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Case studies

Find out how businesses have prospered from listening to their visitors.

Antonine Wall Cottages

Fiona Briggs from Antonine Wall Cottages, Stirling encourages her customers to contribute on her refurbishment and new facilities through customer feedback. 

By using a standard feedback form distributed by The Association of Scotland’s Self Caterers (ASSC) Fiona has received valuable input from guests.

In the form Fiona added a note about her plans for renovating the cottages in the coming year and asked what improvements she had planned.

“Every year I spend £1500 on updating this cottage. This year I have planned to put in full Sky TV, and replace the glasses with crystal and buy new towels. What do you think? Is this a good way to spend this money or do you have any better suggestions?”

Thanks to the feedback she’s now installed WIFI in the cottages, and had useful recommendations which range from extra outdoor lighting, to requests for blankets instead of duvets and even little requests such as garlic crushers or blenders for baby foods.

This wasn’t all, as Fiona explains:

“The other feedback that I do, which for me is just as important, is to ask guests who didn’t book with me – why? And also ask those that do book – why? The ‘no’s’ have ranged from ‘holidays being cancelled’ to ‘managed to get a cheaper place’ to ‘didn’t like paying separately for electricity’. 

"This is helpful for me. If for example I got a lot of people saying that they didn’t like paying extra for electricity and my bookings levels went down, I would have to revise my policies.” 

Aviemore and the Cairngorms Destination Management Organisation

The recently launched website for the Destination Management Organisation (DMO) in Aviemore and the Cairngorms has embraced using the web to bring the destination together for the visitor experience. They openly encourage feedback through TripAdvisor and 95 per cent of the businesses listed have their TripAdvisor reviews displayed on their promotional page. 

The organisation runs best practice workshops with local businesses to give advice on how to respond to online feedback, and how to encourage visitors to post a review.

One of the main advantages of the site is that it enables cross selling between businesses like never before. The organisation themselves contribute very little content to the site allowing the businesses and others to contribute instead.

Through a variety of links, RSS feeds and user generated content, continually updated content is displayed. It enables visitors to see what there is to see and do, read other people’s experiences through blogs, see images of what it is really like through Flikr and watch the action on YouTube. 

Cairngorm Mountain

Cairngorm Mountain care about what their visitors think of their services, and are on the lookout for feedback at every opportunity. The team pull together a monthly report, made up of all the feedback they receive from the day time operation.

This includes web feedback, evening events, letters and emails. When pulled together, the team at CairnGorm Mountain can see on a month by month basis how well the different areas of the operation are doing. 

They can measure satisfaction on the overall experience as well as the individual costs of catering, retail, facilities and ticketing. They can also measure overall satisfaction on product, facilities and service.

With this information, CairnGorm Mountain can use the monthly satisfaction results for a benchmarking tool. One useful tool that they also use is a text cloud. 

There are many websites available that offer a free tool to create these, such as Wordle

Visitor comments are entered to give a visual display. Those comments that are the biggest have appeared most frequently.

Crosswood Hill Farm Holiday Cottages

Geraldine Hamilton at Crosswoodhill Farm Holiday Cottages saw the feedback potential in a compliment on her five star self catering luxury cottage, Orlege End. 

“The reality of Orlege is so much better than the photos on your website suggest.” 

Geraldine put together plans for a new website for her five star holiday cottage where the online presence of her business matched the real life luxury.

More detailed feedback was integrated such as having high quality property images, a live availability indicator and the ability to book accommodation without having to contact the owner. 

This new look and feel was taken further in a detailed FAQ page providing answers to questions anticipated by Geraldine, and a jam packed ‘see and do’ page using the attractions in the area to lure prospective bookers. 

Importantly the website also helps to facilitate even more feedback with its comments page and also directs visitors to TripAdvisor to post and read comments.

The website also provides links to events and what’s on in the area, allowing guests to plan and book tickets in advance and enrich their stay with some authentic cultural experiences. 

As a result of the fantastic customer feedback guests experienced while staying at Crosswoodhill, Geraldine won a Scottish Thistle Award for Customer Care in 2008. 

