Since I have been writing, summer holidays have been a regular feature in my posts. As someone who tends to use his own experiences to bring the principles of Customer Experience to life, this is not surprising! The following are my five favourite articles to date:

  1. ‘We only want one room!’ Will your summer holiday experiences create the right memories?
  2. ‘The E in EasyJet does not stand for empathetic’ – the real cost of sticking to the rules!
  3. The simplicity of a smile – its great for you and your customers!
  4. Customer Experience – it’s pre-determined by culture!
  5. Customer Experience? ‘It’s more than my jobs worth!’

We all hope that our big summer holiday will be full of sea, sun, laughter and wonderful, wonderful memories. However, in reality, what we will actually remember will span two ends of a spectrum – some of our memories will be ‘heavenly’, whilst others will be ‘hellish’!! When you consider how much money is spent on our annual pilgrimages to far away lands (in the US it is estimated to be around 2% of a households annual budget), in theory, all we should remember – or would hope to remember – is the good. Here are more fascinating statistics from a study conducted by LendEDU:

  • The average consumer spends $2,229 in the Summer, the second most expensive season
  • The Winter was the most expensive season, with the average respondent spending $2,314 in the Winter
  • 26% of respondents said the reason they spend more in the Summer is because they go on vacation more
  • The average respondent spends $1,583 in the Summer just on vacation
  • 48% of respondents expect to take on credit card debt to handle the added expenses of the Summer

This year, my family planned an adventure – a three week one at that – enough time to write an entire book about Customer Experiences whilst on vacation!! Although I fully intended to use our three week holiday extravaganza as a time to switch off and rejuvenate, my Customer Experience ‘radar’ is literally impossible to turn off. So I am delighted to be able to share with you some of the HEAVENLY (positive) and HELLISH (negative) experiences that I observed.

To give you some context, our vacation entailed us driving from Chester (in the North West of England) to Menorca (one of the Balearic Islands). You did read that correctly – we drove (I told you it was an adventure). So here are just some of my ‘stand out’ Customer Experience vacation observations:

The Friendly Ferry


This very smiley chap is called Michael – he works for Brittany Ferries. As we arrived at the port in Portsmouth to catch our ferry to Bilbao, Michael was walking from car to car, chatting, welcoming and helping customers. You may consider this to be a remarkably unremarkable thing – yet for me, what Michael did on the first day of our vacation was far less common than we think. It is not difficult to be welcoming to customers and Michael’s warm, professional approach made us all feel great – in fact, he was the perfect start to our holiday – and that is the point. Whether Michael was conscious of it or not, he made the start of our adventure memorable – I would imagine he did so for everyone he spoke to. It does not cost a thing to be nice – but the lasting effect being nice can have is immeasurable.

A hotel true to its word


Our first stop in the beautiful country of Spain was Pamplona. Famous for bull running, this fascinating city has a lot more to offer than the thing that it is most known for. We stayed in an independent hotel called Hotel Tres Reyes (the three kings). We had absolutely no idea what to expect from this hotel – but what we received was absolutely perfect. From putting all five of us in one fabulously sized bedroom; to the facilities; to cleanliness; to politeness and professionalism – this hotel completely lived up to the slogan plastered all over the side of its minibus – ‘We love clients’. ‘We love our clients’. I cannot argue – they could not do enough for us and we all loved our brief stay there.

What I found interesting about this hotel, is that throughout our stay, they hosted a number of wedding parties – and you have to trust me, the Spanish know how to party!! The reason I found this interesting, is that despite having to host these large events, as hotel guests, we were not impacted in any way. This statement may sound strange, yet if you continue reading, our experience at another hotel was very, very different. If you ever happen to be in Pamplona, I cannot recommend this hotel enough.

The beauty of children


Spanish Cathedral’s are aplenty and a must see for anyone visiting the country. The Cathedral in Pamplona is as amazing as many others. The vast structure is really quite something. One of the things that struck me about it was the desire to focus on children – in an extremely overt way. So often children are seen as an irritation, or an annoyance, yet in this gargantuan religious building, they wanted to welcome children as much as they wanted to welcome adults. I spotted this quote written on an exhibition specifically aimed at children….. I think it speaks for itself!

Consistency = longevity!


I have an unwritten rule when it comes to vacations – ‘an ice cream a day makes the perfect holiday’! The beauty of a country like Spain, is that among other things, they share my passion for ice cream!! The island of Menorca contains as many ice cream shops as an ice cream obsessive can possibly handle. There is so much competition, it makes you wonder how any of the ice cream traders are able to stay in business.

In the capital, Mahon, one such shop demonstrates the effect of being able to deliver a consistent experience – a consistently good experience. El Turronero was founded in 1894 – it is still as busy today as it probably was back then. The bustling café served ice creams to my wife when she was ‘knee high to a grasshopper’ – it is amazing to see her buy the very same things for her children in an environment that has been almost frozen in time. We live in a world where so many businesses cannot sustain themselves year after year – it is humbling to see an example of something that has – through consistency, passion and determination. I know that my children will never forget being taken there and will almost certainly take their own children to El Turronero in the years to come!

Crushing customer expectation – hell rears its ugly head!


