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“I’m sorry. They’re all in meetings.”

Annoyed customer copyLast week, I presented during a conference that was held at a full-service hotel in Denver. My contact at the event mentioned that, earlier that morning, he discovered the iron in his room was not working properly. He called downstairs to request a replacement iron and was told one would be delivered to his room “right away.”

After 30 minutes had passed without receiving the iron, he resigned to wear his dress shirt as-is and left his room to prepare for the conference. He emphasized during our conversation that, while he didn’t expect to be treated differently than any other hotel guest, he was especially surprised since (as the conference organizer) he was designated as a VIP guest responsible for nearly $100,000 in hotel spending.

Having worked in hotels my entire professional career and knowing the value of guest feedback, I felt compelled to share his experience with a manager. After my presentation, on my way out of the hotel, I approached a front desk agent and asked if the general manager was available, to which he replied, “I’m sorry. She’s in a meeting.”

I then asked for the manager on duty and received the same response. Next, I asked for the front office manager and was given the same answer. When I asked whether or not any manager was available, I was told, “I’m sorry. They’re all in meetings.”

I wonder what they were all meeting about? Possibly they were meeting to discuss how to better serve hotel guests? Or, perhaps, they were attempting to interpret what hotel guests were saying in the latest round of guest satisfaction survey data? Or, maybe, they were exchanging customer service platitudes like “Feedback is a gift”?

Mmm… Not sure.

But I am sure of one thing: If actions truly speak louder than words, then this management team gave the impression that it values attending meetings over listening to hotel guests.

To avoid being perceived in this way, here are three guidelines for effective, customer-focused meetings:

  • Frame all topics (from the upcoming renovation to the latest process change) in terms of their anticipated effect on customers.
  • When five minutes has elapsed since someone last mentioned the word “customer,” the meeting should be adjourned.
  • Always permit meetings to be interrupted by a customer. (Unless problems are chronic—in which case, spending more time in meetings talking about problems rather than applying solutions closer to customers will not help you—these instances will be rare exceptions that create opportunities to provide exceptional customer service while sending a powerful message to employees and customers alike that customer feedback is valued.)

Bonus suggestion: For a change, hold a meeting where attendees stand rather than sit. In traditional work settings, managers are seated behind desks much of the day. A standing meeting may be a refreshing change and has the added benefit of conveying a sense of urgency that’s bound to speed things up.

Service is simple when you simply perform the basics—like doing what you say you are going to do (such as delivering an iron “right away”) and being available to receive customer feedback (as opposed to fostering the perception that leadership values attending meetings over listening to customers).

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary (AMACOM Books) by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

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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