Few companies can achieve the level of great service of Hillside Beach Club, a renowned luxury resort in Turkey. Its repeat customer rate is more than 60 percent — three times that of the resort hotel sector average — and has been at this level for the last five years, despite a highly competitive sector in which trendsetting hotel brands are competing for price sensitive and scrutinizing customers. How can a brand achieve a loyal repeat customer base for the same product, year in and year out?
For Edip Ilkbahar, Alarko Holding’s Tourism Group CEO and a YPO member since 2005, the answer lies in the relentless customer-focused business model of the luxury family resort hotel that became the focus of a 2016 Harvard Business School case study. The resort has received the TripAdvisor Hall of Fame Award in 2015 and the Best Resort Award in Turkey for more than 10 consecutive years. Since 2000, customers have been booking up to a year in advance with occupancy rates of 93 percent after 2010.
“Our whole business is based on customer service. There are many luxury destinations around the world, great concepts with unique architecture, but service is where the difference is made,” says Ilkbahar. In his definition, customer service is about making people “feel genuinely happy,” creating lifelong memories across the customer journey. “These experiences are not fleeting moments of pleasure triggered by luxurious settings but about deeper emotional connections that draw customers back.”
Ilkbhar shares five of the key elements to Hillside’s success formula for creating a “feel good factor” for customers.
1. Keep it genuine
Acknowledging the importance of quality standards across the business, Ilkbahar believes systems without the human element are not enough. “When talking about exceptional customer service, this usually implies (technical) standards. Of course, we have sophisticated systems in place to comply with very high-quality control standards, but what makes guests happy is the genuineness of the service,” says Ilkbahar by adding that this is the most unique yet challenging matter that we always keep in mind. At Hillside Beach Club, while the personnel are meticulously trained and processes are systematically followed, management encourages spontaneity with customers to create a more “authentic and positive energy” with each guest interaction.
2. Happy employees, happy guests
“Investing in making your staff happy, motivated and above all, respected, goes a long way,” says Ilkbahar. “When the staff are genuinely comfortable and passionate about a common vision, then they spread a positive mood to the guests. If the guests are happy, they come again.”
By providing the personnel with a close-by serviced residence as accommodation, Hillside management was able to create a holiday village atmosphere for staff, reinforcing its customer service principals.
“We are very much influenced by values such as warmth, hospitality and respect to family and community from our culture,” says Ilkbahar, adding that everyone on the staff has a voice and is encouraged to share opinions. “Our staff are treated almost like shareholders, as an extension of the management, and are encouraged to make a contribution and act as resort hosts.”
3. Follow global trends, but keep it local
Based in a country steeped in history, where two continents meet, the resort naturally blends elements of East and West in its services and business development strategy.
“Local and global are not either or, nor two different factors against each other. A company can be global and local, i.e. “glocal,” bringing elements of both together, by identifying global trends and adapting for a local authentic feel,” says Ilkbahar, who has a personal passion for spotting relevant global trends through business and lifestyle media.
4. Consistency versus innovation
Consistency is the traditional hallmark of customer service. Ilkbahar believes it is more relevant in development and execution, as innovation and change are required to maintain the brand’s leadership position and keep up with the global trends. “There is a fresh start every year, from visuals such as decoration, to creating new experiences and services to keep a lively atmosphere for repeat customers,” he says. “They come back to their home away from home, but there is always something new for them to experience.” For example, to cater to evolving guest demands, Hillside Beach Club introduced the “Hillside Beach Order” app in 2015, which allows guests to place an order from their mobiles without leaving their sun lounger.
5. Listen — and act fast
Customer surveys are a major channel of feedback for Hillside. Normally completed by 5 percent to 10 percent of guests in other similar resorts, the Hillside team has discovered ways of getting about 40 percent of guests to provide detailed feedback. Gathering and acting quickly on feedback extends from another source, with employees encouraged to provide input and systems in place to facilitate quick responses. “We try to fix any issue immediately while guests are with us if possible. I personally read the comments and suggestions, so do all my managers which has been a great tool for our success” adds Ilkbahar.
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