You may have noticed that so far, HEAVEN (positive experiences) have dominated my ‘stand out’ vacation observations. The reason for this is that until the last three days of our holiday, we genuinely had not experienced anything that we would remember for the wrong reason. On our ferry crossings; in Pamplona; in Barcelona; in Menorca – many of our wonderful experiences will remain in the memory banks of our children until they are taking their own children on similar adventures.

We thought we had achieved perfection – a holiday without any nasty surprises. Our last port of call before heading back to the UK was supposed to be the ‘icing on the cake’ – the luxury ‘blow out’ to end the vacation with a bang. As you can see from the picture, the Le Meriden Ra Beach Hotel & Spa looks as close to the genuine description of HEAVEN as I have ever seen. Based in a town called El Vendrell (about 40 minutes drive south of Barcelona), we were so looking forward to being pampered having self catered for most of the holiday. Sadly, as I am sure you have guessed, our dream of HEAVEN turned to HELL from the minute we arrived – and here is why…..

With three young children, we only book hotels where we are either able to stay together in one room, or where we can be guaranteed interconnecting rooms – this is a pretty standard challenge for any family of five or more. My wife had engaged in extended email conversations with the reservation desk at this hotel to ensure that we were able to book rooms that adjoined and connected. You can guess what happened when we arrived at 8pm on a Friday night!

Despite having email confirmation, the hotel booked us in to two rooms that were adjoining and not connecting. This may sound like an over reaction, but I literally saw the colour draining from my wife’s face. So much time, effort and passion had gone in to planning the perfect adventure – and this five star hotel had broken the ‘heaven spell’ in one foul swoop! There was little explanation – an error had been made and there was nothing they could do about it. The hotel was completely full due to a wedding party AND a conference. We were offered a move to an apartment in the hotel, but the layout of the apartment was just not suitable for our needs. We had little choice but to take the non connecting rooms.

Things then went steadily from bad to worse. Not only did we have to contend with rooms that did not connect, the phones in the two rooms did not work either!! The mini bar in our room was also not working – something we did not realise until the following morning – we had unwittingly put food we had brought with us in the small refrigerator which all had to be thrown away. If you can believe it, the air conditioning was also malfunctioning in our room – this was corrected the following day. These are not little details – these are fundamental issues which should just NOT happen in any hotel, let alone one that is classified as five star!

If you can believe it, our almost disastrous experience did not end there. The conference I mentioned earlier was in full swing when we arrived on the Friday night – the entire hotel was overrun by it. The beautiful interior of the former Sanitorium building was curtained off – so guests who were not part of the conference could not even see it. This significantly limited the seating areas inside the hotel. The conference guests were everywhere – blocking walkways; talking loudly on phones; conducting breakout exercises in the breakfast area – the conference was so dominating, it was difficult to know where we were supposed to go – finding breakfast on our first morning was akin to participating in an assault course.

The hotel staff were completely consumed by the event – on our first evening, our waiter started clearing plates before my wife had even finished eating. It was almost as though they were desperate to get us out of the restaurant. The following morning, furniture was being rearranged around us – all down to the staff wanting to sort out lunch for the blasted conference!!! I have never felt as much of an inconvenience as a hotel guest in my life…. and I stay in a lot of hotels around the world!

It got to the point where I had to say something – I asked to speak to the ‘manager in charge’. The guest services director was a lovely man. Very polite. Very understanding. Yet despite this, he asked me ‘what can he do to make things better’ – it is a question that I am not a fan of hearing. It is my not my responsibility to tell a company what they should do to recover a customer experience – it is their responsibility to tell me what they are going to do. I did suggest he might want to give us the rooms that we had originally booked – although by now, it was really too late to recover that part of the problem. I did not tell him that what he should really do is acknowledge the considerable failure of his establishment and offer my family gestures of goodwill. For example, it might have been nice to deliver a bunch of flowers as an apology to my wife in our room. They could have offered us dinner ‘on the house’. They could have deducted money off our bill. They chose to do none of those things. With a shrug of the shoulders and a dash of sympathy, they just thought we could disappear with our tails between our legs.

Shame on them. Maybe failing to meet customer expectation is a ‘normal’ occurrence.

What the Le Meriden Ra have very successfully achieved is a demonstration of ‘holiday hell’ – how to leave customers with memories that they will want to try and forget as quickly as possible. In a summer filled with so much heaven, it is so sad that what was supposed to be our icing on the cake, turned out to be burnt toast!

During our three weeks we experienced too many positive memories to share them all in this post. Our family will treasure them for ever. What all companies must understand and embrace is the fact that whatever industry they represent, customers will always remember the experience delivered to them in one of three ways:

  1. The positive things
  2. The negative things
  3. Nothing at all

Typically, remembering nothing at all is the worst of the three emotions – it essentially means there is no emotional connection between the brand and the customer. Even a negative experience can be transformed into a positive one – if it is addressed well. Unfortunately for us, Le Meridien Ra seem unable to understand this.

We will forget the hell of what should have been a great experience – the positive memories will shine through. One thing is for certain though – we will not be visiting the Le Meridien Ra hotel again!

What memories do you have of your summer vacation – please feel free to share your stories of HEAVEN….. or HELL!!