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atlantis the palm

Customer experience lessons from Atlantis The Palm

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All businesses can learn a thing or two about customer experience management from the iconic ‘Atlantis The Palm’ hotel in Dubai - not least reviewing their services thoroughly every single day in order to continually learn and improve. 

5th Jul 2022
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At the end of 2021, I spent a memorable family holiday at the iconic ‘Atlantis The Palm’ hotel in Dubai, and was overwhelmed by their impressive focus on customer experience. I travel regularly to speak at different events around the world, but in this case it really struck me how there was a culture of continuously going above and beyond expectations to create ultra-memorable moments and extraordinary opportunities for their guests, every day.

They accomplish this incredible feat of CX in two fundamental ways. First of all, what they are offering is incredibly extensive. Atlantis The Palm is truly a destination in its own right. Next to the hotel they offer twenty-five different restaurants, a zoo with no less than 65,000 marine animals, over seventy shops, over a hundred swimming pools and the biggest water park in the world. They’re even planning on adding more restaurants, suites and some luxury homes with private beach-access and unparalleled views of the Dubai Skyline.

It is all very impressive, but on top of this offering, there’s a second strategic human aspect at play: the people. Their services and their attitude go completely above and beyond what customers expect.

The simplest way to illustrate this is with one of my own experiences. The day before we were due to travel home via Germany, Lufthansa let us know that our youngest son did in fact need to be Covid tested to be allowed to transit in Germany. This was on December 31st at 3pm, and we were very worried about finding a place to test him just a few hours before New Year’s Eve. However, when I called the front desk to explain my situation, a super-friendly lady took all of my worries away. Even though the official testing hours at the hotel had passed, she told me that they would send over a doctor to our room at 6.15pm so that we could still participate in the grand feast at 7pm. And at exactly 6:15pm, our son was tested and we were able to enjoy New Year’s Eve without any worries.

In a recent interview for my CX Podcast, Tom Roelens, Senior Vice President, Operations and General Manager at the Atlantis Resorts and Residences Dubai, explained that it was exactly in these kind of defining “moments of truth” where his team is empowered to make the decision that will create the best memories for their customers. Instead of saying “oh sorry, we only test until 3.00pm”, which is the answer I would have heard at most hotels, the individual on the reception desk did everything in their power to help us. As a customer, you won’t ever forget that.

People: Training + Empowerment

When I spoke to Tom Roelens he enlightened me on how they were able to inspire their workforce of over 7000 people to focus so relentlessly on the customer experience. He told me it was all about finding the right people, and then training them in the right way. Sounds simple, right? 

He claimed that first, it’s about ensuring that you hire people with the right attitude: those who are innately excited about being of service, and enthusiastic about helping customers create wonderful memories. And if you get that process right, it’s “only” about training them and providing them with the right opportunities to excel. 

They start with an in-depth five day orientation program and the rest of the training is done on the job and through all sorts of permanent training updates: online courses, Forbes travel guide programs, collaborations with universities, cross-exposures in other departments, as well as working at sister hotels. It’s clear that they have an established culture of life-long learning and life-long improvement.

Of course, you can have the best, most serviceable and highly trained people working for you, but if they’re not empowered to make their own decisions on the spot, the CX would be mediocre at best. The example of the lady who helped our son get tested shows how employees indeed have that trust and mandate from management, all day, everyday.

The easiest way to make your customers happy is to also make your employees happy. And so, it should not come as a surprise that Tom Roelens told me how important their employees and colleagues wellbeing and satisfaction is to the business. He believes that a crucial part of creating a platform for confident and positive behaviour focusing on having a happy team that is empowered to deliver memorable service, every single day.

Measuring: continuous re-evaluation

On top of this ‘secret’ human ingredient, the culture of continuous re-evaluation and adaptation is probably one of the biggest drivers of the resort’s success.

What I really found incredible is that each day, the entire team is gathered for a morning briefing to measure how they are performing. Firstly, they check the customer feedback via the tool ReviewPro, which mines all the feedback from platforms like TripAdvisor, expedia, booking.com, and others, reflecting on the positives and also identifying what, where and how they could do better. Next, they discuss specific opportunities and look into trends to see if they need to be integrated into their own operation. This approach actually gives them minute-by-minute feedback to help them understand what customers are saying and how their behaviour is evolving.

The aim of this proactive and comprehensive method; reviewing their services so thoroughly every single day, is simply in order to continually learn and improve. 

They consistently want to increase the comfort of their customers. They continuously measure, and make adjustments when it is needed. Sometimes it’s small things, like adapting the offering in the breakfast room. But other times it’s about introducing completely new procedures, such as becoming the first hotel in Dubai to offer onsite COVID-testing to guests.

I truly believe that this daily reminder of how important the customers are, as well as how their changing needs can be met, is a big enabler of Atlantis The Palm’s extremely customer-centric culture. It’s about this highly strategic dual path approach to please the customer at all costs. Firstly, they find trends in customer behaviour changes and adapt to that, and secondly, they do whatever they can to respond to unique and personal “off-the-menu” requests by guests, in order to allow them to create fantastic memories.

If you think that this almost obsessive focus on customer experience would have a negative impact on profitability, think again! In the month in which I spoke to Tom Roelens, they boasted an occupancy of between 90 and 98%. They also have a high number of return guests and, over the years, the average length of stay has increased.  Even in summer, which traditionally has lower occupancy in luxury resorts, people continue to visit. It’s clear that their pro-active strategy of continuously striving to become better is truly paying off.

We can all learn from this kind of customer service and attention to detail. Plus, if we approach the contemporary review culture, not defensively, or as a complex source of distress, but rather use it as an invaluable tool that allows us opportunities to learn and improve, we can take our CX to the next level and keep our employees and customers loyal and happy all day, everyday. 

Steven Van Belleghem is one of the world’s leading thought- leaders, speakers and authors on customer experience. His latest book, The CX Leader’s Manual to Customer Excellence can be downloaded for free at www.stevenvanbelleghem.com

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