Let’s Dance. (With apologies to David Bowie.)

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


EllisDon owns a great resort in St. Lucia, which maybe is teaching us some specific lessons about our construction business. Well, we will see anyway.

We have figured out of course that direct room bookings, over the internet, are a huge opportunity for both new business and significantly lower costs. But we hung our booking engine out there, with some pretty pictures, and no-one came. We waited, and waited, no-one came.

So first we figured out a way to offer more services (including meals), but we didn’t cut our room rates. We just gave people a whole lot more for the same price – a great way to protect margins, while providing flexibility as the market improves.

Then we realized that our booking engine wasn’t easy enough to use, and that as soon as people run into an obstacle, the potential sale is lost in the time it takes to click a mouse. My brother Michael kept yelling at us until we fixed that one. But the great revelation was when we put a ‘clickable’ picture of a woman with a headset on every page, accompanied by a toll free number, an email option, and the phrase “Call us, or we’ll call you.”

Not only did people start calling, we learned that they wanted to talk….and talk (calls can take more than twenty minutes), and then they book. They want to talk to someone who knows the resort personally, who is friendly and empathic, and who can make decisions. We have learned that customers will make decisions then and there, as long as you are available when they need the info (in this case, every night and week-end). Our on line bookings have increased by a factor of ten.

What’s all this got to do with our core Construction Services operation, and how do we execute on the lessons? Aye, there’s the rub, but here is one very small anecdote: In Dubai, a key client called our VP, Luc Theberge, at 1 am the other night. He said ‘Did I wake you?’ Luc replied with a laugh ‘Of course not, I was just sitting here waiting for your call.’ Then they did some business. Neither of them golf or do long lunches. But they are good friends and mutual allies in very tough economic times.