How often have you heard this when you check in to a hotel and said "yeah I have thanks". It seems to be a replacement for the more common "hello sir and welcome to our hotel" but I have come to expect slightly more from this simple statement - in fact, I'd rather not hear it at all. Here's why...
Last week I was in Edinburgh for a splendid Burns Supper (which was quite marvellous) and stayed at my favourite hotel in town. When I phoned to make a booking a few weeks ago, I gave all my details and responded to the question "have you stayed with us before sir" with a "yes". On the phone, no particular note was made of this. I was asked the same question when I checked in though having stayed in this hotel many times I would expect they would know that my answer is going to be "yes" and even pre-empt it with a "welcome back Mr Clayton, we've booked you in to your preferred room and ordered The Times for you in the morning". They have all this info and in the era of service being king it surprises me that they don't use it to make my stay even more personal and memorable. That's not to say I didn't have a great stay and will go back there in all likelihood - it's just that I think they missed an opportunity.
What's more odd is that this is generally a pretty savvy establishment - they send me emails with offers and updates so clearly they use some form of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution. My wish is that they took it even further - when I check-in I'd expect them to have a screen with the details of my recent transactions with them? The key word here is transaction - whilst CRM is a wonderful thing for getting closer to your customers it can be used poorly and you end up with a transactional relationship. I want a personal relationship where they know I'm going to use the WiFi and offer me a discounted service perhaps, or know that I may need a shirt pressing for the next morning. You always remember poor service but equally, you subliminally remember great service and with discreet use of IT systems and attentive staff this can make all the difference. Clearly it needs to be done with respect for privacy etc but at the very least, we shouldn't expect to hear those words - "Have you stayed with us before Sir?"
Improved Customer Relationships is one of the topics I'll cover in more detail but it's clear IT has a part to play in improving our interactions with businesses and as we move further in to a world of service businesses and individuals have more choice than ever, smart use of IT systems could be the difference between winning and losing customers.
Microsoft has been working in the hospitality arena to help and Microsoft Smarter Hospitality can improve guest experiences. Check out the whitepaper and video. There are also a tonne of partner solutions in this arena.
This area has huge potential the more I think about it. Initially I simply thought about the check-in experience and staff interaction during my stay but technologies like Media Centre can permeate the experience within the room to provide an even more personal touch - I can foresee the room of the future where I can connect to my Media Centre at home and watch my recorded TV, photos or music.
Nobody likes to be put in a box so one of the questions I often get asked is "what does Microsoft mean by mid-market or Medium sized businesses"? It's a good question and one that I answer in this way:
Our customers are very different and therefore we create a segmentation that is really more for Microsoft's use to help us focus how we offer technology, solutions, support, licensing etc. that is appropriate for different the wide variety of customers that we work with. In that spirit, we have a website dedicated to midmarket businesses and I'll be commenting on some of the topics and content from that site over the coming weeks.
Ultimately, Medium sized businesses are the growth engine of the UK economy - generating 30 per cent of annual GDP and employing an 8 million-strong workforce. The sector is set to grow a further 3.4 per cent by 2007, and is starting to see the potential for IT to fuel the growth of their businesses.
We've carried out some research in to this, albeit in the US, Brazil and Germany and despite some recent press around IT being a commodity, there is a clear link to business performance and IT and in areas like Flexible Working we have some terrific examples that I'll share soon. We have a great paper with the Keystone Research and also a video you may like to check out.
From a personal point of view I've seen this in action - whether it's Rolland Group (a construction and finishing company in Scotland) who used mobile technology to free their workforce from the office or Drive Assist use mobile technology to enable the growth of their business - it's clear that technology can improve service, get more out of the workforce and raise employee satisfaction. I spoke with both of these organisations and it was clear that they view technology as an enabler for their business - not a necessary evil or a utility that adds little or no value. With Drive Asisst in particular, their business was being held back by the sheer volume of paper and the solution they chose to deploy alleviated this but also provides a whole series of knock on benefits that benefitted the company, the workforce morale and even the environment. The video covers all this so well worth a watch.
For those who know my recent background you'll understand that Flexible Working is near and dear to me but I'll also be discussing other topics - notably Collabortive Business, Business Efficiency and Improved Customer Relationships.
UPDATE: A colleague pointed out this research from the Small Business Service who are an agency of the DTI. It shows the 2004 stats for UK SME businesses and uses a slightly different taxonomy for size/naming. Interesting stuff and nice to know where my taxes go :)
I've been thinking about the nature of my blog for a while and decided it was time for a fresh approach - lots of my colleagues and other folks do a great job of talking about products and technology and partner resources. Here are some great examples
So I decided it was time to focus a little more on the business side of things and my role as Head of Technology for Mid Market within Microsoft UK. This means I think about how we translate our products and technologies in to a language that is more appropriate for businesses and helping them grow, make more money, save time, get best use of resources etc. Not that I don't care about technology any more but I've always been interested in technology for solving problems. Years ago I got deeply involved in a project called Tahoe at Microsoft which then became Sharepoint - and was interested in the problems it addressed around Knowledge Management, Collboration and Document Management more than the cool technologies it included such as search and XML meta tagging. With that in mind, expect to see more commentary from me on how technology can address these kind of business needs with a focus on the huge opportunity in the midmarket.