Paris tourism: friendly, charming and attentive

“When I visited Paris to speak at the LeWeb conference, I found most business owners and staff at hotels, restaurants, museums, and shops to be friendly, charming, and attentive.”

Paris tourism: friendly, charming and attentive

“When I visited Paris to speak at the LeWeb conference, I found most business owners and staff at hotels, restaurants, museums, and shops to be friendly, charming, and attentive.”

The Paris regional tourism board has launched a major charm offensive intended to bury the perception that the City of Light is an unfriendly tourist destination. “Paris has a bad image. There’s a perception that we are arrogant and we don’t treat tourists well,” according to Francois Navarro, the communication director for the tourism board.

“You’re not alone. We survey 30,000 tourists every year when they leave Paris and, interestingly, 96 percent tell us they are satisfied with their experience…but we can always do better,” Navarro replied. We can always do better. Those are among the five most powerful words in customer service. In today’s competitive global economy, a company, brand, organization, or destination that stops striving to do better will quickly be left behind.

Competition is exactly what drove the tourism board to create and distribute 30,000 copies of a 15-page booklet this summer titled, “Do you Speak Touriste?” The guide is given to Parisians employed in the tourism industry, such as hotels, restaurants, and museums like the Louvre, which attracts eight million visitors a year. The manual itself focuses largely on cultural expectations. Americans, for example, “appreciate personalized service and advice in each stage of their stay.” Americans also look for Wi-Fi connections, according to the manual. Regarding Germans, “handshakes are common” and “they like exploring neighborhoods.” The Chinese expect “cheerful” guides. “A simple ‘hello’ in their language will help them feel welcome.”

According to Navarro, “Twenty years ago, people had a choice of 60 international destinations. Today it’s more like 600 destinations. If we don’t improve our service, we will lose money. The difference often comes down to how you are welcomed and treated. Our objective here in Paris is to improve our service every day.”

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The guide put out by the Paris tourism board is a collection of observations culled from the thousands of surveys Navarro said the board takes every year. What strikes me is that people—regardless of nationality—simply want to feel welcomed and appreciated. That’s why each page of the guide starts with typical greetings, salutations, and farewells in the most common languages among visitors to Paris: “Buon giorno” and “Grazie, arrivederci,” for the Italians and “Good morning,” and “Thank you, good-bye,” for the Americans.

Here’s what we know about human behavior and how it should influence customer service. The way people are made to feel upon entering a business and how they feel upon leaving that establishment generally colors much of their perception about their overall experience. In a previous article about AT&T retail, I described its “10 feet or 10 second” rule. After two years of intense consumer research, AT&T discovered that shoppers who are greeted within 10 feet or 10 seconds of entering a store had a far better perception of the service than those who were not. Just as important, those shoppers who were greeted warmly were more likely to recommend the store to a friend or family member.

The greeting and the farewell are very important for nearly every company or brand that has direct customer-facing stores or establishments. I’ve studied some of the world’s most successful brands such as The Ritz-Carlton and The Apple Store and I’ve written about those brands in this column. It doesn’t matter what city they’re in, properly trained Ritz-Carlton and Apple Store employees will welcome guests and shoppers with a warm, genuine, and personalized greeting. In fact one of the best customer service experiences I had in Paris was at the Apple Store in the Opera district of the city. The experience reminded me that employees in any city can and will deliver exceptional customer service with the right training and coaching.

I commend the Paris tourism board. They have the right idea. Tourism is too important for Paris to ignore. Thirty million visitors a year create 600,000 jobs and pump 15 billion euros into the local economy. Today travelers add New York, London, Shanghai, and other international destinations to their list when considering a business trip or vacation. “We believe that how visitors are welcomed and treated will make a difference in their choice of destination,” says Navarro. When I asked Navarro if he had advice for other destinations or brands, he said: “Every visitor is special. Treat them well.” That’s great advice that translates into any language.

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