Tips From Loews on Customer Service


In his new book, Chocolates on the Pillow Aren't Enough, Jonathan Tisch shares what he's learned about getting customers to come back to a business. As CEO of Loews Hotels, he's had plenty of experience in dealing with finicky customers. But Tisch also relates examples from companies such as Best Buy, a children's hospital, and even a museum. He says that for small companies competing with retail giants, serving the customer is vital.

What do you mean by the title?

The title can only be from someone in the hotel business. It used to be in our industry the only thing you had to do is put chocolates on the pillow. The guest would view that as luxury and automatically come back. But in today's highly competitive world, where most travelers are sophisticated and experienced, chocolates on the pillow aren't enough.

What is enough?

You have to treat customers as individuals and take a transaction and turn it into an experience. In this post-9/11 world, you have to give them a sense of safety and security and make them feel good about doing business with your company.

What makes this a new idea?

These are all basic ideas, but it's about using tools of today: using technology and using the whole notion of transparency. We have more of an opportunity to link and deal directly with customers. Consumers have a lot of tools they didn't have before. There are discounted-travel websites or a whole host of blogs that give them inside information about travel destinations and make them savvy and sophisticated. It becomes more important for us to figure out how to connect with them.

What are some examples of this?

We differentiate ourselves through interior design and architecture, but what it comes down to is the attitude of the individuals who take care of guests every single day. Build-A-Bear [Workshop] is a good example. With one transaction the company can make three generations of customers for life. The child often goes in with parents and grandparents, and in essence they are giving birth to a bear. That gives them a strong sense of ownership. It breaks through the clutter because of the individual nature of what that child has built. Its repeat business is enormous because they figure out how to make customers happy.

How does this translate to small business?

It applies quite aptly to small business. Due to their scale, it might be easier to have a connection to customers. To compete with larger players, they need to understand they can grow the business around customers, not just around goods and services. While we aren't small, Loews has to compete against the biggest names in corporate America, like Marriott and Starwood. But we know who our customers are and what we're good at.

How can small companies apply your book's ideas?

They need to know who their customers are and the environment. They need to analyze what works in businesses around them and pay attention to lifestyle trends. The Internet levels the playing field, because you can advertise effectively if you know what niche market to go after. They have to talk about some of the things they are best at.