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Red Carnation focus group dinner (part 2).

by Rajul on December 18, 2009

Maintaining high standards is a constant battle for top London hotels like the Milestone Maintaining high standards is a constant battle for top London hotels like the Milestone

In part 1 of this double feature, we mentioned how Red Carnation Hotel Collection goes to extraordinary lengths to elicit guest feedback by organising “focus group dinners” with previous complainants.

Having attended one such event a few weeks ago as an observer, I witnessed this at first hand and wanted to share my findings with you.

Questions covered in the evening were as follows:

  • What is the “boutique hotel” experience and what makes it attractive?
  • How do you select a hotel and what made you choose Red Carnation?
  • Which is your favourite Red Carnation hotel and why?
  • What do you think of our website and how could it be improved?
  • How can we serve and recognise you better?
  • How could we add value to the stay?
  • What things were not to your satisfaction that we can improve?
  • Do you use sites like TripAdvisor and if so, how?
  • Does being green matter to you?

Just reading this list of questions alone tells you a lot about the group’s hunger to run the best hotels in London and the desire to maintain its lofty TripAdvisor rankings and demanding service standards.  The fact they are mostly open-ended is a classic sign that the company is keen to listen.

The Montague is one of the few Red Carnation hotels that tends to attract corporate rather than leisure guests The Montague is one of the few Red Carnation hotels that tends to attract corporate as well as leisure guests

Check rates at the Montague Hotel

Both moderator Roger Collis and MD Jonathan Raggett did their utmost to probe participants, urging them to give feedback on the tiniest details.  This makes the company’s “no detail is too small” motto real and credible.

And I must say this was impressive to witness.  It would have been easy for this event to descend into a bout of mutual back-slapping but that doesn’t seem to be the company’s ethos at all.

Having organised focus groups myself in the past, I have learned that participants have to feel relaxed to give you valuable feedback.  A few glasses of wine and nice food certainly help, but you also have to overcome people’s natural reserve to reveal things you didn’t already know.

Once you achieve this, the feedback is true gold – far more than you’d get from feedback forms which most people rarely have time to fill in properly.

And if you can identify the so-called “hidden complaints” – the niggly little issues which people won’t necessarily mention but which will certainly help you serve them better – that is even more valuable.

So what kind of insights were revealed at this dinner?

Several guests commented on the "quirky" furnishing of rooms - as shown by this example at the Egerton House Several guests commented on the “quirky” room furnishings which can also provide genuine character (photo: Egerton House hotel)

Check rates at the Egerton House Hotel

Some of the comments below were in fact shared over a drink after the dinner, which is also a big part of the value of such events:

  • “I’d choose Red Carnation for a personal rather than business stay”.  An interesting comment confirming that their individual service style is perfect for special occasions and events.  But you can’t be all things to all people (though I know they do have many satisfied business clients).
  • “The website might work even better with a callback button”.  Another interesting insight.  We all love booking online, but is there room for more booking websites to combine multiple channels?
  • “Recognition works best when it’s a surprise!” This is something Red Carnation does very well.  It was useful to be reminded that its guests appreciate simpler things (e.g. a favourite drink), not loyalty cards.
  • “Rooms can occasionally feel cluttered”.  All rooms across the group’s boutique London hotels are individually furnished.  This has a certain charm but may not be to the taste of those after a “minimalist” hotel.  Red Carnation hotels are the antithesis of “chain” but we should remember that some people still love the certainty of chains like Hilton.  Again, you can’t please ’em all so you shouldn’t try to!  We also commented on this original style of room furnishing during our write-up of the Milestone Hotel, well-known for its “tiny noticeable touches“.

Check rates at Milestone Hotel

This kind of feedback is priceless and shows a company that is actively looking to stay ahead (much harder than getting there in the first place).

Having the humility to hold your hand up and say “we’re proud of what we do, but we can always do better” is especially valuable in the internet age since people are always talking about you whether you like it or not.

Companies which embrace the challenge of abundant information will continue to thrive.  A similar conclusion was reached in our recent case study of London hotels which respond best to TripAdvisor comments.

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Photo credits: Red Carnation Hotel Collection.

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