The managing director of Caledonian MacBrayne has urged tourism businesses to “walk in the shoes” of their customers and to put them at the heart of everything they do.
Speaking at the Argyll and the Isles Tourism Summit at Mount Stuart on Bute today, Martin Dorchester said that in order to thrive businesses had to understand both their core customers and their prospective customers and make sure they were meeting, and where possible exceeding their expectations.
Mr Dorchester, who held senior roles in a number of top companies including Dixons Group and Argos before joining CalMac last spring, said: “There is a well-known proverb which says that to understand someone best you must walk a mile in their shoes, and that’s great advice for any business, but especially relevant for tourism businesses when the experience and level of service you provide is literally, and metaphorically, part of their journey.
“Any business which does not attempt to walk in the shoes of their customers, and view their service from that critical angle will never survive.”
Mr Dorchester also highlighted the need for everyone in the tourism business to work together to ensure that visitors were left with a memorable experience and great stories of their travels that they could share with others.
“Whether it is places to see, things to do, the quality of food and drink or ideally, a combination of every aspect of their trip from beginning to end,” he continued, “we are all in the business of delivering exceptional experiences which will make them want to come back and tell others to come here too.”
And he stressed that getting close to customers needs and understanding the many factors which influence their purchasing decisions and the ways in which the market is changing allows businesses to be responsive and not be left behind.
“The holiday and travel market, along with many other industry sectors, is currently going through some major changes in the way that people choose and buy their products,” he continued.
“For example the internet has revolutionised the way customers identify and research possible destinations; how they purchase accommodation and ferry, air or rail tickets; and raised expectations of what to expect when they get there.
“In order to keep up with the competition tourism businesses must therefore make themselves easy to find, easy to deal with and the end product must then meet - and wherever possible exceed - customer expectations.
“The last of these is particularly important, for the means which people are increasingly using to find their ideal holiday, that is the internet, social media, are the same means by which poor service or unpleasant holiday experiences can be exposed and widely distributed – within seconds and often while the unhappy customer is still angry and at their most critical.
“We know that online reviews must always be treated with caution but no-one can afford to be complacent about the power and reach of the internet.”
Mr Dorchester said CalMac had revamped its Go Explore brochure to encourage more people to travel to Scotland’s islands and make it easier to plan and book their ferry travel, and that the company was planning a big revamp of its ticketing systems to make it easier to book online.