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It’s actually all about the Experience

Born and bred in Oban when the world was still black-and-white and there were only three TV channels, Gordon Hodge is currently Head of Conferencing & Events at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.

University of Strathclyde

Strathclyde is regarded as a market-leader, an innovator, and a key element of the Glasgow’s appeal as a destination for business tourism, thanks to its £90m Technology and Innovation Centre (TIC).

Technology and Innovation

TIC was named Best Conference Venue over 250 delegates at the Conference News Academic Venue Awards in November 2019, and was the Silver award-winner in the Best Academic Venue category at the M&IT Industry Awards in February 2020.

Gordon has been working in frontline customer service for longer than he cares to remember, and he laid the foundations for his career right here in the capital of the West Highlands.

People, Places & Passion

There is a tendency to see working in hospitality and tourism as a decent enough stop-gap measure when you need the cash; but not something you’d want to make a career out of. Well I’m more than 20 years down the line, and I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve pretty much always worked in the sector and - if I’m honest – have never really felt the urge to work in anything else. People might be surprised to hear me say how much I enjoy working in customer service, because really I’m quite shy, I enjoy my own company, and it’s fair to say “he didn’t suffer fools” may appear in my obituary. But I have always had a passion for connecting people to one another, and to experiences and places that I think they’ll get a lot out of.

That passion motivates me to this day. That passion was born, like me, in Oban.

My parents took me all around Scotland on day trips and holidays, and I realised that I enjoyed discovering new places when I was still a wee boy. When I was a little older, a student, I was lucky enough to work in the Oban tourist office for a few summers. I started in the poky office at the bottom of Boswell House, and well remember the great excitement when we moved to the old Free Church at the other end of Argyll Square.

MAN those summer days were BUSY – in fact, at that time, Oban was the busiest information centre in Scotland outside of Edinburgh.

It could be exhilarating and exasperating in equal measure - “how do I get to Staffa and Iona?” was only ever the second most-asked question, trailing behind “where are the public toilets?”

Nevertheless, I always considered it a great privilege to welcome people to my wee town and encourage them to visit, shop and stay with local businesses. There are lessons from those long, hot summers that stay with me to this day. On the busiest days, long queues could build up, because you can only answer people’s questions so quickly, particularly if English isn’t their first language (but is still much better than your Spanish). I learned then that if I acknowledged the next people in the queue – gave them a nod and made it clear I’d get to them as quickly as I could – then they would wait, patiently, pretty much forever. I don’t mean to suggest that I then took my sweet time to get to them; rather, that if you can connect with customers as individuals - human beings with needs, just like you - you stand a much better chance of building a relationship that’s going to bear fruit for you both.

Any successful business is only as strong as the relationships it’s founded on, regardless of its size or sector.

It’s all about Personalisation

I realise that’s all pretty 20th Century. Fast forward to 20-whatever-year-it-is, and you hear a lot about the importance of personalisation.

Maybe you’ve been on a course about personalising your website, and things got pretty techy, pretty quickly. I’m right with you.

I don’t know a thing about SEO, about analytics and algorithms, about logic. But that’s OK, because other people do, and they’ll help me with that.

What I do know is that personalisation is simply about helping a potential customer understand how your product could be right for them, and helping them to imagine themselves enjoying it. Relating to them as a fellow human being, rather than simply as a number of bednights or a monetary value (though of course, they’re that too – you’re running a business, and we’ve all got mouths to feed).

Helping a customer create an experience that is uniquely “theirs” doesn’t mean you coming up with some flashy, money-can’t-buy experience. You just need to ask how you can help them and listen, really listen, to what they tell you.

View everything from the customer perspective. What they want, what they expect – remembering that these two things could be vastly different, and that you may need to expertly navigate those choppy waters!

The magic is in bringing your product and their expectations close enough together to create an experience that’s memorable for all the right reasons.

When you’re making any kind of decision about your business and your products, ask yourself “How does this benefit my customer? Will it help them to choose my product over someone else’s?”

If it doesn’t – well, are you sure you really need to do it?

OK, it’s actually all about the Experience

A man like Dan (Little Bay Trading Co.) can give you all kinds of data that I can’t, and what’s more, he can tell you how to use it! But what I can tell you is that if you look at a website like TripAdvisor, the businesses that are the most highly-rated – a hostel, a B&B, a restaurant, a visitor attraction, whatever – won’t necessarily be the ones with 5* ratings, experiences and prices.

Rather, they will be the businesses who delivered experiences that were closest to what the visitor expected, based on what they knew in advance, which is a mix of the information you gave them in advance, and the reviews other people have left.

Value is about much more than what a customer has paid – it’s about what they experienced, how they experienced it, and how it made them feel, before, during and after.

The most important factor in that experience is the relationship you’ve built with your customer, which has allowed you to understand their needs, and to give them an experience that they consider authentic and uniquely theirs.

The world is constantly changing; it’s changed more in the past few months than we could possibly have imagined. When the world wakes up, as it surely will, businesses of all sizes will need to work hard to differentiate themselves in order to get a share of consumers’ more limited discretionary spend.

After months cooped up in the same postcode, if not quite in the same four walls, your customers will want experiences that paint a world gone dreary in technicolour once again.

You can give them that, you really can – but only if you take the time to build the kind of relationships that help you understand what it is that your client really wants.

About the author

Daniel MacIntyre

Daniel MacIntyre


Daniel is an experienced business development consultant, digital marketing manager and director of The View, Oban’s live music venue and bar.

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