At the end of 2021, my family and I spent a memorable holiday at the iconic ‘Atlantis The Palm’ hotel in Dubai. I was so overwhelmed by their impressive focus on customer experience that I wanted to discuss the case on my show “The CX podcast” with fellow Belgian and Senior Vice President, Operations and General Manager at the Atlantis Resorts and Residences Dubai, Tom Roelens.
You can listen to our podcast conversation here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0X4PgpwRywDQu0ghVbkGsC?si=46e5dfbd69c642ce
And as always, I wanted to write down my top insights here on my blog as well:
Talking to Tom, it really struck me how Atlantis The Palm is all about continuously going above and beyond expectations to create ultra-memorable moments and extraordinary opportunities for their guests, every single day.
They accomplish boosting this surprise and delight in two ways. First of all, their offering is incredibly extensive. To put it in Tom’s words: “Atlantis The Palm is truly a destination in its own right”. Next to the hotel, they offer 25 different restaurants, a zoo with no less than 65,000 marine animals, over 70 shops, over a hundred pools and the Aquaventure water park, which is the biggest in the world. They’re even planning on adding additional restaurants, 795 suite guest rooms and 231 residences. And they are also building ‘Atlantis The Royal’ which will offer luxury homes with private beaches access and unparalleled views of the Dubai Skyline.
But on top of this amazing offering, there’s a strategic human aspect too: the people, their services and their attitude are completely in line with going above and beyond what customers expect. The simplest way to illustrate this is with one of my own experiences. The day before we due to travel back to Belgium, via Germany, Lufthansa let us know that our youngest son of 10 years old did need to be tested after all to be allowed to transit in Germany (whereas before they had always told us that this was not necessary). This was on December 31st at 3.00 in the afternoon. Needless to say that we were very worried about finding a place to test him, just a few hours before New Year’s Eve. But when I called the front desk of the hotel and explained my situation to this super-friendly lady, she took all of my worries away, even if the official testing hours at the hotel (from 11.00 am to 3.00 pm) were over. She told me that they would send over a doctor at 6.15 pm to our room so that we could still participate in the feast dinner at 7 pm. And exactly at 6.15, our son was tested and we were able to enjoy New Year’s Eve without any worries.
Tom said that it was exactly this type of “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 3.00 pm” (which is the answer I would have heard at most hotels), they did everything in their power to help us. And as a customer, you won’t ever forget that.
When I ask Tom how they were able to inspire their workforce of over 7000 people to focus relentlessly on the customer and their experience, he told me it was all about finding the right people and then training them.
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 right, it’s “only” about training them and providing them with the right opportunities. 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 trainings, collaborations with universities, cross-exposures in other departments, working at sister hotels like the One&Only, etc. It’s clear that they have a culture of lifelong learning and lifelong improvement.
Of course, you can have the best, most serviceable and most highly trained people working for you, if they are not empowered to make their own decisions on the spot, the CX would be mediocre at best. But the example of the lady who helped our son getting tested – did I mention that they did this completely for free – shows that Atlantis The Palm employees indeed have that trust and mandate from management.
The easiest way to make your customers happy, is to make your employees happy. And so it should not come as a surprise that Tom told me how important they find it to take good care of their colleagues. Whether it’s to do with accommodations, entertainment options, sports facilities, events etc.: he feels it’s crucial to have a happy team that is empowered to deliver great services to their guests every single day.
On top of this ‘secret’ human ingredient, the culture of continuous re-evaluation and adaptation is probably one of the biggest drivers of success of the Atlantis The Palm.
What I really found incredible is that each day – 7 days a week – the entire team is gathered for a morning briefing in order to measure how they are performing. They check the customer feedback via the tool ReviewPro which mines all the feedback from platforms like TripAdvisor, expedia.com, booking.com, etc., they discuss specific opportunities and they look into trends to see if they need to be integrated into their process etc. And this approach actually gives them by the minute feedback to help them understand what customers are saying and how their behavior is changing.
The aim of this method is to review their services every single day in order to learn from that and to “get better every day”. They permanently want to increase the comfort of their customers. They continuously measure, and then adjust where needed. Sometimes it’s small things, like adapting the offering in the breakfast room. But other times it’s about introducing completely new procedures. For instance, they were the very first hotel in Dubai to offer onsite COVID-testing to guests.
I really believe that this daily reminder of how important the customers are and how their changing needs need to be met, is a very big enabler of Atlantis The Palm’s extremely customer centric culture. It’s about this highly strategic dual path approach. First of all about finding trends in customer behavior change and adapting to that. And second, about doing 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. When I talked to Tom, they had an occupancy of between 90 and 98% that month. They have a high number of return guests. Over the years, the average length of stay has been extended. And even in summer – which traditionally has lower occupancy in luxury resorts – people continue to visit. It’s clear that their strategy of continuously striving to become better is really paying off.