Four Seasons Focuses Year-Round on Customer Service

Apr 02, 2004
Al McClain

By Al McClain

At the recent Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) Marketing Conference, Barbara Talbot, executive vice president marketing for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, presented a case study on how they built a unique brand position through intuitive, personalized customer service.

Four Seasons has something in common with retailers — customers evaluate it based on their experience. Unlike shoppers, however, hotel and resort visitors take nothing home (hopefully), so their experience is the product. Four Seasons has an estimated 60 hotels in nearly 30 countries. Generally, its guests are there for a business trip and/or a high end vacation. Guests are typically mid-life, affluent, and very frequent travelers looking for experiences that save time, or provide them with time well spent. Four Seasons has succeeded in satisfying their guests so much that they were able to maintain their rates AND increase market share during the recent economic downturn.

How do they do it? Well, their mission is to welcome, care for, and delight their customers. They’ve discovered that getting in and out of a hotel is the highest priority of their guests, other than overall hotel quality, so they’ve streamlined the process so much that many repeat guests literally breeze through check in. When a guest arrives at their room, they’ll find sleep aids, such as blackout curtains, soundproofing, and custom beds that are so popular that replicas are available for sale. Twenty-four hour room service is a given, as are individual workout stations with personal audio and video, plus chilled towels and an attendant walking around spritzing guests with Evian.

A luxury experience like this, as defined by this hotel, starts with its employees.

Their philosophy is to pick the best of the best and look for the type of person more so than the experience of the person. Every prospective staffer is interviewed a minimum of 4-5 times, increases commitment on both sides of the relationship. Four Seasons seems to focus a lot on ensuring top quality service by providing a great working environment, using “hands-on” motivational tools, and even has a commitment to keep back areas of the hotel such as break rooms in first-class shape.

Pricing — this chain is EDP — they’ve literally taken the L out of Everyday Low Pricing.

You’ll find the same price for a specific Four Seasons room on their website, 800 number, through travel agents, and everywhere else. So, they use the website,,
to deliver a unique and customized web experience according to the purpose of the proposed trip, and provide things such as room views, local weather, detailed local attraction
info., etc. One can also get personal assistance via a unique 800 number while on the site.

It sure sounds easier for a top of the list chain like Four Seasons to provide exceptional levels of service — after all, it’s all they do. But, in a survey, 87% of their customers felt that retailers should focus more on convenience.

Moderator’s Comment: What other companies, outside retail, do you think provide great examples of customer service,
marketing, etc. that retailers can learn from and adapt for their own business?

Bottom line: everyone can learn a new trick or two, and whether you have the lowest or prices in town or not, it might be worth a night’s stay in a Four
Seasons Hotel to pick up a few good ideas — after all, it’s marketing research. Right?
McClain – Moderator

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