What Customers Really Want: Academics vs. Practitioners Point of View

What Customers Really Want: Academics vs. Practitioners Point of View

One of the perennial questions any service provider wants to find an answer to must for sure be to
know what your customers really want. No problem there, one would say – ask them
and they will tell you! Well, we know better that that – the customers rarely ever know
themselves what they really want and need.

If we cannot ask directly the customers, can we look at the theory; can we find the evidence in
the academic research? Also, can we take a look at what is really happening in the hospitality
industry? Is theory same as the practice?

When looking into the hospitality literature that deals with this question one finds abundant
evidence that there is a growing need for customized and even more personalized service
offering. These days the books that speak about creating unique experiences can be found on
the desks of most of the lecturers specializing on this topic, mine included. The world of
academia speaks highly of “high touch” experiences, no cookie cutter, no one size fits all
approach when it comes to delighting your customer. After all, the hospitality industry relies
on the human side of operations, right?

On the other hand, when the practitioners are asked the same question, the answer is rarely
personalization. Hotel owners swear that standardization is the answer, that the shared
practices, “high tech” approach to dealing with customers is the winning formula. CRM,
databases, networking are just some of the terminology they use to depict what the industry
uses to get to know what is on the customer’s mind.

So can we reconcile the different views held by academia and the industry about what
customers really want? Does it have to be one or the other? Or can it be both? Can we achieve
the “high touch” through “high tech” know-how?

The hospitality industry has to be smart and emotionally intelligent at the same time, it has to
posses cognitive ambidexterity and use the IT services to create faster and more accurate
answers to what is on the customer’s mind and at the same time stage one of a kind truly
transformational experiences. The service provider who will be able to do both will have a
competitive advantage in today’s digitalized yet highly emotional world of hospitality.

Milena Kužnin, Lecturer, RIT Croatia (www.croatia.rit.edu)


Sandoff, M. (2005), “Customization and standardization in hotels – a paradox or
not?”, International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, Vol. 17 No. 6, pp.
529-535. https://doi.org/10.1108/09596110510612167

IBM Global Businesses Services, Hotel 2020: the personalization paradox