When traveling with the family, we don’t often stay at “nice” places. This is partly because, well, I’m generally pretty cheap, and partly because a hotel for me is just a place to crash – an eight-hour respite from the brutal and relentless grind that is our daily ritual of hardcore vacationing. Seriously, why spend a ton of money on a place where you will be spending about 90 percent of the time with your eyes closed, likely literally dreaming of being somewhere else?
As long as the place is clean, relatively safe, and has free internet access, it’s pretty much a candidate in my book. Throw in a free breakfast and in-room coffee maker and it’s practically a Ritz!
For our 20th wedding anniversary, however, my wife wanted to go somewhere and stay at a hotel where “Comfort,” “Sleep,” or “Econo” weren’t in the title. After some discussion (and she stumbled across a Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times costume exhibit at the Biltmore Estate) we decided to go to Asheville, NC, and book a stay at the Inn on Billtmore Estate. (Technically it’s not a 5-star property, but rated 4-Diamond by AAA and 4-Star by Forbes.)
Inn on Biltmore Estate
If you don’t know much about the Biltmore House, it has a pretty fascinating history. It is the largest home in the United States at about 180,000 square feet, and was built in the late 1800s by the then 30-something bachelor, George Vanderbilt. (Sadly, although he managed to cram in a smoking room, a billiards room, a 70,000-gallon heated indoor swimming pool, and a two-lane bowling alley, there was no space for a home theater!)
The Biltmore Estate
From the moment we arrived at the Inn, we noticed the level of service was extraordinarily higher than the places we typically stay. And as I interacted with the staff, I found myself drawing a lot of parallels between the Biltmore and the level of service and support that custom integration companies likely strive to provide. Throughout our stay, every employee interaction succeeded in making us feel special and welcome, with employees always smiling and concluding interactions with, “It’s my pleasure.” (Years ago, a golf pro boss got onto me for telling a player something was “no problem.” He said, “John-boy, when you say ‘no problem,’ you’re implying that other things are a problem. I don’t want to hear you saying that in my golf shop.”)
A couple of the first-class service examples that stood out to me included a bellhop running to get an umbrella so I wouldn’t have to walk back in the rain after parking my car. Another time, our housekeeping service noticed that we were only drinking regular coffee and replaced the decaf Keurig pods with extra regular coffee pods. And much like at Disneyland, I never saw a staff member tell someone they didn’t know an answer to something; instead they always said they would look into it and get the answer.
By far the most impressive service I received was at the concierge desk, from a young woman named Liz. When we arrived, I told Liz that I love craft beer and was looking forward to checking out some of the great breweries in the area (Asheville boasts more breweries per capita than any U.S. city). She immediately started grabbing maps and guides and circling things and telling me places that I should visit.
After mentioning I was bummed I didn’t make an advance reservation for a tour at Sierra Nevada – the tour schedule seems to fill up about a month in advance – Liz volunteered that she might have some contacts at the brewery and she would see what she could do to get us a tour. Within a few hours, Liz left a message on my cell phone that she had secured a spot for us and just needed to know what day and time we would like to go. She then followed up – on her day off – to ensure that the reservation had been booked and that we were confirmed. (While at Sierra Nevada I saw them turn several people away from the tour saying they were booked for the next few weeks, and they would have to book online for the best chances, so I know that she used some concierge magic to make our tour possible.)
Liz also recommended several other breweries to visit as well as several local restaurants that catered to beer lovers, and shared her own favorite local beers to look out for (she also said she didn’t like sours, so I knew her recs were solid).
Now, was it just serendipity that I happened across a fellow beer lover and she enjoyed talking beer as much as I did? Or that talking craft beer with me was a better way to pass the time than, say, booking a dinner reservation for someone else? Maybe. But it never felt that way. And even if that was the case, she turned a “business” interaction into a personal one, where I felt like she was truly interested in making sure we were having the best time possible during our stay, and that we were connecting on a real, beyond employee-customer level, to the point where every time I walked past the desk I felt like I wanted to check in with her and tell her what beers we’d tried that day. (The Kentucky bourbon barrel-aged Narwhal at Sierra Nevada…? Oh my DAY-UM!)
Besides our knowledge and skill set, one of the things that separates custom integrators from internet shopping and big box retailers is the attention to detail and level of high-end, personalized service we provide. We know our customers by name, we often know what they like, and we often know the ways our tech can make their lives easier, but clients likely continue returning to us for far more than the great systems we install.
Think of how you can elevate and humanize relationships with your customers. Instead of craft beer, can you talk movies or music, perhaps recommending some favorite scenes that would really show off their new system? Or maybe even take it to the next step by bringing some discs over to demo for them in their new system? Or maybe you have an interest in automobiles, pets, golf, wrist watches, works of art, or whatever. There are lots of areas to connect with a customer and make the relationship more “real” than just being “the guy that installed my TV.”
People want to do business with people they like and connect with, and this is an area where our industry will always have the potential to thrive over mass-market competitors. Develop and foster relationships and you’ll likely earn customers for life.
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.