Many businesses talk about providing good customer service, but in the UK we all seem to feel that we are seeing a decline in its actual practice. Customer service isn’t about being polite and smiling, although yes, of course, that does help. It’s about taking actions that clearly indicate to a customer that they are important.

Hotel Woes

Recently, a friend was telling me a tale without a happy ending. Travelling across Southern England, he booked very late into a cheap hotel (large chain un-named for reasons of good taste and legal cowardice). Three times he used the online booking programme. Twice he missed some data and found the whole form had reset and emptied his details. Twice he restarted. By the end, in a foul temper, he had a booking. At 10pm that evening he arrived, relieved and tired, to check-in and, horrors. No booking. He had booked for a date 15 days further on. No idea how, but there it was. Bed needed. Would the receptionist please book him in; plenty of room? And then the answer.

“No Sir, you have to do it online”.

“Aghhh. Really? You can’t do it for me at the desk?”

“No Sir, online only”.

And then, no 4G coverage.

“Can I use your wifi?”

“Yes sir. Go online. £4 for an hour, or free with your room.”

“But I haven’t got a room…”

“No Sir, you need to book one online…”

At which point he went weeping to MacDonald’s next door, logged in, booked a room (twice the original price), and ate a burger and fries. Cried a little more. Went back. Politely checked in. Decided to never go back.

English Heritage

Yesterday, I found myself experiencing good customer service almost by accident, and it was fabulous.

My family and I visited an English Heritage site, Kirby Hall near Corby and whilst it was a stunning day, the temperature was well below zero. By the end of the tour I couldn’t feel my toes. Walking into the hut at the end I mentioned this to my family and, out of the blue, a volunteer appeared on my shoulder asking if I was alright. Would I like to try the two new, specialist drinks that they had on offer; very new, very warming? Mead: wine brewed from honey. Being on a diet that turns out specifically to include mead(!), I accepted the offer. Immediately warmed by the alcohol, what really impressed was the kindness of this unknown lady.

Of course, she wasn’t really being generous. She was there to offer samples. But the way she did it made it feel personal. She really cared; politely, quietly but with a warmth that felt real to a customer.

What Can We Do?

I’d like to think all of us would have done something similar, but I’m not sure. It set me thinking; what can we all do to help businesses, whatever their type, help their people do this stuff better? Because in the end, its all about people. Not about cash flow. Not about profit. Not about process. Just about people being kind and caring that they are providing a service.

Some Questions

Was the hotel receptionist in my first tale really not able to book him a room there and then? Was the receptionist just not trained how to do it? Really, this situation cannot be that unusual. Surely people still walk into hotels and ask if they have rooms? Cars breakdown, plans change.

A Happy Ending

You’ll be glad to know we bought a bottle of the mead from Kirby Hall; it really was rather nice. I may have to go back.

Some of the procedural and training realities that lie behind these stories would seem so small to the people who set the policies and oversee these businesses. Busy decision makers need to learn to see the human impact of their decisions. Both employees were doing their job. One was prepared to do their best to help. One wasn’t.

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