Loopy Lorna's Tea House

At Loopy Lorna’s Tea House in Edinburgh, Gaynor Salisbury decided that from the outset she wanted to know what her customers thought of her ideas and to change accordingly to make sure she gave people the very best experience.

Loopy Lorna’s opened in October 2008 and aims to offer the very best tea experience available with a fun and quirky approach. From the start, Gaynor introduced ‘Happiness Cards’ on every table.  

“I wanted to gauge customer satisfaction at all levels of the customer journey while maintaining a quirky and fun angle to gain a detailed response. The ‘Happiness Cards’ were devised both to receive feedback but also to obtain a customer database for future promotions and events.

"Initially I thought there were too many questions and that this would put customers off replying but in just two months we have had over 300 cards completed with around 90 per cent being very positive. 

"Of course the ten per cent with criticisms are actually the most useful as we have been able to learn from these and have improved our customer service accordingly.”

Key areas have now been addressed as a result of the cards.

Customers wanted a full cooked breakfast - they now do two full breakfasts including vegetarian in addition to lighter options.

Customers also asked for hot water to top up their teas. Staff now go around the tables offering top ups on a regular basis.

They discovered that the biggest attraction was the tea cosies rather than the china tea pots which were odd shapes and sizes. They decided to buy standard size tea pots with the Loopy Lorna’s logo as it was easier to ensure tea quality and good pouring. The tea pots are highly admired in the array of different cosies.

The importance of ensuring customers are welcomed immediately they come in has been emphasized and staff trained accordingly. 

The positive comments are a great reward for a great deal of hard work and also highly motivational for staff to know they are appreciated and getting it right most of the time.  

Old Manse Guest House, Oban

Anna Smith, owner of The Old Manse Guest House in Oban, first read the Listening To Our Visitors guide in spring 2009 after her husband had attended one of the workshops.

After reading and hearing about the experiences of others, the couple decided to use customer feedback which they were already gathering in order to identify areas for improvement.

“The workshop and guide made us realise we have common ground with others,” says Anna. 

“The opportunity to talk and brainstorm with other businesses helped to motivate us and for 24 hours after the workshop session we both thought hard about what changes we could make”. 

80 per cent of guests at The Old Manse leave comments, and any negative comments are generally about wet weather. As nothing can be done to change the climate, the couple decided to look at what they could do to make the wet weather a little easier on their guests. 

To help guests plan their activities, they now have a five day met office weather report available. Anna also realised that she needed to improve the visitor experience for guests on wet weather days and started to research local attractions and activities that were suitable for wet weather visits. 

Realising that working with others would enrich her guests’ experience, she picked up the phone to about a dozen local attractions to find out more about their facilities and what was on offer for families.

In the process she made links with: 

  • The Ice Factor, Inveraray Jail
  • Nevis Range Mountain Cable Car
  • Kilmartin Glen
  • Cruachan Power Station
  • The National Kayaking School

“We already had several information sheets on scenic drives and walks so we set about developing another one on ‘Wet Weather Days Out’.

"50 to 60 of these are handed out to guests each month. In addition we added links to all of the local activity companies on our website. We then set about sourcing large golfing umbrellas in varying Scottish tartans, which we make available to all guests. The tartan umbrellas are a great talking point, especially with the American guests.”

In a drive to encourage guests to fully appreciate and experience the Argyll and Oban area, the couple are currently making plans to provide a ‘concierge service’ which will include winter activities as well as things to see and do for children under three years old. 

They also hope that an anonymous suggestions box will provide greater feedback to enable them to enhance the guest experience even further.

Rabbie's Trail Burners

Rabbie’s has always aimed to provide customers with an exceptional experience, enabling them to enjoy the beauty of Scotland from the comfort and safety of a small personally guided tour bus, with a maximum of 16 passengers. However, in 2005, to meet ever increasing demand for tours and to allow them to remain competitive on price, they introduced larger buses, taking up to 29 passengers.

To maintain high levels of customer service they ran the tours with a driver and guide on board (to be sure of keeping a minimum ratio of 1:16 staff to customer). 

