(Photo: ’Frida’, a happy dog in the lounge of the Hotel Le Germain,which I posted to Instagram and Twitter then was ‘liked’ by lots of people and acknowledged instantly by Hotel Le Germain. )
I was recently doing a tour in one of the most highly-visited places in all of Canada, Banff National Park, when I started to see a gap in the experience of the traveler story and the telling of it. I would be sitting in a lodge built in 1929 with stories of adventure, high drama, death-defying tales of mountain life, and above all, early stories of tourism entrepreneurs who saw the potential for customer experience in the heart of the Canadian Rockies but noticed these stories were just sitting inside old frames hung on the wall.
If the story isn’t told, does it exist?
In today’s online space, it is challenging for traditional business’ to convey their rich customer experiences on the seemingly endless array of social platforms and digital channels that now pervade the selling cycle. You may have the greatest stories in the world, but if they are not being conveyed online, you likely will be losing market share to your neighbour who is invested in the online space, in particular, on the social channels where they are engaging with their customer and translating customer stories in real-time.
The issue isn’t really about knowing all the social channels out there. That can be overwhelming for anyone. The real issue is ensuring you capture stories as they happen in order to translate the magic of the moment, and the experience you’ve worked so hard at creating for your customer.
Here are five simple ways you can ensure your stories are captured and shared online:
1. Ensure your front-line staff have the right tools. Example: If you have a guide going out on a mountain hike, be sure they have a smart phone that can take a picture or video and upload it to Twitter. If your guide took a picture say of someone seeing a bear for the first time using Instagram, then did a description of that experience, then posted that picture and description to your Twitter and Facebook page you would be sharing that story in real-time. Real life meets digital equals tourism storytelling at its finest.
2. Create a storytelling team. Ask your employees to contribute meaningfully to the story culture of your business. Extending the customer experience, enriching the experience, and sharing it is part of creating a team that is listening to their customers. Capturing those moments comes from people that are attuned to their guests and watching for those magic moments when eyes light up, gasps happen out loud, smiles brim over, and lives are transformed. These are what the tourism business is really all about–is your team oblivious to these moments or are they saying, hey, can I take your picture? Can I ask you about that fish you just caught? Will you share that experience with our Facebook friends?
3. Make your history come alive. I can’t tell you how many times I visit an incredible place then look at the flat, boring website and go huh? Really? So often, older properties have great guest history, and sometimes it’s hanging on a wall, but oftentimes it’s just living in the head of their oldest server in the fine dining room. Interview this guy or gal! Get yourself a decent quality digital camcorder (here’s a little guide for you) and sit them down near some later afternoon light and just ask them about their best customer stories. (Some will argue you should only have a professional do this but I would argue that you should get a professional to train one of your staff then let them be the guy or gal on your team that shoots video as part of their job). Then post these to your website under your restaurant tab! People want to hear people now. They don’t want to just read your pdf of your damn menu. Make it real. Make it human.
4. Have a Chief Storyteller. When I visit somewhere that blows my mind, I want to know immediately: Who is responsible for this experience, who is the chief storyteller? I recently had the wonderful opportunity to stay at the Hotel Le Germain and marveled at the attention to detail. I noticed there was this blanket on the bed with various gorgeously woven ‘G’s on it. I wanted to lie down immediately and I pulled that blanket over me, placed my head on the softest pillow (well, nearly, the pillows at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver are insanely good too) and instantly wanted to go to sleep. Now, I had a meeting to go to in 10 minutes so this tells you something about that blanket and its cozy factor. So I asked that question: Who is the genius behind the textiles here? The answer was of course, one of the Germain family and visionaries behind the small, chic brand of hotels–Madame Germain–according to my friend and former student who is now a concierge for the brand in Calgary. I was wow-ed. I tweeted about it. I took an Instagram and uploaded it. And guess what? The team at Hotel le Germain instantly responded to me. I am pretty sure without that chief storyteller leading the vision for the customer, my experience from bed to web wouldn’t have been so rewarding.
5. Reward your guests who take the time to share their story online. Now, I am not talking about promo’s attached to swag here. I am talking about acknowledgement. Recently, Fairmont Hotels sent me a nice email that said they’d give me access to ‘fan only’ discounts. I like that. Not so much that I get yet another discount, but that they took the time to think about their social fans who engage with them online, singled us out, and offered an exclusive. It didn’t really cost them a thing. Just an email. So, if your customers hang in your digital space and share their story, make sure you acknowledge it. Always. I can’t stress this enough. Do not go into the social space then forget you are there. Ensure you have leaders who care and are invested in the space to monitor it. And don’t tell me you just Google your name here and there and that is the extent of your monitoring program. Have a dedicated (visionary) strategy to respond to your guest stories and make your customer experience the living, breathing thing that it is online. Your reward will be ten-fold in happy, return guests.
The fact is, everyone is listening. Tell your customer story so they can hear it!