Earlier in life I had a job as the senior front desk clerk at a national hotel chain. I made reservations, served breakfast, transferred calls, checked people in, checked people out, cleaned the pool, cleaned rooms when housekeeping had left for the day, chatted with vacationers and placated frustrated guests. The experience has instilled in me a great deal of appreciation (and sympathy) for those who work in any sort of hospitality business, but it has also made me acutely aware of particular lapses by the same when I visit. Earlier this week I was traveling through Eastern Pennsylvania and ended up having to stay in a Ramada hotel when the camping plans I had (which I was really looking forward to) didn't pan out. Ooops. Here's what happened:
- On walking up to the front desk, the attending clerk acted like I'd interrupted her dinner, and made no effort to be welcoming. To be fair, the phone was ringing and she clearly had a lot going on, but even after she got those things taken care of, the vibe was still that she wanted to get rid of me as soon as possible. Yikes.
- When she quoted me a room rate and I asked about a discount from Better World Club that was supposed to apply (but that is kind of obscure so folks usually have to look it up), she responded right away that there was no discount. I didn't bother to challenge her on it, but it would have been nice to hear more of an explanation.
- I tried to prompt her to tell me about some of the hotel amenities and "sell" me on the rate, but she wouldn't play. I got short yes/no answers, and no helpful suggestions. The two main ones were "Do you have high speed Internet service?" (Yes) and "How late is your restaurant open for dinner" (11 PM). When I finally reserved the room, she had me sign a piece of paper and said nothing about where the room was, how to get there (I had to park two times before finding the right entrance), checkout time, how glad they were to have me there, etc.
- When I got to the room, the high speed Internet service didn't work. I acquired a wireless connection but couldn't get any network traffic through, and my computer was telling me that it was a weak signal. I called the toll free support number and for 20 minutes walked through some diagnostics with Tess at Guesttek Solutions, Ltd., who was very helpful in confirming that the wireless signal quality was worthless in my room. She called the front desk, who called me back and moved me to a new room. In the new room, the wireless connection was a little better, but still had 15% or higher packet loss, high round trip times and spotty signal strength.
- When I arrived at the restaurant for dinner at 10:35 PM, they looked at me like I was crazy and said they were closed. I politely mentioned that the front desk had indicated that they were open until 11, and that their sign in front of the entrance way also indicated they were open until then. This seemed to trigger a series of events involving at least three of the restaurant staff, conferring about how messed up their relationship with the front desk was (30 feet away) and what they would do. There was some yelling and clanging back in the kitchen. Finally, they shuffled me over to a table and started the metaphorical timer on my dining experience. (They messed the order up and the food was mediocre, but that's a weblog entry for another time.)
- When I went to use the bed, there was a beetle of some sort in the sheets. When I took the beetle to the front desk (kind of melodramatic, I know...I was mainly curious about what the reaction would be at this point), the new person on duty said, "Huh, that's interesting. What do you want - new sheets, a new room, what?" Apparently, I was bothering her too. I just said that I wanted them to be aware of it, smiled at the people in line behind me to check in (they were staring at the beetle and looking a little worried), and walked away.
- When I checked out in the morning, the same clerk who'd checked me in was back (no wonder she looked annoyed if she's working evening and morning shifts...that explains the "help wanted" sign in their driveway) and asked if the Internet connection got any better. I mentioned that it didn't really, and she only said "oh" and then proceeded to quietly check me out. I'm sort of glad that she didn't say "well how was your stay with us in general?" because I probably would have wanted to tell her. (And since she didn't ask, I just rant about it on my weblog...seems fair, yes?)
Obvious customer service lessons:
- Every small lapse in customer service can add up to a larger sense of poor quality. There is no such thing as a trivial problem in customer service; for all you know, it's the straw that will break the camel's back for your customer.
- If you are in an industry where logistical details (like hours of operation) are central to the product or service you provide, you had better make sure you're absolutely clear on those details, and that they're well documented and widely shared. It is all too common that the left hand of a given entity advertises something incorrect about the right hand, giving off an unprofessional appearance.
- Don't advertise a service you can't deliver. If you say all of your rooms will have high speed Internet access, they should all have it and the quality of that service should be the same for each room. You never know who's going to care that they happen to be stuck in the one room where it's not so great.
- Don't forget the importance of saying that "I'm sorry," even if it's about something you need not apologize for. Taking a genuine interest in the customer's concerns and letting them know that you're affected by them can go a long way toward ameliorating a situation. Ignoring those concerns or appearing annoyed by them just amplifies any sense of dissatisfaction.
Obvious lesson for me: I really should have gone camping.