Our Motto: ‘Customer Service Is Job 2’

By Stephen D. Bruce, PHR
Editor, HR Daily Advisor

You know good customer service when you see it, says business and leadership blogger Dan Oswald. That’s a statement in which I firmly believe. But it also means you know horrendous customer service when you see it. Do I have a story for you!

Oswald, CEO of BLR, offered his thoughts on customer service in a recent edition of The Oswald Letter.

Recently, my wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, says Oswald. My gift to her was a trip to the Caribbean for a few days. That’s 5 days without kids! In our world, that doesn’t happen very often, so you can imagine how excited we were as we departed on our trip.

The first leg of our journey was uneventful, with blue skies and a smooth flight. After boarding our connecting flight, the airline discovered the plane had a mechanical issue. We were asked to exit the plane. After a 2-hour delay, we boarded a new plane and resumed our journey to paradise. No one wants to take off in a plane with mechanical issues, so we had no complaints about our brief delay.

Upon arriving at our destination, we took a cab to our hotel. This is where the story begins to get interesting. You might think what you’re about to read is exaggerated for effect, but I assure you it’s not. Much like Dragnet, the events I’m about to relay to you are true. (For those of you under 40, you’ll have to ask someone born before 1970 about that Dragnet reference.)

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When my wife and I arrived at the hotel, we had been traveling for about 12 hours. I’m not looking for sympathy; we were in the Caribbean no less! I’m just providing context. When I approached the front desk to check in, I was informed that the hotel’s computer system had just crashed and they couldn’t check us in. The clerk suggested we check our bags and head out for a bite to eat. That sounded like a good idea, so we readily agreed. The clerk assured me the system would be back up when we returned.

We walked to a nearby restaurant and had a very nice and quiet dinner. We were beginning to unwind from a long day of travel. After a couple hours at the restaurant, we headed back to the hotel. It was then that the “fun” began. We were greeted by a new person at the reception desk. She informed me the system was still down but that she would be able to check us in and get us a room. Great news!

Oh, yeah, there was one small problem—the type of room I had reserved wasn’t available. Despite a reservation made months in advance, it seems they had given all those rooms away. When I inquired how that could be the case, I was informed that the hour of our arrival had something to do with the lack of room availability. Of course, this clerk didn’t realize that her colleague had sent us away 2 hours earlier, thus delaying our arrival.

At this point, we just wanted in our room, so we agreed to take the other room type. I was told they couldn’t issue any room keys with the system down, so a bellman would accompany us to the room. We had finally arrived at our room! It was now 9:00 p.m., and we had left home more than 14 hours earlier. We were ready to relax!

It was then that we discovered our new room was 2 floors above the outside bar with live music that played until 11:00 p.m. At this point, we weren’t in the mood for dancing. We had been on the go for the entire day and wanted nothing more than to relax and get some sleep. That wasn’t going to happen with the music blaring just below our room. I called the front desk and informed them that we weren’t happy with our new arrangement. The clerk readily agreed to move us to another floor and offered to have someone move our luggage. I declined that offer and told her we would meet someone at our new room.

We exited our room, and I want to remind you we didn’t have a key because the system had been down when we checked in. We jumped in the elevator to go to our next floor. It was then we discovered the elevator didn’t work without a room key. We couldn’t meet anyone at our new room because we couldn’t move freely around the hotel without a key. I had to use the house phone on our floor to once again call the front desk.

A bellman arrived and took us back to the front desk. I once again asked why they didn’t have my original room when I had made a reservation. There was no apparent answer to my question. After a little more prodding, lo and behold, they did have the room I had reserved. They would send someone up to check it out for us before releasing it to us. While we waited for this to occur, I asked if I could speak with the manager on duty. Much to my surprise, the clerk walked 5 feet to a man standing behind the counter looking at another computer terminal. The manager had been standing just feet away during this entire fiasco without saying a word!

But what happened next about sent me into orbit. The clerk quietly told the manager that I would like to speak with him, and I watched him shake his head. He was too busy to come speak with me. Now, he wasn’t dealing with another customer, he just didn’t want to be pulled away from his computer screen! I was incredulous. I stood there thinking about my options, trying to control my temper.
Finally, I decided to confront him directly. I told him that I found it unacceptable that he would ignore a customer, given the situation. He informed me that he was busy and would be with me in a few minutes. At this point, we had arrived at the hotel nearly 4 hours earlier and still weren’t in a room. I asked for his manager’s name, and he instructed the clerk to give me the card of his boss.

While we waited for our room, the manager finished what he was doing and asked what he could do for me. I told him there was nothing he could do for me. I would take it up with his boss in the morning—to which he just shrugged. I couldn’t believe it. I would have left the hotel to find other accommodations if I hadn’t guaranteed and prepaid for my entire stay.

After 4 hours of delays, we finally got the room we had reserved. The first thing I did was place a call to the desk manager’s boss. I left a message telling her I would like to relay my experience with her staff if she would be kind enough to return my call. I then went about trying to bring my blood pressure back to a manageable level. It took a while.

I was on vacation, however, and wasn’t going to allow the hotel’s incompetence and complete disregard for customer service to ruin my anniversary. I can tell you I was distracted the next day when I didn’t get a call back from the manager. On the second day of our stay, she did call and offer her apologies. She informed me that she didn’t work the previous day and that her staff should have conveyed that to me when they provided her contact information. We had a 3-minute conversation, and she said all the things I would have expected any one of the people at the front desk to have said. Problem solved.

Customer service isn’t hard. If you treat people with respect and like they matter, it goes a long way. Act with a little common sense, and you’ll be able to resolve most issues. If you ignore customers or treat them like they’re not important, it’s not likely you will be in business long. I’ll never stay at that hotel again. I have never written an online review of a hotel, but I will for this one. I don’t want anyone else to have the same experience I did, and I’ll take action to make sure they don’t.

The computer system crashed; things happen. The hotel couldn’t provide the room we had reserved months in advance; that shouldn’t have happened. Making up for it by giving us a room directly above a bar with live music? Bad idea. A manager ignoring a bad situation with a customer? Stupid! In the end, the hotel management did the right thing—it just shouldn’t have taken so long. With a little thought, all of this could have been avoided. That’s all it takes sometimes.

P.S. The rest of the vacation went without a hitch. We had a great 25th anniversary trip!

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