Casual Excellence

Jason Devenish and Nick Clarke talk about how to create authentic, meaningful customer experiences at your glamping destination.

Chalkboard with message written on it
Photo: Getty Images

I’m often talking about how we find ourselves in the experience economy, and how important it is to embrace this at glamping destinations and retreats in order to stand out, increase value and create a unique identity. Moving away from the campsite mentality and moving towards authenticity and amazing unique experiences is key.

However, it’s one thing coming up with a concept for an amazing experience, but surely excellent customer service is absolutely crucial to that experience being delivered well?

Last year, I met a great guy called Nick Clarke… he’s an actor, or at least he used to be, and uses his experience from the world of theatre within his customer service training company, Hop Training. Nick uses actors to deliver training to the hospitality industry. Fascinating, right?

Hop have been featured in The Times and The Telegraph, and have trained thousands of people both here in the UK and New York. Their clients have gone onto win numerous awards including a Michelin Star, National Restaurant of The Year and even gaining entry into the Times top 100 employers to work for list. They empower teams to deliver great customer experiences. Check them out at www.hoptraining.co.uk

Nick has kindly agreed to share some insights and thoughts on how his methodology might apply to the glamping industry. Take it away Nick… you’re the expert!

Customer service is king
Whether you’re running a hotel, restaurant or a glamping site, customer service is king. Nothing new here, but I think people’s understanding of what customer service is and, more importantly, exactly how to deliver it, is usually way off the mark. We’ve all been to places where the service is so stiff and inauthentic that it makes us feel quite awkward, and then we’ve also been to places where everything’s so laid back, it’s stressful trying to make a booking.

The art of great service is finding that middle ground. Guests want a slick, effortless stress-free service that’s also warm, genuine and authentic. It’s about building a meaningful connection with your guests and at the same time taking away all their stresses so they can completely unwind. It’s about delivering what we call ‘casual excellence’.

Fresh Vegetables
Photo: Getty Images

Creating your service foundation
The first element to delivering this type of experience is to get the service offering perfect. Service is essential to all the practical aspects of the experience. The booking process, the checking in process, check out process, the site’s amenities, knowing how to use the heating in the glamping structure etc. As an operator you have to iron out all the service details so the whole system works like a well-oiled machine.

The service element creates the foundation to build great guest experiences. No matter how beautiful your site is, or how lovely your team are, if the toilets keep blocking or your booking procedure is clunky and crashes all the time, you’re never going to achieve casual excellence.

You have to take the time to make that service aspect perfect. One of the simplest things to do is open an Excel spreadsheet and outline your entire guest journey. Next, go through every service element you need to create a great experience. Finally, develop an action plan for each aspect – that could be staff training, it could be putting in place a backup procedure if something goes wrong. How do you make that service foundation bullet-proof?

Making the emotional connection
Once you’ve got your service foundation down, we want to work on the emotional side of things. This is about having a very clear understanding of how you want your guests to feel while they’re with you. This is about how we communicate with our guests, think about the tone you use, the language, the pacing – with every interaction we have with our guests we want to be creating the right emotions.

At Hop, we use actors to train teams to do this. But at its simplest level, it’s about making your team aware of exactly how you want each guest to feel while they’re with you. We always get our clients to get rid of any scripts and instead focus on listening, connection and authenticity. A good place to start is making your guests feel truly valued and welcome.

That emotional aspect should also run through every guest touchpoint, from your website to your Instagram posts, newsletters and emails etc. Guests come into your business because of the feelings it creates within them, and every touchpoint should be reflecting this.

Another key to delivering casual excellence is providing experiences that feel bespoke to that guest. That’s why we get our clients to drop the scripts and react individually to the person in front of them. The opposite of bespoke is generic, so the question becomes, how do you stop your experiences from feeling generic in any way?

Well firstly, the glamping habitats themselves can be beautiful one-off creations. But then I think what you put in these structures can also feel bespoke. Do you leave a little gift of locally-made produce with a handwritten note? Or are the cups made by a local potter, or is part of the pod actually made from local trees? There are a million things you can do, the devil is in the detail. Ikea is out, bespoke, handmade and local is in.

Setting client expectations
Next, it’s about setting the right expectations. Our clients’ biggest problems happen when guests arrive with very preconceived ideas about how the restaurant should be. For example, one of our clients won a Michelin Star, and some guests have a very preconceived idea about how a Michelin Star restaurant should look and feel. When we go into a situation expecting x and see y, it can be very triggering.

It’s about all those little emotional elements that make the experience brilliant. The issue around glamping is that’s it’s such a broad term. To one person glamping involves a secluded cabin with no amenities and to another it’s a luxurious treehouse with a jacuzzi and a sound system. Everyone’s expectations will be different and, of course, trying to meet them all would be madness. But guests should totally understand what they’re getting on a practical level before they arrive. Then it’s about all those little emotional elements that make the experience brilliant.

Bed setting in a tipi
Photo: Getty Images

Measuring feedback
Finally, it’s important that you are measuring feedback. You can do this in a few ways. Feedback surveys are one way, but the best way is picking up on your guests’ energy while they’re with you. How have they changed since they arrived with you, do they seem more relaxed, more present and more open? You and your team should always pick up on how you make your guests feel when they are with you. Of course, the ultimate measure of guest feedback is sales and, more importantly, retention – keep a note of those rebooking figures and repeat business transactions.

Delivering casual excellence isn’t easy, but the focus has to be on two things. Firstly, always evolving the service offering, so it works so well the guests don’t even notice it. Secondly, being skilled and authentic in the way you build an emotional connection with your guests. If you constantly work on these two elements you start to create a team that’s built around growth, connection and authenticity – and that’s the culture that will differentiate you from 99 per cent of businesses out there.

 


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Jason DevenishJason Devenish is passionate about creating extraordinary alternative accommodation experiences. Founder of Enchanted Creations, his team design and build glamping pods and treehouse accommodation, specialising in delivering design-led, extraordinary glamping retreats that differentiate clients in an increasingly saturated market. www.enchantedcreations.co.uk

 

Nick ClarkeNick Clarke is the founder of Hop Training. Born out of a frustration at the way customer service was being taught in the hospitality industry, Hop does things a little differently, combining a wealth of experience from the restaurant trade, the communication skills industry and the acting industry. www.hoptraining.co.uk

 

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