JOHN COCKAYNE: Marketing and connecting with the customer.

Sandton Sun Hotel

JOHN COCKAYNE: Marketing and connecting with the customer

Our marketing discussion is with Robert Jasper (RJ) who wears a number of hats in his role as the GM of three Tsogo Sun properties — the Sandton Sun and Sandton Towers hotels and the Sandton Convention Centre, all of which are in Sandton City.

JC: From our various discussions I know you agree that marketing is an iterative activity, so how important are your staff in the marketing process.

RJ: They are possibly the most important element. Michael LeBoeuf said that “A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all” and in marketing terms they can become a walking advertisement for our properties.

However, this value is built on the premise that they will have had a good experience staying or interacting with us and the staff is at the front line of delivering this experience.


JC: Being part of a larger group you obviously follow the lead of your marketing department, at least in terms of the broad strokes. As a GM are you involved in the decision-making processes at HQ and would it be easier if you were a business owner with the ability that comes with this to make decisions on your own?

RJ: In a corporate environment and with so many properties in the group there is the need to centralise certain functions. Within marketing, this manifests itself in the need to send out a consistent overall message about the group. This will show what the group stands for, irrespective of the accommodation type, location and property’s star rating.

JC: Marketing is largely about making promises. However, I feel that too often only lip service is paid to the delivery of it in real terms. In this I would use, as one example, the so called “5-star golf experience” where too many golf clubs believe having a clean golf cart, a bottle of water, with the scorecard the right way up on the cart’s steering wheel is the epitome of this.

RJ: I agree, but in an earlier feature you wrote about golf not being in the sports business, but rather in the hospitality sector, where golf just happens to be a key element in the overall mix.

My experiences as a golfer are that golf would do well to take this fact on board and use the hospitality industry to benchmark its services’ processes. As an industry, we do not always get it right in the hotel sector, as you have seen on a few occasions, but it is generally a lot more right than wrong.

JC: I like to think I offer constructive criticism when I do comment, but too often, I feel the “recipient” wishes that a hole would appear in the ground and swallow me up!

RJ: Taking this attitude to meaningful criticism is a huge mistake that people in our industry sometimes can make. As a five-star traveller, you not only know what to expect from us, but you also know exactly what you want. This actually makes our job easier and helps to keep us on our toes.

The other issue with this type of attitude to any critique is this type of information first hand is worth its weight in gold. We rely extensively on information gathered by remote and electronically, such as online questionnaires, feedback pages, surveys, and so on While this is of terrific value, when compared to a first-hand critique from a valued customer, who is willing to take the time to talk to us, it is rather like having a bath with your socks on.

JC: I have always said the service levels and staff interactions are what define a high-quality hotel for me and this is not just in terms of dealing reactively with any issues. I am still surprised at the insouciance some organisations’ staff and protocols display to customer relations and thought that it was “an only me thing”.

This was until some years ago I had an entertaining evening with Sean Connery, it was a dinner following golf at Las Brisas in Spain. Connery related a tale of how when wanting to buy a British car, he had to undergo the extraordinary “disinterest” displayed by the sales person at an upmarket car dealership in the West End of London. The experience forced him to rethink about “buying British”, a catchphrase of the time. He subsequently purchased a Porsche when he was filming in Germany and the sales-service experience in Germany was the complete opposite of what he had had in London.

RJ: This reinforces the point behind the concept that just as everyone is a sales person, then equally everyone should be a marketer. My staff understands the importance of their role in this process and that the service experience they give each guest, whether at the front desk or in housekeeping, goes to help create the overall experience and that everyone on the staff must take ownership of and personal pride in their role in this process.

By John Cockayne, as featured in