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In the last years that I’ve worked with this company, more than ever before, I’ve seen what it means to put the customer first. A lot of people or businesses say they do, but we need to admit that it is only rarely really the case.

Many a discussion I have had in the past about the business and about the P&L. The holy grail of numbers.

As much as I want to admit the importance of numbers, too many times I need to admit that the numbers seem to be a reason to exist, the numbers seem to be the sole purpose of the business. As indeed they are, but not only.

When speaking to customers and colleagues in the same field it seems to me that numbers have become the main reason to exist. I can accept that they are a measure of how well the business is doing, but numbers are not the business.

When discussing with a CEO of a budget hotel chain recently, I discussed how far from operations we sometimes are when in headoffice.

Same can be said for some owners that are sometimes quite distanced from the essence, from the operations.

This CEO admitted that the numbers were great and that his job of cost cutting was a success. At the same time, he was under the impression that the business was doing well and that the quality standards as set out were being followed.

As most of the hotels of that chain were in high occupancy areas and that the price of the rooms were consistently just that much cheaper than the competition, the customer numbers were good, the price was as targeted and customer satisfaction was good, yet most customers indicated that the price was main driver of choice.

What a surprise when the CEO decided to visit some of his hotels.

What he saw, he claimed, shocked him : faulty equipment, hygiene rules that were not followed, staff that did not follow procedures, equipment in such a bad state that staff or customers were put at risk.

Is this really a surprise I asked him and where is really the problem? Is it that the staff do not follow procedures or does not do as they should or is it that they cannot do?

He admitted that the situation was a catch 22 : saving was needed, but saving when only looking at numbers from a desk somewhere is difficult. When you save too much, revenue goes down and when revenue goes down, costs must go down.

One of the targets was saving on maintenance. The result was that repairs were done as cheap as possibly could and ovens were malfunctioning, security systems fell out, etc… So staff becomes creative, because the vast majority of them want to do a good job and want to help the customer.

What we see in this situation is that the P&L becomes the target, and not the customer and what this customer means for our business.

In our company, we’ll always ask the question about the customer.

Who is he/she, what is it that he wants and how much is he willing to pay for it.

Only when we’ve identified a customer that is willing to come and willing to pay the price we set for our goods and services, can we realise the numbers.

When in hotel development, I’ve seen it happen that businesses were created, that the P&L was calculated, in some cases that the business actually opened, before some realised that there wasn’t really a customer out there, or that he wasn’t willing to pay for the services.

When looking at the customer and what he wants, the recommendation about what do do is totally different. Laying off staff is easy and look goods, but who cleans the rooms

Some will look at the numbers and tell you what needs to be done, but how many can actually tell you what to do, how to do it and possibly offer alternatives.

And how many of those are willing to stand by your side and see whether implementation is actually working.

We’re convinced, at LHC, that this customercentric approach in the missions we undertake (various studies, creating business plans, creating concepts, asset management and others) is the main difference that we can bring and this is what customers tell us and why they come to us : our ability to also make operational recommendations or think together on how better to help the staff deliver on the promises made to the customer.

Once the customer is satisfied, only then will the P&L look good.

About the Author

Photo P.Verbeke 4×6

Pierre Verbeke Senior Consultant at Lausanne Hospitality Consulting

Pierre Verbeke is a Senior Consultant at LHC. He has an extensive career in hotel operations, pre-openings and re-brandings. He is first and foremost an operational person having managed several hotels in Belgium and having set up many pre-opening teams in different countries. He also has gained a wealth of experience opening hotels for a large Hotel Operator in various European, North African and Eastern European countries. He is particularly at ease with project management and knows how to deliver the highest quality of service within the agreed timeframe.

Pierre has experience with leased, managed and franchise properties and undserstands the various demands from owners, investors, and operators within the different projects. Pierre is an alumnus of Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne. He speaks Dutch, German, French and English, with some notions of Spanish.