Have you ever noticed the tendency of frontline employees to become defensive—even surly—when you bring a problem or misunderstanding to their attention?
Unless your business has chronic, unresolved issues (in which case, you may want to update your résumé), problems and misunderstandings are exceptions. By definition, exceptions do not conform to the general rule. This makes them infrequent. That’s why they’re exceptions.
When exceptions occur in your place of business, how are they typically handled?
In many cases, exceptions such as misunderstandings or unmet expectations, when brought to the attention of frontline employees, create a palpable communication barrier that neutralizes employees’ smiles, eye contact, and enthusiasm to serve.
It’s as if a customer’s misunderstanding, when expressed, drives a wedge between him and the employee. Instead of seeing the situation as an opportunity to serve, many employees recoil and judge the customer as being difficult or misinformed.
Here are two examples from guests of a leading hotel chain that I came across while trolling TripAdvisor.com:
As a [member of your loyalty program], I was on the Concierge Level with access to the lounge. My stay was from Thursday to Tuesday … the Concierge Lounge was closed from Friday 12 noon to Sunday 5pm. On top of that, nowhere were the hours posted on when any sort of food/service was provided (hours on when the lounge was open is posted, but who really cares if you can go there, without food?). Hours were not mentioned upon check-in, when visiting the lounge, or in the room. Two times that I went, I had just missed the food service. On both occasions, the attendants never once said, “Oh, I’m sorry you just missed our food service. Is there anything I can get you? So you know, we provide food between xyz hours).” Yes, I could have asked, but it made me feel a little cheap, to have to ask about the free food.
This feedback is priceless—especially the final comment about the guest being made to feel a little cheap. I can think of many different feelings hotels would like to inspire in their guests but “cheap” isn’t one of them.
Here’s the lesson I receive from this feedback: When a hotel’s Concierge Level guest misses the food service in the Concierge Lounge, it’s an exception. And exceptions provide opportunities for exceptional customer service.
Too often, employees view customers who “screw up” and misinterpret published hours of operation, pricing, directions, etc. as being difficult (i.e., “If only they’d read!”) when these customers should be treated exceptionally well. After all, due to a misunderstanding, their expectations have not been met.
In the case of the Concierge Level guest, why not make him aware of the Concierge Lounge’s hours of operation for the future (preferably by offering him a pre-printed card so he doesn’t have to try and remember them) and then provide a certificate for a complimentary breakfast in the restaurant?
And if he responds that he’d planned to take a plate back to his room to eat while working, then invite him to order room service and take care of the charge to make up for the misunderstanding. After all, when you consider the future spending of a delighted member of your loyalty program, all of a sudden $15-$30 seems quite negligible.
Now, some will say, “But what about the precedent you’re setting?” This concern, usually expressed by people who’d prefer to point to a sign or policy rather than go out of their way, never materializes. After all, it’s an exception.
Here’s another comment from a hotel guest that illustrates the same point:
We were very disappointed in the surliness of the [restaurant] managers both mornings… When checking in to our “breakfast included” room, we were told that breakfast was from 7 to noon. Oops – those hours were only for the [Thanksgiving Day] holiday, and Friday was ‘normal business hours’, which we discovered when we arrived at 10am on Friday for our breakfast. The male manager did not greet us with hello, but with a snapped “we’re closed for lunch”, but then allowed us to grab some food as they were still cleaning up the buffet. He directed us to “sit right here”, set some water without ice on the table, and we were scurried through the buffet under the watchful eye of a non-friendly female manager. No one offered coffee, juice, etc – yes, it was a tad late but we weren’t really causing them any trouble.
Once again, here’s a situation where guests are punished due to a misunderstanding. Instead of viewing this as an opportunity to make a positive lasting impression on their guests, the managers involved forgot their manners and treated them poorly.
In both cases, hotel guests experienced problems due to misunderstandings. Hotels, like most companies, have lots of moving parts and misunderstandings and unmet expectations are inevitable. And unless these problems are systemic, they’re exceptions and should be embraced as opportunities to pleasantly surprise guests.
According to a study by J.D. Power and Associates, when a hotel guest’s problem is resolved perfectly, it results in overall satisfaction averaging 80.7, compared to only 74.9 if there was no problem to begin with.
And the more satisfied a hotel guest is, the more he’ll likely spend. The same study found that guests who rate their overall satisfaction as a ten on a ten-point scale, on average, spend about 40 percent more on ancillary services (e.g., hotel restaurants, gift shop, business center, etc.) than guests offering a rating of six or seven.
So guests who experience a problem and have it resolved perfectly may be more satisfied than guests who do not experience a problem. And guests who are more satisfied tend to spend more money.
When frontline employees make this connection, guests who show up late for breakfast or question a room charge, will not be labeled as “difficult” and treated as such. Instead, these guests—these exceptions—will genuinely be seen as providing opportunities for exceptional customer service.