One Irish 4-Star Hotel Customer Service Disaster

I went to a 4-star hotel yesterday for a business meeting.  I was hoping to do a deal - turn a prospect into a new client. We were checking  each other out - to see if there was a good fit between our businesses.

We met in a hotel I didn't know well - but I expected to get 4-star customer service. This is what happened - the lessons I've taken from the experience.

The story from customer's view: We wanted to sit outside & drink coffee.  That part of the hotel  turned out to be "not open yet" - we were ushered inside. That was a bad start because the weather was good.

I asked for croissants - they had none.  I asked for toast - I was told that wasn't possible because the person serving couldn't go get toast from the kitchen. I didn't want scones. So I settled for coffee only.

Ten minutes later, I changed my mind.  I asked again for toast - this time I asked the member of staff to use the phone and tell the hotel manager there was a customer who wanted toast.  I also said, nicely, that I expected the toast to be delivered within five minutes.  I'd decided to put myself out, test the quality of customer service systems - but I was already thinking "the management here doesn't empower the staff to deliver what the customer wants."

The toast came in about three minutes.  It was put on the table.  A sideplate was delivered - unclean.  I decided to say nothing.  But I photographed it on my iPhone. We had a meeting to get on with - by this time, we were deep in discussion about how poorly the hotel was being led.

Later, I asked for another coffee.  The person I asked forget my order.  This was now a 4-star Fawlty Towers.  I repeated the order to a different person.  The coffee was fairly good.

My potential client & I began to look closely round the space.  There were loads of cigarette butts in view: the cleanliness was a disgrace.  We became completely distracted & discussed how long the hotel would stay in business. There had been a big investment in the physical appearance of the hotel recently.  But it looked as if the culture of the place was deeply flawed.

Unexpected benefits of poor customer service: The customer service issues gave us an opportunity to deepen rapport - the unexpected benefit of lousy service was that we formed an alliance to do something to improve customer service in Ireland. We also agreed to do business.

I made notes of all the issues.  I thought of leaving the hotel, saying nothing, and writing about how bad it was - how poorly I'd been served.  I felt like going,  never returning.  But I had a bigger interest.  I went to the reception desk & met the duty manager.  I offered feedback which was taken ["all feedback is good" - was the cliché used].  It was a relief the manager listened to me.  He seemed to take it in.  He thanked me - and I went off about my business.

What wasn't done to recover the damage The manager didn't seem to realise I would never return to the hotel.  He didn't seem to realise my lifetime custom was at stake.  He did nothing to make it up to me.  I don't  think it crossed his mind to refund me all the money we'd spent.  I bet he didn't think of inviting me to stay free in the hotel overnight.

The manager would have had to do something extraordinary in order to prevent the hotel losing a customer for life.  I'll never agree to meet anyone there again.  I'll tell many people about my experience.  The marginal cost of offering me a free overnight stay in the hotel is about €14 - the cost of cleaning the room.  The loss of my custom for life is certainly many times that.

This is only an example of what goes on all the time.  The customer is not given the service that the brand promises.  If the customer brings this to the attention of the business - the business doesn't know what's at stake - or even how to invest in repairing the damage.

Overall take-away: There is a serious need for business education.

PS  Here's a lovely blogpost about positive customer service : it came to me via Twitter:  http://twitter.com/Ali_Davies