Southern Sun Case Study: Being proactive pays off

by | Apr 3, 2012 | Assorted

Southern Sun is Africa’s leading hotel group, with a spread of 90 hotels and 14,316 rooms overall; they are both large and diverse. The group has over 40 years of experience in the hospitality industry, and their goal is to build a portfolio of successful global brands as well as continue their expansion in Africa, the Middle East, and locations across the Indian Ocean.

In order to maintain their position however, the group has acknowledged the importance of creating memorable customer experiences, as well as performing consistently. Instead of taking their successes for granted, the group has seen a need to investigate whether guests are actually having the memorable experiences intended, at their hotels.

In partnership with Interact RDT, Southern Sun has launched the Memorable Experience Survey Programme (MESP). When asked why Southern Sun had selected Interact RDT for the task, Brand Manager Louise Sevel stated, “We decided to select Interact RDT following a conversation about brand equity.  We saw that they were hungry for our business and were keen to meet Southern Sun’s requirements instead of giving us something off the shelf.”

The programme was tailored specifically for Southern Sun, and given the objectives, it’s not a once off research project either. Considering the scale of the project Louise added “We bought into the fact that Interact RDT has a lot of knowledge about research and had access to the technology we needed to make this project a success.” To gather the sample, frequent guests of Southern Sun are intercepted by Interact RDT staff using their forward booking schedules (obtained from Southern Sun each week). The other guests are sourced from Interact RDT’s online panel. They are then invited to participate in the programme. Selection from the panel ensures that the profiled person is at a hotel he/she would usually stay at. And matching the hotel with the appropriate LSM person also reflects a more accurate guest experience.

Using the methodology of Mystery Shopping, Southern Sun now has access to valuable data that can shed light on the experiences and feelings of their customers, as well as the opportunity to troubleshoot issues that have gone undetected in the past. While mystery shopping is usually the realm of professionals, Interact RDT has sourced and continues to source actual consumers to participate as guests in the project. These mystery guests don’t see their hotel stay as an audit of service standards but rather as an experiential visit. After all, good service is a requirement. So instead of just checking if uniforms are neat and staffs are wearing name badges, they are mainly there for the Southern Sun experience. Each person may have different expectations, experiences and enjoyment levels but when you have a large enough sample, the variations and similarities between them lead straight to insights.

Another way in which Interact RDT is assisting in meeting objectives is by breaking the digital surveys that guests complete, into smaller sections. It allows for them to be completed whilst guests are engaging with each area. They are able to fill out each section in greater detail because they aren’t rushing to complete a lengthy questionnaire. Instead of relying on recall and asking guests to remember their stay after it’s happened, the actual customer experience is captured in the here and now. The other benefit is that by having different experience zones, Southern Sun is able to take away more specific insights from the programme as well as an overall picture.

Most importantly the programme is not designed as a standard operating audit of the hotel. Its purpose rather, is to measure the actual customer experience, and whether or not guests leave with the intended hall marks of the hotel they stay at. While the service and standards of the hotel are internationally recognized, it is Southern Sun’s goal to make their experience offering unique and highly personal.

Through an innovative approach by Southern Sun and the Interact RDT team, the group can now validate the ratings they receive with solid data, as well as personal responses. The result is actionable insights, specific to each hotel. And the information can be accessed on an on-going basis, both by Interact RDT and select members within the Southern Sun group. Given the attention to the guest experience, and the concerted effort to improve and tailor it, Southern Sun is closer to a more solid foundation, which global expansion can be built upon.

To find out more about about what our Consumer Mystery Shopping methodology can do for your organisation, click here.

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