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The Power of a Cookie in Shaping Customer Experience

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On a family trip this past summer, I was reminded that little things can make a big impact on brand experience. My wife and I packed up the car, and along with our 6-year-old twin boys and 3 year-old daughter, we made the trek to our favorite wilderness resort in southern Missouri, Big Cedar Lodge. After a week of boating, walking nature trails, making bonfires, and more tie-dyeing than we really needed, we were ready to return home. On the morning of our departure, I asked my boys what they enjoyed most about the trip. Without hesitation they responded in unison, “The cookie lady”!

Ah, the cookie lady. Every evening the kids debated whether their new best friend would bring oatmeal, sugar, chocolate chip, or some other variety of freshly-baked cookies. And with a level of anticipation they typically reserve for Santa Claus, they awaited the knock at the cabin door that announced her arrival and elicited screams of joy as they stampeded toward the door. As she gave each child a bag of warm cookies, the cookie lady asked what they did that day and then wished them a good night. The whole experience took less than a few minutes, but clearly it made a positive and lasting impact.

This regional resort’s recipe for creating a positive brand experience is shared by a much larger member of the hospitality industry. Since the 1980s, DoubleTree by Hilton has been welcoming guests at properties across the globe with its delicious, signature chocolate chip cookies. DoubleTree gives out approximately 60,000 cookies each day (or 21 million annually) to hotel guests. The cookies are central to DoubleTree’s brand culture, which focuses on delivering a warm, caring and welcoming guest experience.

After 25 years, DoubleTree’s brand team introduced a minor but important change in how cookies are given to guests. Previously, guests would receive warm cookies after the check-in process was completed. But the brand team recognized that the “cookie embrace” could be more welcoming and impactful if given immediately upon arrival, prior to check in. A remarkable amount of consideration and purpose went into this process change. Why? Because DoubleTree understands that a cookie is more than a cookie —it’s a positive interaction at a key touch point in the guest experience. And multiple touch points like this will combine to form the total guest (or brand) experience.

Whether as a 6-year-old boy or a 35-year-old hotel guest, the surprise and delight of the cookie gesture touches our emotional core. Rationally, we know we could buy (or pack) our own guilty pleasures. Yet from an experience standpoint, it just wouldn’t be the same as receiving an unexpected treat from DoubleTree … or the cookie lady.

If the ultimate goal of brand experience is to influence behaviors like customer satisfaction and loyalty, then DoubleTree and the cookie lady are one delicious step ahead.

How are you making an emotional connection with your brand experience?

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