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Michael Hobson: Never Lose Sight of the Customer

August 19, 2013

Corporate road warriors come in all shapes and sizes but most would agree that being well-rested is a key to their success.  So what do they do to ensure they get a “good night’s sleep?”  Some require foam pillows or an extra firm mattress.  Others insist on a midnight snack or swear by their pre-dawn workout.  Given the myriad of travel woes (dodgy food, lost luggage, surly customs officials, and the inevitable jet lag) is it any wonder that the strategies to combat them are just as diverse?  Mandarin Oriental Group, one of the leaders among luxury hotels, has built its reputation and success on the experience it provides for its guests.  Michael Hobson, Chief Marketing Officer for the Group, has spent his career working in the industry and offers a few thoughts on what it takes to build and maintain a brand centered on superior customer service.

Michael Hobson, Chief Marketing Officer, Mandarin Oriental

Michael Hobson is Chief Marketing Officer responsible for overseeing Mandarin Oriental’s sales and marketing strategies on a global basis. He joined Mandarin Oriental in this capacity in 1994 and is based at the Group’s Hong Kong office. Hobson has more than 30 years’ experience in the hospitality industry. He began his career with Grand Metropolitan in 1978, concentrating on sales and development and was stationed in the United Kingdom, Latin America, USA, Singapore and Hong Kong.  

Prior to joining Mandarin Oriental he was Vice President of Sales and Marketing Worldwide for Omni Hotels Asia-Pacific. He also worked with Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts as Group Director of Sales and Marketing. 

Hobson holds an MBA from the University of Leicester having previously studied Hotel and Catering Operations at Brighton Technical College in the United Kingdom.

What is top of mind for your clientele in 2013?

Customers are always looking for VALUE. Nobody minds paying top dollar if the actual experience is worth it. When it isn’t and a gap between the brand promise and the reality is formed, that’s when loyalty comes under scrutiny. And so at Mandarin Oriental, our hotels and their on-property teams focus on doing exceptional things for our guests, knowing their needs, wants and preferences and surprising them with our ability to anticipate them. Hopefully what’s top of mind for our Clientele in 2013 is:  “where else is Mandarin Oriental opening so we can enjoy what we do now, elsewhere?“

How has social media impacted Mandarin Oriental’s ability to cultivate and maintain its reputation for providing superior customer service?

Social Media (SM) are simply additional channels to further engage and brand build. It’s important not to focus on SM and manage it all disparately. No should we jump onto the SM bandwagon just for the sake of doing it. While we may be pleased to have X number of Followers or Y number of Likes, does this translate into tangible purchases? In Mandarin Oriental, we try to make our postings interesting and engaging and to supplement what we do through other media channels and on our properties with the actual guest experience. We monitor what’s being said about us and we measure the feedback and score ourselves against our identified competition (what gets measured gets done!). The most important thing is that social media doesn’t become a silo. They are channels which must align with the other marketing disciplines. We manage it all globally out of New York, London and Hong Kong.

What’s an example where you adjusted something in your hotels based on feedback you received? 

We are receiving feedback daily and receive around 50,000 on-line guest questionnaires annually. This is in addition to the feedback we receive verbally from the guests themselves (most General Managers are in our lobbies during busy guest interaction periods) and our colleagues are trained to provide constant feedback to their hotel executive committee members, who meet daily.

Around the world we work with world-class designers and sometimes, something has been designed that looks aesthetically pleasing but proved to be impractical. I can recall a particular hotel where we ended up changing all of the light switches because they proved to be too complicated for their own good. We often catch those things during the “mock–up“ room trial periods but on this occasion, we felt our customers would get used to it and enjoy the other, fairly complex, features. We learned that simplicity is often the best! Other examples might be restaurant and bar offerings which need adjustment after opening. It’s all about continuous improvement. We’re never shy to innovate but we’re humble enough to adjust if things are not working to the way they were intended. We listen!

How has your own role as CMO evolved?

The role of a CMO is a varied one and touches all points of the brand engagement, from awareness through to customer advocacy. I think the biggest change has been in the on-line distribution world and as a result, revenue management plays a far more significant role than it ever did before. The hotel business is possibly THE most complex web of distribution and pricing one can imagine in any business. The brand machinery needs to move in synch with price and availability in order to create a single image of the brand from all touch points. This is what builds trust in the brand and the resulting effect of that is being able to command a price premium over one’s competition as well as keeping them coming back.

What advice would you offer to someone just starting their marketing career in the hotel industry?

Don’t lose sight of the Customer as an individual and the need to stay close so as to listen first hand. It is becoming increasingly more acceptable to manage the customer engagement from behind a desk and computer screen. It’s important to get out and engage one on one – at least with one’s best customers. Sales is an important piece of the Marketing jigsaw. And don’t forget MBWA (Manage by Walking Around). Listen to the colleagues in the field who are at the sharp end and personally engage in sales calls. You’ll learn a lot. Sell with your ears!


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