As a corporate travel consultant based in Michigan, Carla Sunseri has traveled the world and taken tours on nearly every continent. But there’s only one destination and tour she’s gone out of her way to experience repeatedly. In 2008, Carla planned a personal vacation trip to Sedona, Arizona to see the famed Red Rocks and surrounding area. While planning her trip online, she noticed that one particular excursion was highly recommended by multiple sources.
It seems that a curiously named excursion company called Pink Jeep Tours was getting thousands of raves reviews from customers. So she booked a full day tour that included the Broken Arrow Trail and a journey up to the area’s Scenic Rim. Reflecting on that first tour, Sunseri says “I just loved it and can’t say enough about the whole experience.” “The views were unbelievable, the Jeep was first rate and the tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and entertaining,” she adds. As a result, she has since recommended the Broken Arrow tour to countless friends, family members and even strangers.
In fact, Carla has made her way back to Sedona three more times in the past eight years. In total, she’s taken her aging mother, an autistic nephew and five other family members on Pink Jeep Tours. Despite all of her international travel experiences, the Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona is the only one she’s ever returned to enjoy again. Aptly, she describes herself as a Pink Jeep Tours “frequent flyer and advocate”!
Apparently, Pink Jeep Tours has a legion of other fans as well, providing over 50,000 tours annually. Remarkably, the company enjoys a Net Promoter Score (a widely used measure of customer loyalty) of 91 out of a possible 100. This means that nearly all previous customers would very strongly recommend the experience to others. The same measures for travel industry leaders like Jet Blue (68) and Southwest Airlines (61) pale in comparison.
Pink Jeep Tours was founded in 1960 by Don Pratt, a musician and land developer from Long Beach, California. Pratt had visited the the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki, which is known as the “Pink Palace of the Pacific”. After returning, he thought offering tours of the area in pink Jeeps could be a clever way to promote his real estate holdings. It remained a small but novel operation until about 1988. That’s when current owner Shawn Wendell took over and began transforming it into a southwestern icon. The company now also operates tours from Las Vegas, Scottsdale and the Grand Canyon, and has become something of a cultural phenomenon in Arizona and Nevada.
Wendell credits much of the company’s success to their unparalleled investments in interpretive guide training and custom touring vehicles. Each guide must complete 150 hours of interpretive guide and off-road driving training courses before getting anywhere near a tour customer. Guide Mike Carey joined Pink Jeep Tours in 2007 after retiring from a career in the Air Force. He now describes his work driving, enlightening and entertaining customers as some of the most rewarding and fulfilling of his life. The company’s commitment to guide training, development and retention has made it one of the most sought after occupations in the region.
In addition, the company spends nearly $70,000 upgrading and customizing each vehicle. Doing so allows them to safely handle rugged terrain with unfettered views and greater comfort. The result is a customer experience that’s uniquely memorable, despite that competitors have access to the same stunning views. It’s been a winning strategy for Pink Jeep Tours, which has doubled it’s revenue in each of the past three decades.
By traditional business standards, Pink Jeep Tours’ spending on tour guide training and vehicle customization is arguably excessive. But those investments have created a tour experience that’s in a whole different league from what competitors can offer. This has enabled the company to attract over half of its new customers through referrals and ratings sites, while also commanding a 15-20% pricing premium. So these investments in customer experience and loyalty are delivering far greater returns than more traditional ones would.
Ideas to Consider
A League of Your Own: What would it take to create an experience for your customers that was in a league by itself, relative to your competitors? A substantial investment of time, expertise and resources would almost certainly be necessary. But these might also deliver a far greater return than your current approach. Legendary loyalty and results are rarely achieved with conventional methods.
The People Advantage: Many previous Pink Jeep Tours customers indicate their guide was the best part of their tour experience. In fact, many mention the guide by name in their tour reviews. Does your company have a commitment to employee training, loyalty and development that’s head and shoulders above competitors? Perhaps it should!
Facilitate Referrals: Highly satisfied and enthusiastic customers are Pink Jeep Tours’ most potent marketing tool, generating over a third of new business. Make it easy for your satisfied customers to refer you to others with an online referral platform, such as Amplifinity or Ambassador. Doing so is a lot less costly than pricing discounts, advertising or promotions.