Does customer service matter?
By Esther Denn, CCAM, ARM
I asked the question recently, “Does customer service matter?” I was inspired to write about how one person’s negative experience can have a far reaching impact even unbeknownst to them. Let me know If the travel experiences noted in this article had happened to you, how would you have felt about your experience, the people, the hotels, the businesses and the State? Whose fault is it? Do you think your behavior can impact the reputation of your City, your County and even your State? Let me know what you have learned from your experiences and what if anything you can you do to prevent negative perceptions and increase your goodwill, reputation and economic potential?
I recently took a trip with my daughter to a South Eastern State that shall remain unnamed. We had two goals in mind – to visit my son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren and to scope out my daughter’s corporate office hub in a suburb of a major metropolitan City for her job relocation possibilities. Once we arrived at the major international Airport, debarked off the sardine packed plane, stretched our numbed legs and looked around at our surroundings – the trams, the moving sidewalks, elevators, escalators whirling by, we were overwhelmed and wondering where do we go next. To our delight, we were approached by friendly Airport staff who had anticipated our questions just by the puzzled looks on our faces and asked us, “How may I help you? “Where is baggage claim I asked?” “Take the tram to Baggage Claim 3 she pointed. Let me take you there.” We were often accompanied by Airport personnel as we walked to our destination. “Ah, I said to myself, this is the South I remember from my childhood growing up in a Southwestern State, “customer service oriented, friendly and happy to help.”
Our final destination was, a suburb located forty miles northeast of the Metro area where my son lives with his wife and children. My daughter and I were excited to visit my son and grandchildren, the Southeastern part of our great Nation and to get to know the people and the traditions during our travels. We were happy with the size of our hotel suite and were anticipating the grandchildren coming to visit, perhaps sleep over with us, swim in the pool and eat breakfast with us at the lobby breakfast bar. We met up with the family for dinner and returned to the hotel at 8:00 pm to go to our room and discuss the next day’s activities. Upon entering the hallway to our suite, we caught the whiff of acrid chemical fumes and noted that the hotel room doors were propped open. It was evident that the hotel was in the process of remodeling its rooms and refinishing the tub and shower enclosures. No one bothered to tell us when making the reservations or we could have made alternate plans. The windows were cracked open two inches and could not be opened further due to jammed shut window locks. A worker came out of our room and told us “I have just applied a second coat to the tub shower enclosure so please do not use the tub for a few hours. I felt a headache coming on and my breath became labored. My Son complained of breathing problems and headaches from the chemicals.
I went downstairs and asked the desk clerk to move us to another room. We were informed that the move would be temporary as all floors would be remodeled during our visit and that carpet replacement would be next. I shuddered when I thought of the overpowering smell of formaldehyde that emits from newly installed carpet. I felt confused possibly from the fumes and could not understand why the hotel would remodel its guest rooms while guests were staying in the rooms and expect them to deal with it. In the Apartment Industry, when tubs are refinished, it is done when the apartment is vacant or when an owner is out of the apartment for several hours and the room is aired out. The same is true of installing new carpeting. I offered my advice that perhaps the Hotel staff would consider opening the windows wider so that fresh air could get in and dissipate the fumes. I was met by blank stares and shoulder shrugs from the desk clerks as well as the General Manager. I could tell that they were not interested in my suggestions.
We packed up our luggage again and moved to another floor. The following day, we spent entertaining our grandchildren and returned to the hotel to find out that the floor we were on was also in the process of having the tubs and shower enclosures refinished and carpets changed. The smell was overpowering and we developed headaches again. I went downstairs to the desk clerk and demanded to see the General Manager. My complaints were met by blank stares and shrugged shoulders. I demanded his bosses’ phone number. The General Manager went back into a room and hid for several minutes leaving me standing at the front desk. I asked the desk clerks, “Where is the GM?” “Oh, he is in the back.” A hotel sales director came to the front desk. I noted he had been showing two business women around the hotel. “Can I help you, he asked?” “Yes, please give me the telephone number for the head boss over the GM.” “I will be happy to call him for you, he is on his way over here anyway and I will ask him to meet with you.” “Thank you, I said. I will be at the pool.” The head guy showed up and I explained what happened and the staff’s response to our complaints. I asked him to move us to another hotel that was not being remodeled at his expense. He apologized for the staff and our inconvenience and agreed to move us to another hotel and gave me $150 in gift cards for my trouble.