The feedback confirmed that although these new coaches were comfortable, that the service was excellent, Rabbie’s noticed that through both formal and informal feedback mechanisms, the overall levels of customer satisfaction were falling. 

After careful scrutiny of the feedback, they identified that the main reason for the customer dissatisfaction was that tours in the larger buses lacked intimacy and there were fewer opportunities for interaction with the guide and other passengers. The personal nature of the tours had, to a certain extent, been lost.

So in November 2006, after consultation with all the staff, Rabbie’s decided to sell the large coaches and revert to using only 16-seat buses. Almost immediately, the customers’ reaction endorsed this decision, with comments about the friendliness and the personal approach once again appearing strongly.

Overall satisfaction levels are also higher than they were prior to the introduction of the larger coaches.  Rabbie's Trail Burners was a Scottish Thistle Award winner in 2008 and 2009 for giving customers unique and memorable experiences of Scotland.

The Dove Initiative

A scheme that has recently launched is the DOVE project by The Right Direction Group, made up of business owners and managers in the Highlands and Islands. The DOVE initiative (Delivering an Outstanding Visitor Experience) aims to gather feedback information on Highland holiday experiences by using three simple mechanisms.

  • Hand held personal digital assistants, positioned strategically in key places and at key events where visitors will have time to complete surveys asking key questions about their holiday experience
  • Text message feedback mechanism
  • On-line survey sent to the visitor on their return home from their holiday

The combination of all three of these mechanisms will provide a snapshot of development needs for both an individual business and also the destination in which it is located.  

The survey mechanism is a simple online designed questionnaire to rate the place visited whether it’s a visitor attraction, accommodation provider or other tourism business. 

Users are taken through three pages on the specifics of their experience containing:

  • three questions for basic details
  • five questions covering the quality of the greeting, helpfulness of staff and service levels including details on accompanying products purchased and a grading on an overall impression
  • detailed feedback if the experience is outstanding and details on anything that could be improved

Users are then given an option to fill out the same questionnaire for other tourism businesses. When they have finished, the next page of the questionnaire requests details on any outstanding part of their Highland break and asks for improvement recommendations.

The final page asks if you would recommend a Highland holiday. When users click to finish they are asked for a postcode or country of residence if outside the UK before being redirected to the Visit Highlands website.

The process is easy to use, straight-forward and only takes a few minutes to complete. This survey data is collected by a third party on behalf of the DOVE initiative. This information can then be shared and benchmarked with other businesses in the area.

The Lodge at Carfraemill

The Lodge at Carfraemill, a 10 bedroom hotel and restaurant near Lauder, has been a great success since it re-opened its doors in 1997 under the new ownership of Jim and Jo Sutherland. 

From the outset they were keen that Carfraemill would provide guests with a warm and friendly welcome, exceptional attention to detail, really good Scottish country food and excellent value for money.

They have consistently managed to achieve this through the delivery of high operational and service standards and the business has continued to grow each year with high repeat business levels.

Never ones to rest on their laurels Jim and Jo were keen to ensure that the business continued to offer a positive experience to every customer and exceed expectations at every opportunity. As a result they became convinced that only by collecting and analysing customer feedback, they could be certain that they were achieving this. 

Since making this decision they have introduced customer feedback mechanisms that track and analyse:

  • customer comments to staff
  • written feedback left behind by guests
  • feedback from meeting and function business
  • staff satisfaction levels
The results of the new feedback mechanisms were: 
  • 500 per cent higher return of customer comments
  • 20 per cent reduction in customer complaints on the higher return of comments
  • £1000 saving in marketing costs per annum due to increased repeat visitors and a better knowledge of what people wanted
  • 9 per cent increase in all areas of the business, despite increased adverse trading conditions
  • Lower staff turnover and reduced staff costs
  • Fewer staff complaints between kitchen and front of house resulting in a lower part-time staff turnover too
  • Savings of 90% of complaint costs i.e., for replacement meals & drinks, discounts or refunds for accommodation

The Lodge at Carfraemill