Have you found yourself short on marketing dollars? Or have you invested your marketing dollars in expensive ads that brought you little in return? I certainly have. As a matter of fact, before our doors were even open, I had spent the lion’s share of the marketing budget on restoration.

Here I was, ready to open a boutique hotel in a town with a population of 600. I needed to attract guests that were a two-hour drive from us. I was starting from scratch; I didn’t have an existing customer base when we took over the hotel. As a matter of fact, the hotel had not been consistently opened to guests since the 1940s. What was I to do?

Necessity is the mother of invention. It’s also the mother of innovation!    

Making the most of marketing dollars

Conventional Marketing Method

I tried the conventional route, paying to design a beautiful ad and placing it in a couple gorgeous high-end wedding magazines. This turned out to be an expensive lesson. Those ads cost a lot of money and the return on that investment was very little. What I found grew our business in the most cost effective and the most efficient manner was fairly simple.

Creative and Cost-Effective Marketing

We dedicated ourselves to providing an excellent customer experience. The customer experience began on the phone, oftentimes with a guest that lived in Portland, 2 hours away. People think that a guest’s experience begins when they book a room or when they check in, but we found otherwise.

 Our customer was often traveling from a large city where they had access to food, shopping, and restaurants most any time of the day or night. This was not the case in our little town. The streets rolled up in the evening. The one grocery closed at 7:00, just about the time someone might be arriving from the city IF they left right after work.

For us, the customer experience began in their home. Our guests experience with our boutique hotel happened en route to our place.

When they would call to make a reservation, we would ask about their interests and purpose for travel to us. We wanted to begin the great experience before they arrived.

Based on their agenda, interests, and time, we would recommend sights for them to visit on their way. It might be a drive on the old highway stopping at Crown Point and looking at the beautiful Gorge vistas, it might be indulging in an absurdly large soft serve cone in Cascade Locks, then it continued, stopping in The Dalles for a fantastic dinner before popping up the hill to our hotel.

Very often our guests would dine at a restaurant that was in the larger town just 20 minutes from us. We partnered with the restaurant and would either send the guest a card for 10% off their dining or we would call the restaurant to let them know that we sent them a particular guest. The restaurant would extend to them the 10% discount. If it were a special anniversary or birthday, we might even surprise them with a complimentary dessert.

While we did have some dining fare at the hotel, the timing of the journey for our guests made dinner time just about the time they would hit The Dalles (the neighboring large town). They would arrive to the hotel well fed, rested, and ready for some warm homemade chocolate chip cookies.

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Your Customer Experience Journey

The customer experience began long before our guest checked in. The goal was for them to feel cared for from the moment they started our direction.

What this helped us do, I realize now, was to see our guests as whole people. They were people with interests that were varied and vast, their interests reached beyond the interaction with us at the hotel. We were not their only world.

The key to building a business that got Dufur (pop. 600) on the map along with our boutique hotel, was through putting our customers at the center. Our staff really enjoyed the relationships that they fostered and, as a biproduct, they stayed with us. It’s a lovely gift, as an owner, to have a team of dedicated, enthusiastic people who stick around and are invested in the business success.

How can your team engage with your customers? What can they do to enhance your customer experience?

If you would like some inspiration, go nab this book: Hug Your Customers by Jack Mitchell (affiliate link). Our team re-read it nearly every year. It always inspired us to take our service to the next level. Enjoy!

Samantha works with business owners helping to ‘tame the overwhelm’, assisting with customer acquisition & retention, employee training & retention, and honing your Customer Experience so it kicks butt.

She conducts workshops and training in hospitality, Customer Experience, and creating a culture in the workplace that inspires and motivates employees and customers.

There's untapped, untrained power in your staff just waiting to be unleashed to help grow your business! Grab a copy of the eBook and Guide: First Impressions Matter to equip staff and grow your business today.

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