We packed up our luggage again and moved down the street to another hotel and unpacked and settled in. The pool was under remodel and closed. It opened three days later and the water was dirty. My grandson became ill after swimming in the dirty pool. I asked the desk clerks for help in getting a local County newspaper so that we could get real estate information and local information for my Daughter’s possible relocation. They told me to look online or check a gas station. I went to eight gas stations and could not find a local paper. I called the paper and no one answered. “Why isn’t someone answering the phone at a large newspaper office,” I thought to myself. I left a voice mail and wondered if the paper was going bankrupt and maybe no one cared. The Circulation Manager called me several hours later and said rather resentfully, “the paper signed a deal with the local cable company to provide free newspapers to the subscribers which is everyone in the County and they all receive the paper.” “Well, how do newcomers or visitors to town get the paper to find out what is happening?, I asked. “Well, you can go to the paper’s office in a nearby unnamed City and buy it from the dispenser in front or go to the racetrack (no City or location given). Those are the only places around where the paper is available.” “By the way, you can go online. Right now it is free.”
My daughter met a retired older female insurance executive at the hotel who was moving out of the State to return to the Midwest. She complained about the utility companies that they cut off utilities if payment was not received within nine days. She mentioned that she was stopped for a traffic violation and the officer towed her car and told her to walk home down a dark country road three miles from her home. She added that the prevalent response to queries she made questioning why things were the way they were, “If you don’t like it, go home.” We began to wonder if this State was a viable relocation choice for my Daughter or myself when I retire. “I don’t think they want us here,” we thought. We reached out to people everywhere we went to discover that the majority of people we talked to were recent transplants from out of the State or from other Countries. “Maybe this is why they don’t like newcomers here,” we mused. After all, we met few local people. Most of the people we talked to could not wait to leave the State and felt they had made a mistake in coming there.
In answer to those questions I posed at the beginning of my article, I believe that customer service begins with people in all walks of life who are doing every job imaginable whether it is cleaning the floors, greeting customers, clerking in a store, managing a business, airport representatives or executives from the highest echelons of corporate America as well as those in the branches of local, state, and federal government. We all need to have the mindset that people matter, that we matter, that what we do and how we behave matter, that our dollars are a powerful vote in our economy. We need to make the decision that we are informed and empowered consumers. And as such, we are not going to spend our hard earned dollars with businesses, States, and people who do not respect us nor provide the services we require and want from them. Our jobs no matter how humble or powerful require us to learn, grow and challenge ourselves to take an active interest in our job, our communities, our families and our relationships. I encourage you to be proud of your knowledge and accomplishments and be willing to share and mentor others. Anticipate and be perceptive to other’s needs and reach out to them. Your kindness and caring towards your fellow man, woman or child is its own reward.
On the flip side, how many negative experiences does one need to destroy a first impression? Only one. We get one chance in this life to make a first impression. Don’t waste it. The key to success in becoming customer service oriented is within everyone. Playing “stupid”, acting “small”, leaving your post and “hiding” from the world in your job and this one and only life by doing the “bare minimum” does not serve anyone. Half measures will always fail. The impact of failure can be felt in the local as well as the national economy. We are better than that. We need to make a difference. I believe in this great land of ours that was founded by a strong work ethic from immigrants who came here because they wanted something better.
One of my favorite watchwords is, “Let it begin with me.” It only takes one person to make a change in any organization, group or activity. We need to put our whole heart and intention into our jobs as well as the things that matter to us to find true meaning and happiness. We need to contribute to the economic growth our nation needs so we can hang on to our jobs and feel proud of ourselves. We want to be successful. No one wants to be a failure. I encourage you to choose the road less travelled. Be the best employee, the best parent, the best friend you can be. It will make all the difference.
P.S. Because I believe in standing up for what you believe in, in this case, customer service, I wrote the CEO of a major hotel chain and complained about my experience. I received a sincere apology, a gift certificate for three days and three days credit on my credit card. “The squeaky wheel gets greased.” Will I stay in that hotel again? Probably not.
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