As consumers, we are asked our opinions on a regular basis. On any given day we could be asked if we are happy with the product or service we have received on multiple occasions. I have often wondered if the people enquiring about our happiness (or not) are actually interested in the response. I am regularly asked the ‘was everything ok sir?’ type question, and it is regularly delivered in an almost automated, robotic way. It seems clear to me that should you ask the question, you should genuinely be interested to know what the answer will be – and be prepared for the feedback to be in all shapes and sizes. Some might be very complimentary. Some might be negative. Some feedback might point out issues that may help other customers if rectified.
A recent experience of mine highlighted to me how important it is for organisations to get this right. Last week I stayed in a hotel near Northampton. It is not relevant which hotel I stayed in – I only hope they may one day read this blog and recognise the issues highlighted in it. I was staying in the hotel with a client. I travelled by train, and the client travelled by car. When I arrived at Northampton station, I entered the postcode of the hotel into my smartphone. I had not had a chance to check how close to the station it was located. When I checked on my smartphone, I had a minor panic when I was advised the hotel was 48 miles away!! I approached the taxi rank in trepidation, worrying how I was going to explain the taxi receipt in my expenses submission.
I was delighted when the taxi driver told me that it was only about 5 miles away, and would take fifteen minutes. I did not think any more of the issue until I arrived at the hotel. My client had been due to arrive at least an hour and half before me. I was very surprised when the lady on reception advised me that she was still on route. She told me that my client had got lost, and had been in telephone contact to try and guide her in! As I finished checking out, my client finally walked through the front door. It transpires that she too had issues with the postcode. In her case, she was directed to a spot roughly four miles away from the hotel. It certainly did appear that there were ‘sat nav’ issues with the post code – more on this later.
There were a number of other problems encountered during our stay at the hotel. The signage was awful – from the start I did not quite know where to go from reception to get to my room. The staff were pretty hapless too – not quite knowing what to do or how to act in a professional manner. I asked reception when the gym opened in the morning. 6am was the confident response. When I checked the information in my room, it quite clearly said 7am – as did the sign on the door of the changing rooms.
At dinner I was asked if I would like a drink. I asked for sparkling mineral water (I am a cheap date) – the waiter was not sure what I meant. He eventually returned with sparkling mineral water served in a branded beer pint glass – maybe he was trying to tell me something! Whilst all the staff were very nice, the hotel was just not very well run (in my opinion), and it was clear that the little details were not being thought about. The staff were obviously not trained to a very high standard, and many of the issues should have been spotted and acknowledged if someone in authority had experienced what they do as a customer for themselves.
Despite the issues, I actually slept very well. As I approached the reception desk to check out, I braced myself for the inevitable ‘robotic’ question. ‘Was everything ok with your stay sir?’ said the lady behind the desk. It is at this point that I made the all important decision (as will all of us every time we are put in this situation). Will I tell her about the issues I encountered, or will I keep them to myself? I decided on this occasion to do the former – and tell her about two of the issues. I told her that there may be problems with satellite navigation systems picking up the postcode. ‘It has always worked on my sat nav’, came the very curt response. It was clear that this lady was not prepared to receive negative feedback from guests. There was no apology. There was no, ‘I am sorry to hear that sir’. There was no offer to have a look at the sat nav dvice used to confirm what the problem was. This lady instantly dismissed my response to her initial question as ‘the customer is wrong’.
I decided to move on to the issue of signage. Once again, the lady was not willing to listen to a negative response. ‘Oh it is very easy to find your way around in this hotel sir’. Did she not hear what I said? Was she intentionally ignoring my opinion? Why did she ask me if everything was ok if she could not care less about my response? By now, I was infuriated – to the point where I decided not to say anything else. I could not even make eye contact with her. My decision had already been made – I would never cross the threshold of this hotel again. Whilst my issues were actually minor, her attitude and behaviour in listening to my feedback had ensured that I was a customer never to be seen again.
I know I am not alone in having an experience like this. If you want to know what I think, I will tell you – but do not assume I am just going to tell you the things you want to hear. I came across a great quote when pulling together this blog post from Darren Kahneman:
True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes
To me this says it all. If you genuinely want to know what a customer thinks, than be delighted if that customer takes the time to tell you – good or bad. Even if the customer is wrong, your ability to demonstrate that you take their feedback seriously will have a serious effect on that customers decision to use you again and again. I have since learned that I mistyped the post code of the hotel into my smartphone. I was wrong – if only the receptionist had taken the time to have a look at the issue with me, rather than dismissing me out of hand. Not only would I not be writing this blog post, I might be booking a night in their hotel next week!
Very relevant post and unfortunately a scenario that is played out frequently, and not just in “provincial” or smaller hotels. Hotels remain a mystery to me as they have multiple touch points to make a great impression, increase loyalty and develop longer term relationships. But most blow it spectacularly. Many of the the truly great hotels such as Ritz Carlton & Four Seasons provide consistent, legendary customer service and it has nothing to do with their luxury brand or the price of admission. They recognized long ago how important their people are and how important placing confidence and trust in them, having them exercise good judgment and empowering them to do the right thing for the guest or the customer. Those things don’t cost a lot, but the lack of them is painfully expensive. There are many great examples in both Isadore Sharp’s book Four Seasons – A Business Philosophy and Joseph Michelli’s book about Ritz Carlton -The New Gold Standard.
Any organization in any business, could, and should, learn from them and invest in this precious resource called people. But unfortunately many of them figure that there is an endless supply of them. Which I guess there is – Just not good ones!
Another big issue that the fact that few if any organizations share the results and any actions taken as a result of feedback or formal surveys. Just ask yourself the last time any company sent you an email or called you to thank you for the survey/feedback and that they had taken action as a result. Yes that’s what I thought.
Keep up the good work
Thanks for your expert response as always Gerry. Sadly too many consumers have not had the pleasure of experiencing a Ritz Carlton – if they did, there would be greater willingness to do something about the kind of experience I played out in this post. I guess this is why you and I continue to ply our trade – we need to bring poor practice to the attention of organisations that are willing to listen, learn and transform. Those that are not will fail in time.
This blog really touched a nerve, Ian. I go to many areas of the UK to host wine tastings and I stay in a number of different hotels. Negative feedback is hardly ever received graciously no matter how politely delivered. In the large hotel chains it is the corporate analysts who want the feedback. Staff on the coal face really don’t like asking the ‘has your stay met expectations?’ question. Of the independents, there is no ‘norm’ (in my humble opinion). Room prices don’t necessarily reflect quality, location, comfort or service. I have been treated like a queen in some establishments and in others the staff have cared little as to what I have thought of my stay and haven’t even thought to ask. In fact, I think you will find that Basil Fawlty is still alive and well in England’s green and pleasant land!
Thanks Stephanie – and I bet that you do not re-visit those where the ‘Basil’ is present! What makes it so frustrating is that this is so simple to avoid, but so common to encounter. I guess that is why Trip Advisor is so powerful – at least consumers can try and stick together!
Hi Ian, in really enjoyed reading your post. Made me smile, although your frsutration comes off the page. The ironic part of it is that knowing and perfecting CX should be easy in the hotel trade.
Your customer is physically present with you for a large part of their journey. And it should be so easy to walk in your customers’ shoes, observe what’s happening around you, and actually have an opportunity to chat to him or her every day. Don’t know they are born!
Thank you so much Beth – and yes, it was and is very frustrating!! I hope all is well with you!