Argyll and the Isles Tourism Summit: CalMac MD takes audience on a journey ‘in the shoes of their customers’

No one imagined that this Tourism Summit would be predictable and, while it is appropriate that the MD of Scotland’s major and renowned ferry service operator, the west coast specialist CalMac, should talk about journeys, the audience hardly expected to be taken on one. But is is metaphorical.

This is not a ferry trip but a guided walk – ‘in the shoes of your customers’ and Martin Dorchester, the recently appointed Managing Director of the award-winning Caledonian MacBrayne [CalMac] is  calling on tourism businesses to take the walk and to put customers at the heart of everything they do.

Speaking at this major Tourism Summit at Mount Stuart on Bute today (March 13, 2013) Mr Dorchester says that in order to thrive, businesses must understand both their core customers and their prospective customers and make sure they ware meeting and, where possible, exceeding those customers’ expectations.

Martin Dorchester has held senior roles in a number of top companies including Dixons Group and Argos before joining CalMac last Spring – so he’s seen a lot of customers and a wide spectrum of who they are and what they really really want.

‘There is a well-known proverb which says that to understand someone best you must walk a mile in their shoes’, he says, ‘and that’s great advice for any business, but especially relevant for tourism businesses when the experience and level of service you provide is literally, and metaphorically, part of their journey.

‘Any business which does not attempt to walk in the shoes of their customers, and view their service from that critical angle will never survive.’

Mr Dorchester has also highlighted the need for everyone in the tourism business to work together to ensure that visitors are left with a memorable experience and great stories of their travels they can share with others: ‘Whether it is places to see, things to do, the quality of food and drink or ideally, a combination of every aspect of their trip from beginning to end, we are all in the business of delivering exceptional experiences which will make them want to come back and tell others to come here too.’

Stressing that getting close to customers’ needs and understanding  the many factors which influence their purchasing decisions, he underlines how the market is changing, allowing businesses to be responsive and to keep pace with the best and most successful.

He sees the holiday and travel market currently going through some major changes in the way that people choose and buy their products, saying, for example: ‘The internet has revolutionised the way customers identify and research possible destinations; how they purchase accommodation and ferry, air or rail tickets; and raised expectations of what to expect when they get there. In order to keep up with the competition tourism businesses must therefore make themselves easy to find, easy to deal with and the end product must then meet  – and wherever possible exceed  – customer expectations’.

This is the crux of the matter, for the means people are increasingly using to find their ideal holiday – the internet, social media – are the same means by which poor service or unpleasant holiday experiences can be exposed and widely distributed – within seconds – and often while the unhappy customer is still angry and at their most critical.

Dorchester says: ‘We know that online reviews must always be treated with caution but no-one can afford to be complacent about the power and reach of the internet.’

Turning his attention finally to what for him is now ‘home base’ – CalMac, Martin Dorchester looked at a number of the ways in which CalMac today is walking in the shoes of its customers: ‘We are acutely aware that, for all the positive feedback we receive and the awards we have received recently, we are not perfect and that there is always scope for improving our services.

‘This  has included revamping Go Explore magazine to encourage more people to travel to Scotland’s islands and make it easier to plan and book their ferry travel and we also have big plans to revamp our ticketing systems and make it even easier to book on line’.

The heart of this message is that being in the tourism business is not about giving your customers either what you want to give them or what you think they want.

It’s about finding out what they really want – by all sorts of means – and giving them that, with pleasure and giving pleasure.

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2 Responses to Argyll and the Isles Tourism Summit: CalMac MD takes audience on a journey ‘in the shoes of their customers’

  1. Will Mr. Dorchester please take a walk in his customers’ shoes onto the boats of his subsiduary Argyll Ferries on a blustery day and tell us what’s good about it? No danger of that exceeding expectations.

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  2. I’ve been looking at Mr Dorchester’s biography, which I presume is self-generated, on Linkedin and this prompted me to have a look at Companies House information relating to the directorships he cites and some he doesn’t. Unfortunately, his Linkedin career biography goes back no further than 1999 when he was 35, but all this stuff in the public domain is very interesting nonetheless.

    Mr Dorchester’s Linkedin list of qualifications is MBA 2000 (Kingston), BSc 2011 in Social Science and Politics (Open University) and a couple of OU diplomas (Social Policy and Criminology, Politics and Government) in case anyone else was curious.

    I wonder whether that pre 1999 phase had any maritime or transport related aspects to it. Maybe I’m being old fashioned in thinking that it could. Anyway, management is all about generic “systems” these days, isn’t it?

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