suite. Nice. More than nice. Spectacular.

Fairmont didn’t need to do this. I was staying in one of the lowest priced rooms in the hotel on my corporate rate. So, I’m not exactly a high roller.

Fairmont could have simply left the room empty tonight and put me in the type of room I’d reserved. But they didn’t. And that was very, very smart of them.

Many other businesses would simply decide that because the higher value unit had not rented, they would simply leave it empty and deliver to the customer exactly what he had paid for.

But Fairmont has a database. And they know that I stay with them over 90 nights a year. And tonight Fairmont made me feel special. And that’s worth a lot. It’s definitely earned my loyalty for some time to come.

Now, the cynic would say that Fairmont should do a lot more for a frequent traveller who spends more than one in four nights every year at their hotels. And they do. Of course, I’m a member of their President’s Club frequent frequent guest program. And I receive all the privileges and perks that their marketing material promises.

But what was so special about tonight was that the upgrade was unasked for. Unexpected. And announced to me by Fabio, an employee who treated me like someone he recognizes.

Why aren’t more businesses smart like this in the way they treat their best customers?

And so that you know what I’m talking about, here’s a video that conveys how I feel about Fairmont tonight.