Last week, marketers, industry leaders and data junkies descended on the landmark Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach for the annual Clarabridge conference to discuss the next revolution in customer experience marketing. Whether attendees were there to hear about the latest in CX trends or simply sunbathe on South Beach was unclear, but for me, the excitement was twofold: I’d heard many positive things about the conference from coworkers who had attended in the past, and also my team and I would be staying at the historic Fontainebleau Hotel, courtesy of our company, for two nights.
This famed hotel, with its distinct curvilinear design, is known for hosting high-profile celebrities and serving as the setting for Hollywood television shows and movies (think: Goldfinger, Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show… ). It opened in 1954 and has since experienced ups and downs, but its signature “Stairway to Nowhere,” iconic artwork, and expansive formal gardens reminiscent of those at Versailles make this a legendary Miami landmark.
It had always been a building that I viewed from the outside while touring Miami. Now, in just the course of a few days, I’d be experiencing the extravagance of the hotel’s amenities firsthand.
Here’s all about my business-meets-pleasure stay in Miami.
Cooling Off at the Lido
Directly from the airport, a coworker and I were shuttled by another colleague to the Lido Bar & Lounge, an oceanfront open-air restaurant tucked away at the back of The Standard Spa resort on Island Avenue. I loved the quaint approach to the restaurant, where patios canopied in ivy and other creeping plants cradled around hammock chairs, offering guests privacy as they relaxed in the shade.
Through these pavilions, we walked towards the Lido bar overlooking the water, a perfect spot for some prosecco and appetizers.
Refreshed, we headed to the Fontainebleau to join the rest of our team for the opening networking session of the conference.
Dining at Mandolin Aegean Bistro
The ambiance and decor at this Mediterranean bistro allows you to escape to the Aegean coast of Greece or Turkey. Here, our group ordered family style, sharing mezes of the Turkish sampler, grilled octopus, pickled beets, and stuffed zucchini.
Based on my teammates’ reviews, the best items here were the grilled octopus appetizer, the Mediterranean sea bass entree, and the chocolate cake for dessert– of which I can only attest to the lusciousness of the cake.
Despite some of the vegetarian appetizer options available, my favorite item was probably the Greek salad — simple, but tasty– and it was a close tie between the cake and baklava for dessert. The Greek yogurt parfait was just a little too tart for my tastes.
The food quality and selection of the restaurant were fine, but in terms of taste, I’ve had better Greek & Turkish food in Atlanta– for instance at Kyma, Sufi’s and Cafe Agora. However, Mandolin is certainly worth the visit because the atmosphere transports you to a night in the Greek isles.
Having tried most of the menu at Mandolin, all we could manage was to head back to the Fontainebleau to sleep and get ready for the next day.
Learning at C3
The day kicked off with opening keynotes by Clarabridge CEO Mark Bishof, and founder, Sid Banerjee referring to the CX revolution taking place, by which companies are striving to achieve customer-driven culture by identifying loyal customers, anticipating current and future needs, and driving memorable customer experiences. Empathy and connection used to exist between business and customers back in the day, before digitization, Banerjee said. But now, while digitization and scale have been achieved, the personal connection has been lost. Customers are getting dissatisfied and frustrated with companies as a result.
Through the next two days, we attended presentations by Verizon, Loan by Phone, Best Buy and Expedia, who shared the ways in which they had tackled complex customer experience issues.
What I found most interesting were the methods by which these companies found new avenues to listen to their customers, build empathy by employing discovery tactics, and drive value by bringing together the functions of their contact center and customer experience groups.
The conference concluded with a keynote address by Bruce Temkin of the Temkin Group, who vouched that thinking about customer experiences have evolved: from mobile-ready to mobile-first, descriptive to predictive, rational to intuitive and interactive to transformative.
Lounging by the poolside
We had a chance to lounge by the sprawling poolside, consisting of numerous pools surrounded by cabanas. An exclusive few can pay a cool $200 (minimum) to $1000 to rent a family or premier cabana, but anyone can recline on a pool chair and sip on a crisp cocktail — I’d recommend the passionfruit mojito.
Dancing at LIV
One of Miami’s hottest nightclubs sits right within the Fontainebleau and was rented out by Clarabridge for an evening of revelry for the conference attendees. Popular 80s cover band, The Legwarmers, performed the classic hits of Madonna, Prince, and Journey.
I bobbed around for awhile, dancing with my teammates, but I was eager to get in a real workout given all the snacks we had been consuming through the day during conference breaks. Since the Fontainebleau gym closed at 10 p.m., I left the club early.
Exercising at Lapis Spa
The Fontainebleau houses one of the most indulgent full-service spa and salons, and along with this is a fully equipped gym offering a 180-degree view overlooking the poolside and Miami Beach. At 9:30 pm, there wasn’t much for me to see, so I went back to the gym for an early morning workout the next day.
I was completely impressed by the gym’s advanced machines, which have a variety of workout programs to choose from. Every day at 9 a.m., the gym hosts a group fitness class, from yoga to core conditioning. Guests who want personalized training can schedule a fitness appointment with a trainer.
A lasting impression
There are certain aspects I wish I had more of an opportunity to experience, or that I felt were lacking. For instance, some of the dining establishments around the pool and even the gym closed earlier than I would have expected, but that could have been because we were visiting on a weeknight. Also, while the rooms were spacious, my coworkers and I found that the AC units in the rooms did not cool as efficiently as one might expect from a five-star hotel. Perhaps these are just a result of it being an historic hotel.
I wish I had had more of an opportunity to taste the award-winning, Michelin-starred restaurants, but I had little opportunity to try these out due to the C3 event schedule. Aside from the food catered at the conference, of which the pasta entrees and biscotti during coffee breaks were the best, I only tried a pizza through room service, which was mediocre, aside from the crust.
But overall, the Fontainebleau’s setting, décor and vastness are impressive and make any guest feel like they are living in a palace. Even the most basic rooms are spacious, and the bathrooms are equipped with TVs! And of course… that view… is enough to leave a lasting impression.
Plus, at the end of the day, I’m not one to complain when I’ve had the opportunity to squeeze a vacation into a business trip.