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For better or worse, perception is reality

Glass half-fullOver spring break, I stayed at a lodge in Breckenridge, Colorado made up of 46 privately owned upscale condominium units. Many of the units offer balconies with spectacular slope side views, spa showers, granite countertops, and high-end appliances.

Imagine that you were a guest at this lodge and noticed that the ice maker in the Sub-Zero side-by-side refrigerator was not producing ice cubes. When you phoned the front desk to report the problem, you were instructed to contact the intermediary company (e.g., VRBO, Interval International, etc.) through which you booked the condo to inquire about a repair. Meanwhile, you’re going to have to find another way to chill your martini…

Now, fast-forward to the TripAdvisor review you are encouraged to complete upon check-out. When asked to provide an overall rating for this property (on a scale of 1-5, with 1=Terrible, 2=Poor, 3=Average, 4=Very Good, and 5=Excellent), based on the above experience, how would you rate it? When asked to write a review, would you mention the broken ice maker or the front desk agent’s deflective response to your problem? What would be the tone of your review?

When I spoke with a front desk agent at the lodge about the relationship between the lodge management company, owners, and guests, I learned that 29 of the 46 units were managed by the lodge management company. Under this arrangement, the lodge splits the condo rental revenue with owners. The revenue paid to the lodge provides for the maintenance and upkeep of these 29 units.

The other 17 units are managed by other intermediary companies that also split the rental revenue with owners. The lodge management company is not compensated for the maintenance and upkeep of these 17 units. As a result, the lodge’s management budgets and schedules maintenance staff to maintain 29 (not 46) condo units.

If you were a guest occupying an intermediary-managed unit when you experienced the problem with the ice maker, how would this knowledge of the difference in service agreements between lodge-managed and intermediary-managed condo units influence your TripAdvisor rating and review of the lodge?

Given this dynamic, there is an opportunity for lodge employees to communicate effectively with guests in order to clarify how best to rectify problems experienced (particularly maintenance problems) inside the condo units. It’s important that lodge employees position the differences in the intermediary-managed versus lodge-managed service agreements as a matter of fact rather than as justification to deny service requests.

Beyond effective communication, lodge employees can offer solutions regardless of who manages the condo unit. Using the broken ice maker scenario as an example, the employee can offer to deliver a bag of ice to satisfy the guest’s immediate need for ice cubes and provide contact information for the intermediary company responsible for addressing appliance maintenance issues as an agent of the owner.

Most reasonable guests will adjust their expectations and make service allowances knowing the maintenance protocol for intermediary-managed units. But if they’re unaware of this protocol and misinterpret an employee’s response as passive or aloof, then they are likely to offer stingy service ratings and critical reviews on TripAdvisor or other social platforms.

A customer’s perception will be formed with or without an employee’s participation. But when employees take the initiative to communicate effectively and offer solutions to customers’ problems (whether or not they have to), they will positively influence their customers’ perceptions—and their online ratings and reviews.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Pre-order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin (AMACOM Books, June 11, 2013)

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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