Simon McGrath, Accor, at No Vacancy 2013, smallCustomer service is the new marketing!  Accor Pacific COO Simon McGrath told delegates at No Vacancy Australia in Sydney last week the hotel industry must return to its roots by putting the customer first and data second, allowing emotion to overcome function.

“At the end of the day people want to feel good about themselves – when that happens they’ll feel good about you, too,” he said quoting social researcher Hugh Mackay. “Engage with the person, it’s the best way of making a connection.”

Adrian Currie, MD of in Asia Pacific, concurred.

“I think the whole thing about customers and attaching to their emotions rather than their functional desires is really important.”

Industry leaders also felt concept of emotional connectivity had a far greater role to play in generating return visits than accumulating points through officially customer loyalty programs.

A straw poll of the room confirmed this. Of the 200+ crowd, just two indicated in a show of hands that generating reward points was a significant factor in determining where they stay.

You can’t buy loyalty then?

Both Mr McGrath and Bob East, CEO of Mantra Group, agreed.

If you focus on product, service and emotional connection, loyalty will follow.

Mr East said Mantra had been working hard to achieve that across its brands and repeat business is “now at 38% compared with 32% two or three years ago”, while Mr McGrath said Accor’s return customer base was 40% to 45% depending on the brand.

They said loyalty has never been more important  amid the white noise of modern society and its relentless marketing assault.

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