Talking Trade

Understand the lifetime value of every customer

Last Autumn Bill Kelly of Kelly’s Resort Hotel in Wexford gave a presentation to the Dublin licensed trade as part of the LVA’s Annual Conference. What he had to say about winning service and winning customer confidence was intriguing and not a little  stimulating. We decided to talk to him in more depth about his proven outlook on hospitality and well-respected thoughts on how to provide tip-top customer service.
‘Understand the lifetime value of every customer’ just about sums up Bill’s credo.

‘Understand the lifetime value of every customer’ just about sums up Bill’s credo.


Kelly’s Resort Hotel & Spa in Rosslare, County Wexford, is renowned as being one of the foremost four-star luxury resort hotels in Ireland. But this didn’t happen by chance; customer service and staff appreciation for more than the customer’s current visit can be found at its core.

A fifth generation family-run resort, its current proprietor Bill Kelly trained at Switzerland’s famous hotel school – Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne – in Switzerland where he learned that success is measured not by the amount of business or bookings, but by the amount of repeat business or bookings!

‘Understand the lifetime value of every customer’ just about sums up Bill’s credo. From the Lausanne school he also learned the adage ‘You can if you think you can!’.

In other words, he says, “Be positive, don’t loose time worrying about what you cannot control”.

He also learned that successful companies are not a 100% better in every way, they’re 1% better in a 100 different ways!

But Lausanne had other connections for Bill. While at the school he met and later married his wife Isabell Avril, daughter of leading Chateauneuf-du-Pape winemaker Paul Avril. Together Bill and Isabell have maintained and improved on the hotel’s reputation for unparalleled customer service.

Bill was born into the hotel industry, spending most of his formative years gaining extensive hotel and catering experience at such august establishments as Boca Raton Hotel and Club in Florida, Lai Lai Sheraton Hotel in Taiwan and Hotel Concorde La Fayette in Paris.

He took over the running of the hotel from his mother Breda in 1986 and with her support and encouragement has overseen a range of major developments at the hotel & Leisure resort.

At last year’s Licensed Vintners Association Annual Conference, as guest speaker he asked the audience of Dublin publicans, “Does the customer want to be satisfied or loved?”.

What did he mean by that? I ask him.

“I often feel that we invest a lot of money into hotels and pubs to keep up with the times and to meet people’s expectations,” he replies, “There’s no doubt that this gives the customer a sense of satisfaction but is it enough to get the customer to return? I believe it’s customer service that creates loyalty and this lasts much longer!”


Billy Kelly

There seems little doubt that his father Billy was a great inspiration to him.

Unfortunately, at only 15 years-of-age Bill lost his dad (who died young at the age of 50). Despite his early passing Billy left behind a tradition and an ethos of customer service at the hotel  that still exists today.

“Dad, known to every visitor as ‘Billy’, was born in 1927 and took over the running of the hotel in 1953 at the age of 26,” recalls Bill, “He married Breda Hennessey from Emly in County Tipperary and together they built Kelly’s into one of the leading hotels in Ireland.

“Billy was one of the first to train at the Shannon Hotel School under Brendan O’Regan and both he and Breda were always on the lookout for good ideas from top hotels abroad that they could adapt and use themselves.”

As a result Billy and Breda gradually expanded their hotel’s open season from just three months in the 1950s to most of the year round. They also instigated a long-running programme of extensions and renovations that included the construction of a swimming pool, squash and tennis courts and dozens of new bedrooms.

“Having realised early on the need to provide their guests with plenty of activities and things to do, they quickly became the country’s first and finest Resort Hoteliers, with a hotel that was just as attractive to guests in February or November as in June and July, albeit for entirely different reasons – and these paid off,” states Bill, “They led the way for Irish tourism growth with their pioneering ideas and set the pace and standards that are still evident today.”


Winning wine sales

One of the surprising aspects to Bill’s LVA presentation was his emphasis on the significance of displaying one’s wine range for the customer. This had increased the hotel’s wine sales by 35% in one year.



Winning attitude to customers

Bill’s LVA presentation also highlighted the importance of ensuring a positive staff attitude to customers and guests.

He’d discovered from a World Travel Survey that 68% of customers were put off by the attitude of indifference shown to the customer by some employees.

“The idea did not shock me but the percentage did,” he admits, “It makes you realise that Fergal Quinn was 100% right when he said ‘The Customer is King’. The staff, more than anything else, gives the hotel its personality; as managers we can get the physical product right but only the staff can bring people back again and again.”

Bill also believes it to be vital that we go out of our way to ensure that customers will wish to return.

Perhaps that’s why he views complaints as opportunities.


Winning complaints over to opportunities

“Ideally one would prefer not to have any complaints” he says, “but in the hospitality business we’re dealing with so many interactions daily that this is practically impossible to achieve. What’s important is that any incident is reported immediately so that we can change a negative situation into a positive one. This can only happen with very good communication between front-line staff and management.”

For this reason he empowers his staff to make their own decisions.

“It’s vital to give authority to frontline staff” he believes, “they’re the people in front of the customer. They can make decisions within a sphere of responsibility that helps speed up the service and decision-making.

“They’re an essential link to the customer, trust them and give flexibility of decisions.

“Encourage them to create ‘Moments of Truth’ or ‘Wow!’ moments.”

Not surprisingly, keeping hold of staff is no easier in the hotel sector than it is in the pub sector.

“There is, no doubt, a shortage of skilled staff for certain areas of the Hospitality industry,” he agrees, adding that, “The key to overcoming this is staff retention – which is also the essential ingredient to customer retention.”

One has to wonder just what’s the key to customer retention at Kelly’s Resort Hotel?

“We’ve no one formula at Kelly’s but a mixture of points and ideas which have helped to create the customer-focused structure we have today:


*        guest recognition

*        encourage interaction between staff and guests

*        genuine sense of care

*        encourage interaction and friendships between customers

*        and of course understand the “lifetime value of a customer”.



Attitude over aptitude

With such a structure to reflect on Bill seeks out attitude over skills when interviewing.

“It’s very difficult to train attitude and in our line of business a smile goes a long way,” he believes, “We always prefer to recruit staff with a positive and smiling attitude.

“To drive our businesses forward we need to sell the experience” he says, “Kelly’s never sells bedrooms, we only sell experience! In all our advertising we never include price per person or room but we try inform the customers what we’re about.”

Again and again, pubs have been encouraged to see themselves as not just selling drinks but selling ‘experiences’.

So If you didn’t already know it, Kelly’s is about more than simply offering the consumer a meal and accommodation for the night, it’s all about giving the customer that “Wow!” experience.

It’s an outlook that wouldn’t go amiss in today’s demanding pub trade too.

“To drive our businesses forward we need to sell the experience,” says Bill Kelly.

“To drive our businesses forward we need to sell the experience,” says Bill Kelly.

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