As I drove up to a resort in the mountains of North Carolina last weekend as the guest of a mutual friend, I pondered how difficult it must be to run a professional association such as the one for community organizations focused on visitor-centric economic development.
Of the 10 trends in that field that were recently highlighted for 2014 by one of its truly best and brightest, all but seven should have been engaged by members two decades ago and another over a decade ago.
The speed at which organizations such as this can propel members forward is lugged down by the inertia of old schoolers or worse, those so so eager to appear smart they don’t have time to get smart, which is now research-proven to be an either/or proposition.
Running associations is a tough job, perpetually hampered by the lowest or slowest common denominator.
To me, only one of trends noted, “service design,” qualifies as new, and even at that it is a nearly three-year-old concept or re-concepting of a concept that emerged from EU-funded research at the Management Center of Innsbruck, a very entrepreneurial institution of higher education.
As it somehow so often does, last year the tourism agency in Durham, where I live in retirement happened to not only be one of the first dozen destination marketing organizations in the U.S. to be exposed to “service design” but as is its culture, among the very first to start integrating it into action.
At the basis of this new way of thinking about service is mobile ethnography.
Instead of filling out comment cards or surveys, now in a way that is much much more useful and consistent than social media chatter or facility ratings, visitors with soon be empowered with an app that is now in the demo stage called “myServiceFellow.”
It empowers a traveler to rate service at every touchpoint of the entire travel experience and then upload it at the end of the trip where it can be accessed, aggregated and analyzed by individual businesses or organizations also concerned with the equally important service spaces between commercial interactions.
This goes far deeper and far broader than ratings apps and it will peel back a layer undetected by the businesses involved, but more importantly, it will be far more useful to those concerned with the entire travel experience spectrum such as community destination marketing organizations.
If I had remembered to download the app prior to my trip, or looked closely enough to see how easy it was to use the demo, I could have noted:
- When we stopped for breakfast in Greensboro, the desecration of a sea of billboards on that stretch of I 85/40 and that my significant other’s hash browns weren’t crispy as requested.
- How sad it was to see on arrival that instead of celebrating foremost the iconic 100-year-old Grove Park brand as an Omni Resort, the chain sublimated the Inn’s identity below the chain name, a source of disgust overheard several times from other guests.
- How a misspelling made it problematic to retrieve my Jeep from valet parking.
- How cool it was that wait staff fastidiously and subtly substituted a black napkin for a white one to avoid napkin fuzzies on dark pants.
- How a plugged up drain marred the wonderful walk-in shower experience in the spa wing.
- How neglecting to wipe the windows of finger prints interrupted afternoon views of Asheville in the valley below.
- How the only one of many stores at the resort to carry batteries had apparently been out of AAAs for a couple of weeks.
- How irritating it was at a stop for gas and coffee that a convenience store stocked flavored half and half but offered only powdered creamer to customers wanting regular half and half.
- How arrogant Fairway Outdoor Advertising is to flaunt digital billboards, contrarian to Asheville’s unique sense of place.
- How phenomenally beautiful and billboard free major parts of I40 are through North Carolina, and how hideous parts that aren’t have become.
“Service design” is predicated upon a deeper, more empathy-based type of research. It is determined to understand consumer motivation not just behavior and to understand actual specifics and patterns, not just general recall.
Unfortunately though, I suspect it will still show up on lists of “new” trends for decades to come.