5 lessons hoteliers need to learn from the modern day banking industry

My father was scampering up the short flight of stairs as the metal sliding grill gates were being noisily dragged to be closed by the guard. While he was fit at age 60, even he ran out of energy not just because he had to sprint the last 50 meters, but because this was such an energy draining exercise – a visit to the bank in the 70’s.

Many will remember banks those days. You went into a crowded space, with reluctant staff who made you wait longer than the neighbourhood doctor in his run down clinic. You had to have the skill of a calligraphist to fill the small spaces in the pink challans, printed on paper so thin, you could use it as a strainer for filter coffee. To meet the manager, you had to be a local politician or a senior bureaucrat, as the manager did not waste his time with all customers. You had to wait in long queues to deposit money, draw money, speak to a staff and to even enter the bank when it opened. Staff went off on their coffee breaks in the middle of a conversation, and the first half hour was normally spent reading the newspaper, as the ayah shoddily swept and mopped the floors, as customers waited patiently without any protest or demand for service. This was banking in the 70’s.

Cut to present times where you don’t even have to go to the bank for banking services. Money is delivered in your home or picked up for deposit from your home. Bank premises are like lounge bars, where staff politely wait on you while waiters serve you coffee. Bank managers pride themselves in knowing the names of all their customers and make it a point to meet all customers irrespective of their net worth. ATM’s were invented, net banking has become the norm and if you can’t transact on your cell phone, you ditched the bank. Debit cards ensured you could step out with a light pocket, and credit cards ensured that your lifestyle was always beyond your earnings. Working hours of banks matched your convenience, and generally a visit to the bank, as rare as it has become, can be quite pleasant.

Yes Dad, this is real, and not fiction! (that was me telling my Dad, as he reads this in disbelief from heaven)

So what changed in the banking industry? One thing only – banks started to put their focus on the customer. While operations were important, their focus shifted to the customer. While many other factors motivated banks to do this, the single biggest among them being the entry of international banks, it is noteworthy that even the nationalised banks were forced to morph into providing services like the international banks – which is good for the customer.

Banks started hiring staff from the consumer products industry, so the Citi bank’s and HSBC’s were poaching executives from multinational consumer marketing companies like Unilever, Nestle, and advertising agencies like Lintas, Ogilvy and HTA. None of these executives were ‘bankers’, but they understood the consumer completely. They had mastered processes to understand the usage and attitudes of consumers across a multitude of categories. For these MBA’s from the consumer products industry to now focus on just one category like banking, was like asking Dhoni to hit a sixer with a rubber ball – so easy! And they did it successfully in style, and not only accumulated vast amounts of wealth for themselves, but revolutionsed the consumer banking industry in India.  Corporate banking followed almost simultaneously, and my father is seeing stars from where he is!

This disproportionate focus on the consumer is what hotels need to do.

The biggest focus for hoteliers is amenities and facilities. Hotelier’s boast about the refurbishment of their rooms - a remote to operate the curtains, branded equipment like Sony LED TV, Braun tea kettles, GE mini refrigerators,….! Add to this one hears boasts of how their hotel bathroom has 15 towels, and bedrooms have 12 pillows….Seriously! Guests don’t care for 12 pillows and 15 towels in the world today! Guests of hotels have these and more in their homes. At one time Persian carpets, Italian marble champagne and caviar were luxuries, but today guest live these every day in their homes. The large LED TV in a hotel can never compete with the home theater that has been custom built in a home! The hand woven Ghashghais carpet in a home can never compete with anything a hotel has. The single malt whisky and wine collection of an average Indian executive will never be as good as what any hotel can offer. On the service side, the only movement upwards we have seen are CRM systems which some hotels have to do some predictive pampering. Other hotel management systems come in the way of service. All of us have heard lines like ‘Sorry Sir I have to charge you extra as the check out time was 12 noon and it is 2pm now. I have no control as it is a system generated issue. Manager has left for lunch….’.  

It will be good for the hospitality industry has to become more consumer focused like the banking industry did and benefited. Here is what I mean.

In the world we live in today, everyone is travelling a lot, on work and on leisure, which is when they use hotel and resort rooms. Because they travel so much and because they are exposed to the world from their cell phones, their expectations from a hotel or a resort is not just the facilities and amenities – (these are expected to be top class and yes the 12 pillows and 15 towels are ok and I love it), but a resort or a hotel will excel when they deliver ‘experiences’.

What kinds of experiences can hotels and resorts deliver will depend on a multitude of factors including their location, their theme, their geographical uniqueness, etc. but they have to aspire to deliver experiences.

When hotels and resorts recognise this, then they will start to dig through what the consumers want and then their journey towards becoming consumer centric will start. Hotels and resorts should start hiring executives from the consumer product industry to bring this consumer focus, like what banks did in the 70’s.

From the beginning the focus of my resort (Our Native Village) has been consumer experiences. Guests love my place (Trip adviser reviews being a barometer) and welcome all the new mind opening experiences that we deliver. The better and more unique the experiences they get, the better their overall experience of my resort. We are doing something right considering 60 to 70% of our business is repeat or referral.

So here are 5 things to note:

1)      Become more consumer centric

2)      Banks moved to becoming consumer centric and moved away from being operations centric.

3)      Hotels need to become more consumer centric and move away from being amenities and facilities centric.

4)      Hire consumer marketing executives from the consumer products industry – they have the mind set to dig in and understand consumers. This results in better product development and marketing.

5)      Every establishment should have an operations head (who is a hotel management graduate) and a consumer experience head (a consumer products/marketing person).

What will this ensure? This will ensure that businesses grow and the industry moves towards being more marketing/ product led rather than just sales/price led. It will also make my father smile…!