I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Tisch, CEO of Loews Hotels and author of "Chocolates on the Pillow Aren't Enough: Reinventing the Customer Experience." During this interview he explains his views about providing exceptional customers experiences and the results they provide.

Peter: Hello, Jonathan. Congratulations on the success of "Chocolates on the Pillow Aren't Enough." I found that the book shed a great deal of light on the need for companies to rethink how they are interacting with their customers. I can now better understand why Loews has such a stellar reputation for providing its guests with exceptional customer experiences.

Jonathan: Thank you, Peter.

Peter: Is the customer experience something that only companies in the hospitality business need to be concerned with?

Jonathan: Absolutely not. All industries are feeling today's crisis in customer loyalty. The way to address this is to provide positive customer experiences that will make any customer feel like a guest. Nobody has more experience with this approach to customers than the hospitality industry, so I wrote the book to share this knowledge with members of any industry. The book includes examples of how retailers, banks, restaurants, and even healthcare organizations are innovating new kinds of customer experiences. I hope these examples will inspire anyone to apply the same thinking to their business no matter what industry its in.

Peter: Why isn't providing a good product or service enough anymore?

Jonathan: Because brand loyalty is shrinking, and price sensitivity and customer skepticism are at an all time high. To attract and retain customers in today's competitive marketplace, companies have no choice but to think of new ways to engage them. Lots of companies provide good products and good services, but you'll only win customer loyalty if you can provide a great customer experience.

Peter: How does a company cut through the skepticism and advertising clutter?

Jonathan: One way companies can stand out is by treating a customer like an insider instead of one of the masses. This is how In 'n Out Burger managed to stand up to huge competitors in the fast food industry. One of their most distinctive assets is their "secret menu." Variations on In 'n Out's classic offerings are created by customers themselves, who spread the secret menu to one another through word of mouth. Any company can learn from this example by shedding their masses approach and creating insider customer experiences.

Peter: Why are the old ways of creating loyalty losing their impact?

Jonathan: Because customers are in the driver's seat like never before. They can choose from many different brands and they'll go for the best price unless you can convince them that you'll give them a very different experience. Customers are also tired of feeling like the masses. Customization is one way that you can create customer loyalty. For example, many customers of Build-A-Bear come back again and again because they feel that the store and its teddy bear products are made just for them.

Peter: What is the key to companies keeping customers?

Jonathan: Customer-centricity involves following a moving target at all times. As soon as you've come up with a great customer experience, you've got to start thinking about a new one because tastes change, competitors catch up quickly, and customers almost always want the new, new thing. If you want your customer to feel special, you'll have to keep innovating again and again.

Peter: Is the idea of providing a memorable customer experience simply the latest in an ever-expanding cache of marketing ideas?

Jonathan: Most marketing gimmicks grab someone's attention for an instant. That's not what I'm speaking about. Customer experiences are how customers experience a brand in a long-term and deeply personal way. If customers feel a personal connection to your brand, they'll willingly seek your products and will willingly spread the word to everyone else. If you can create a great customer experience, the brand starts marketing itself.

Peter: What would you say to those who say that keeping your eye on efficiency is the most profitable way to run a business?

Jonathan: Efficiency is absolutely a great priority for any business, but that doesn't have to be mutually exclusive of great customer experiences. Dell offers a great direct-to-consumer experience with a very efficient model that eliminates retail stores. Sephora needs fewer employees to sell its cosmetics, but at the same time gives the customer a great experience by letting them explore the products themselves online or on shelves of samplers.

Peter: In your book, you refer to the "art of the welcome." Can you briefly describe this concept?

Jonathan: Every time your employees interact with customers is an opportunity for providing a great customer experience. At Loews Hotels, we have an extensive employee training program called "Living Loews." Part of this training involves the art of the welcome. Whether they are checking people in at the front desk, making a reservation by phone, or turning a bed, we ensure that our employees talk to each guest as an individual and make them feel special.

Peter: What are some of the companies that are providing a great customer experience? How do these companies do it differently from the others in their industries?

Jonathan: Best Buy has helped customers, particularly women, overcome the intimidation of technology products. This has broken a serious barrier and made a much larger pool of customers feel welcome. Their distinctive "Geek Squad" will visit your home in a pink Volkswagon beetle to help solve your technology problems. Strategies like these help show Best Buy's customers that they care about them, and this makes them stand out from competitors that would otherwise seem very similar.

Peter: Do you believe it is possible for small companies to provide their customers with exceptional customer services?

Jonathan: Absolutely. The advice in the book is for companies large and small. One of the key messages is that customer experiences usually don't need expensive budgets. They just require creativity.

Peter: Thank you, Jonathan. I appreciate the fact that you have taken time out of your busy schedule to offer your thoughts and insights.

Jonathan: It's my pleasure.

Author's Bio: 

As a speaker, author and coach, Peter George helps self-employed professionals achieve the success they've been striving for. His highly-acclaimed More Clients More Profits Workbook includes contributions from van Misner, Bob Burg, Susan Roane, Scott Ginsberg & others. Want to start attracting more clients right away? Claim your free copy of "101 Ways to Attract More Clients" at =>