Last week, I checked in at the Lees Hotel in Masvingo for a business trip. What a mistake it turned out to be! In booking for accommodation and conference facilities, I had relied on the last experience I had in 2015. Back then, the hotel was on top of the hoteling industry in the ancient city. When the hotel was launched around 2010, it was the game changer in the hotel industry in Masvingo. It was strategically located, less than 2km from the Central Business District (CBD), away from the traffic noise and other vices that come with locations in the CBD.
Its facilities, the rooms, the people, the food and conference packages were second to none. I remembered referring a colleague, Victor and impressing upon him that there were only two hotels in the city, Lees Inn and others.
I carried this brand experience with me since then until my return to the hotel last week to my dismay. It was as if there was a monumental loss of control at the hotel.
I went for breakfast and thought I was in the wrong hotel. After realizing that I could not eat the poorly prepared breakfast, I requested for a fried egg, which was literally served swimming in cooking oil. The staff seemed to have been overwhelmed and could not understand why I kept asking for substitutes until I gave up and opted to eat something at lunch. When lunch was served, I opted to drive into town to look for a decent meal, since what was being served simply did not meet hotel standards.
When it came to the accommodation itself, my room had ceiling leakages coming from the geyser making the floors slippery and a danger to me. When I pointed this out to the staff; their response was I should understand that the ceiling was leaking!!! The drama of my stay went on throughout the period of my business trip and got to the tipping point on my day of departure when I witnessed one of the residents fuming by the reception that there was no running water in his room and he was running late to a meeting!
This is a brand that was dominating the hotel industry in Masvingo since its entrance into the market around 2010, but seven years down the line it has lost both its competitive advantage and market share. It is an indication that the hotel has no strategy powering its operations, thereby cannibalising its own brand strength along the way, and a possible change or several changes in management. It may also point to the fact that there has been a high staff turnover, possibly due to the economic hardships or low morale judging from the attitude of the staff. I will, therefore, propose the following five fundamental points that the hotel and any other business should take into consideration as they craft marketing strategies:
Understand customer needs: The most successful businesses allow the changing needs of their customers to drive their expansion and growth. As customers' needs and tastes change, only the agile businesses will survive as they provide solutions and create a lasting experience to the customers. In the case of the Lees Inn, it has been left behind by evolving customer needs. If the establishment continues on this path, it will soon close doors and call it a day.
Innovation and changing customer behaviour
The fast paced changes of human behaviour require the business to invest into developing competitive innovation strategies so that they are wired to the thinking and preferences of the customers. The internet has powered the mobility of the customer through enabling decision-making while on the go. Instead of relying on traditional methods of reaching out to customers, brands should invest in utilising ICTs to better serve their customers.
In the 21st century, the best way for brands to differentiate themselves from competing offerings is through creating an ecosystem of lasting customer experiences throughout the customer's purchase journey. Any other form of seeking to create a distinctive competitive advantage can be imitated by competition but customer experience is very difficult to imitate since it entails building a lasting relationship with the customer and remaining true to the brand values, promises and exceeding your brand promise on delivery.
Converting prospects into customers
Businesses that succeed in their respective markets have the ability to convert prospectives into customers rather than seeking comfort in the current customer base. In the case of the Lees Inn, scaring away the existing customers!
Lees Inn used to be the talk of the town, offering exceptional service in the industry! But things seem to have changed. It is recommended that they concentrate on the soul of the business, and, after running campaigns and positioning themselves as the finest, should be able to deliver the product or service of the highest quality to the market.
Tabani Moyo is a chartered marketer, brand and communications strategist based in Harare. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org