“Think ‘Relationships’ Or Go Broke” – Why the Travel Industry Is So Hard To Get Right

Bill Quiseng is undoubtedly one the world’s most influential experts when it comes to delivering exquisite customer experiences.Bill Quiseng 4x4

Starting out in college as a part-timer for the then-known Marriott’s Great America in Santa Clara, CA, Bill has had thirty years’ experience in the luxury travel and hotel industry and countless management positions in many of the world’s most lusted-after resorts.

We quizzed Bill on the challenges and responsibilities of such a demanding industry, and how exactly he manages to keep his customers and partners happy.


1. What are the main customer demands or expectations that companies are working to fulfill when it comes to travel and tourism?

All customers on vacation will spend a premium of personal time and hard-earned money to get to a destination, expecting a problem-free, stress-free experience that will allow them to decompress. So they come with very high expectations.

Our responsibility is to exceed those expectations. If we merely meet them, the customer may decide to try someplace else that is new, different or less expensive. So travel and tourism business has to consistently deliver an experience that is beyond their customers’ expectations.

2. What are some of the most common challenges businesses face, whether it be in fulfilling customer demand or with growth?

“Businesses are challenged with differentiating themselves not only from their competitors, but also from other destinations with similar geographical features.”

Planes flying to a destination are almost all identical except for their livery. Resorts in the same destination have similar amenities. The king bed in one resort is no larger than a king bed in another. It’s the same sun and maybe even the same beach. So businesses are challenged with differentiating themselves not only from their competitors in the same market, but also from other destinations with similar geographical features.

To build customer loyalty, a travel and leisure company has to continually improve its customer experience. At the same time, businesses in the same area must hold each other accountable for delivering a consistently memorable destination experience. Otherwise the customer will simply check it off their bucket list as “Been there, done that”, with no real intent to return.

3. From your long term experience in the travel & leisure sector, how would you say service is different to any other?

In most other sectors, like retail, there is a tangible product that is offered to a customer. If the customer buys a sweater but finds out it’s the wrong size, a retailer only has to exchange it or offer a refund and the customer is satisfied. Even service businesses offer a solution to a specific problem.

Travel and leisure businesses don’t offer a tangible product that can be exchanged, or a service that can easily be defined as solving a problem. The degree of a customer’s satisfaction with a hotel or resort is really based on the feeling of the customer. And that feeling is uniquely personal. And if a resort fails, rarely is there a chance for a do-over.

To me, travel and leisure businesses are really in the ‘experience business‘. Without offering a tangible product that a customer can take, how do you create an experience that will be so emotionally memorable that the customer wants to come back to enjoy that experience again?

4. What are some of the big ‘no-no’s for companies hoping to succeed in this industry?

If I am visiting someplace for the first time, I am going to go to Yelp or TripAdvisor. I will never meet those customers who posted those reviews but I will believe them more than I do if I were to see an ad for the same business.”

One of the big “no-no” is to see customer service training as an expense and not as an investment. Another bad idea for a company is spending more money on marketing than it does on customer retention.

If companies spent half as much on retaining customers as they do on finding new ones, they would have both. Enthused customers become advocates touting the exceptional experiences on social media. If a business says it’s great, that’s advertising. If a customer says that business is great, that’s the truth to anyone thinking about becoming a customer.

If I am visiting someplace for the first time, I am going to go to Yelp or TripAdvisor. I will never meet those customers who posted those reviews but I will believe them more than I do if I were to see an ad for the same business. The only people who write positive reviews had experiences that exceeded their expectations. Nobody raves about average.

A business should spend their dollars on surprising and delighting their present customers and let those wowed customers market the business.

5. Under your administration, The Inn at Bay Harbor – A Renaissance Golf Resort received some pretty big accolades from the industry’s leading publications. In what way would you say you helped the establishment reach this level?

Although The Inn was open year round, it was primarily a summer resort. So each season, we would have new college students working during their summer vacations.People can only deliver the kind of service that they have experienced for themselves – yet customer service experiences of a college student is very different from the Baby Boomer vacationers we hosted. And the guests expect that kind of personalized attention.

Training is for pets. Education is for long term career development.”

Samuel Johnsons said, “People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.” So the key was continuous staff education. (Training is for pets. Education is for long term career development.)

It started with orientation where we defined our core values and performance standards. And we continued to remind them via daily 15 minute briefings, weekly newsletters and monthly town hall meetings. A critical component of that continuous education was recognition. We had a bulletin board outside of the staff cafeteria where any associate could write a thank you note to another associate. Complimentary letters from customers were always posted as well. We held numerous award ceremonies to acknowledge the exemplary service offered to our customers. And pictures of those associates with the reason why they were recognized were framed and hung on a wall in the lobby.

Roy Disney said, “When values are clear, decisions are easy.” We reminded them of the principles so often that every associate was immersed in this service culture and performed accordingly.

6. One of your famous quotes is: ‘Think RELATIONSHIPS or Go Broke.’ Could you break this down a little bit?

Most businesses sell similar products at about the same price. Most businesses are also intent on offering prompt and friendly service. So what would differentiate one boutique business from their immediate competitor or from the mega brand that could be offering a lower price?

“My advice to any customer-facing associate is to imagine each customer asking himself after the interaction: ‘Did that associate care about me?’ ”

The answer is to deliver a more personalized service by getting to know the customer and responding to their specific needs or wants. Mary Kay said, “Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying, ‘Make me feel important.’ ” So my advice to any customer-facing associate is to imagine each customer asking himself only one question after the interaction: “Did that associate care about me?”

In other words, “Think INTERACTION, not transaction.” Think RELATIONSHIPS.

7. From your own personal experience, what are some of the best companies or brands you have had the pleasure of receiving service from?

I think Disney is a great example. At its core, Disney theme parks are amusement parks. But they have created an immersive customer experience that transforms itself to something magical for many families.

In fact, the companies and brands that I have personally received exceptional service from are steeped in the founder’s or top executive’s legacy of core values and service principles – Marriott on the shoulders of J.W. Marriott; Ritz-Carlton with Horst Schulze; Apple with Steve Jobs and Zappos with Tony Hsieh. Each one of these leaders had a vision and unrelenting passion to deliver an exceptional product and service. And that vision was translated into the company core values and performance standards that are ingrained into each associate.

And when those values are clear for each associate, it is easy for any one of them to deliver an exemplary level of service as if the founder were serving the customer himself.


You can connect with Bill by visiting his website; on Twitter @billquiseng, or on Google Plus.