In 2007 I asked Dick Brunton, founder of Colmar Brunton, one of New Zealand’s leading research companies what the biggest take-home was from his many years in business.
“Authenticity in marketing,” was his reply. “People can smell ‘BS’ from 100 paces.”
“I believe that businesses should aim to create depth to the customer and staff sensory experience, but that authenticity in marketing that service is vital” he explained.
Put another way he was saying, “By all means, create something nice for people, but whatever you do, don’t misrepresent it to the world. Tell it like it is.”
TripAdvisor is a well-used (and sometimes abused) method for intending travellers to divine the reality of a resort, service or destination. When it comes to customer feedback on TripAdvisor, the tourism industry in Samoa has a mixed bag. Prior to emigrating here I, like many other travellers who have since talked about it with me, puzzled over the wide range of responses to Samoa. Often the same resort had highly favourable responses interwoven with seriously negative responses.
On top of that, from the exit surveys we have conducted, satisfaction levels from departing tourists hover around an abysmal 50%. Most report some excellent experiences but when you drill down, you find that many never intend to return.
My point here is not specially that our service or performance should improve. This has been well elucidated by others, but it is that dissatisfaction levels generally arise from unrealistic expectations NOT from lapse or poor service per se.
To give an example, we all expect to get good service in an expensive restaurant. If we don’t get it, we will likely complain, unless perhaps the owner had previously explained that our waitress was was undergoing training. We would then expect less and would then likely be much more understanding and forgiving.
A recent Samoan immigrant shared with me the embarrassment of saying “Oh, the cup is only half full!” when given a cup of ava in a village. Oops! Responses of shock and horror at her comment though, were quickly alleviated when her husband advised all that even though she was a Samoan, his wife had actually been born and raised offshore. With condescending nods of understanding, their expectations dropped, and she was then welcomed more as a stranger returning home, than as a local Samoan who should know how to conduct herself better.
In the tourism industry a large part of the problem of customer dissatisfaction and therefore low return rates is that tourists’ expectations are pumped high with single-message marketing that presents Samoa as another Bali or Fiji. It’s not. It never will be nor I believe ever should be, but it will continue to have mixed satisfaction levels as long as it markets itself to be like something it is not.
In a business context, it’s put like this – people who “Under promise and over deliver” have happy clients. It is all about expectations.
Jesus did the same. Using reverse psychology in His sales process, He actively sought to make things hard for the disinterested majority to understand His message. Yet he achieved immense loyalty from the few who were ready for His message, willing and committed. An easy message could have resulted in thousands of followers, yet He chose only twelve committed who heard it like it was and then gave their lives for Him.
Calling a spade a spade may be somewhat challenging at times, particularly in a Samoan context, but it is a biblical principle that reaps the reward of deeper longer lasting relationships and the Lord’s blessing.
Dennis A. Smith (www.dennis.co.nz) is a Samoa-based author, blogger and CEO of the SWAP Foundation, home of Samoa voluntourism.