I landed my first job at age fifteen at the local mall in my Indiana hometown. During the decade that followed, I worked in approximately a dozen customer-facing jobs before settling into my first post-college permanent position in marketing. My employment history is lengthy but I moved quite a bit during that decade and there were times when I worked two part-time jobs at once, like when I was paying for college or, when that dream job in television barely covered my car payment.
I’ve worked for a large card and gift chain, a few major clothing retailers and, of course, Target (twice!) but my favorite of all of the jobs I held during that time has to have been working the front desk at a hotel in my college town. The years I spent there interacting with hotel guests and staff taught me a lot about both hospitality and customer service. There is something very personal about getting to know hotel visitors – their names, their families, their stories – that you don’t get in a retail setting. This was especially true since our hotel was an extended stay property, so many guests were there for weeks or even months.
My final position at the hotel, prior to graduating college, was training other employees on the basics of great customer service. See, I not only enjoy working with the public but I am very good at it. It’s a speciality. Which is great, because I am not good at so many other things and everyone needs to feel like a champion in at least one area of their life. And, great customer service is kind of a lost art these days. So much so that poor service has become the norm.
Our recent hotel stay in my husband’s New York hometown was so rife with customer service mistakes and missed opportunities that it warrants particular mention. The principal problem surrounding our stay was the lack of housekeeping. The dirty sofa bed we found upon check-in should have clued me in to what was to come but I was still surprised that for the entirety of our four-night stay we had difficulty getting housekeeping service, procuring enough towels for our brood and getting garbage removed from the room. In fact, for the last two days of our stay, no one from housekeeping even seemed to show up.
As a result of knowing how things should be done, my expectations are high when I travel with my family. Not so high that I won’t cut hotel employees some slack but high enough to become agitated when a hotel collects a fee for promised services it then does not deliver. So, as a gift to you, Hampton Inn & Suites, New Hartford, here is a list of five basic customer service concepts that, if enacted, could have prevented our recent experience at your property from going off the rails:
1. Teach your employees the art of the apology. This is so important and takes virtually no time. No one ever wants to admit that a mistake has been made. Especially, one that may have been caused by others. But the thing is, sometimes all it takes to diffuse a situation is an earnest apology. For example, when I check in at 9:00 at night after thirteen hours of travel time with three young children and I open the pull-out sofa bed only to discover the sheets were never changed from the previous hotel guest, suggesting to me that “it may just be messy” instead of actually being dirty, offends my intelligence. I know the difference between ‘clean sheets weighted down by a sofa’ and ‘giant ball of dirty sheets and blanket weighted down by a sofa.’ Instead of accusing me of misunderstanding, simply apologize. In fact, lead with the apology. As you are handing me a fresh set of sheets that I will then have to change myself after thirteen hours on the road with three young kids, the least you can do is apologize. A simple, “That isn’t up to our normal standards and I’m sorry for the inconvenience,” would have helped me move past the frustration of the incident.
2. Ensure your employees know to follow through. Follow through is an investment that pays off when further frustration is avoided. The first time I stopped at the desk to mention that our room was never cleaned, you should have jotted that down in the communication log so other front desk staff became aware that there was a problem and efforts could be made with housekeeping the next day to ensure our room wasn’t missed. When I stopped by a second time, the very next day, to ask in person that our room be cleaned and towels refreshed, you should have hopped on your radio and spoken directly with housekeeping to request our room receive prompt attention. Explaining that “as long as you don’t have a do not disturb sign on the door” housekeeping will circle back and clean our room isn’t sufficient. Take the extra time and make the call. Follow through. It’s in your best interest since I won’t be confronting housekeeping when I return later in the day to a dirty room. I’ll be confronting you. Which, spoiler alert, is exactly what happened.
3. Empower your employees to solve problems on the spot. This can be difficult for managers but with the right guidelines and boundaries in place, empowering customer-facing employees to diffuse service situations can be a game changer. When I awoke still irritated about the lack of housekeeping the morning of our departure, I decided to bring the issue up with the front desk at checkout. The Night Auditor still on shift advised that she could not assist in resolving the problem and that she would pass along my information to someone that could. The interesting thing is, if that employee had had the ability to solve the problem on the spot, I would have walked away satisfied. Even something as little as discounting our rate by $20.00 for the days we didn’t have housekeeping would have been enough for me to feel adequately compensated for the lack of service. Instead, I had to walk away with a vague promise that someone would be in touch.
4. Keep communicating. It is ALWAYS a good policy to keep communicating with your guests whether they are still in-house or have already departed. When that promised phone call never came, I was not surprised. There are obvious communication issues at work, so I wasn’t even sure my information had been passed on to the right employee that could address the problem. That lack of communication meant I was the one to follow-up on my complaint. And, when I finally reached someone in the know, I was pleased (and skeptical) when they advised that the hotel would credit my Hilton Honors account with enough points to cover a three-night future stay at the property. That was great news that I would have never known because no one ever called to tell me about it. Communication is key!
5. Don’t ignore a problem. It only grows bigger, along with the frustration of those involved. When those extra Hilton Honors points never materialized (not a surprise), I phoned the hotel again. This time, I escalated the issue and asked to speak with the General Manger of the property. When I never received a call back (not a surprise), I simply gave up. The poor customer service exhibited by virtually everyone I made contact with had been enough to overpower my desire to see this whole debacle through to an ending that was satisfactory. But, here’s the rub. When my repeated attempts for resolution were ignored by the front desk and the management staff, it may have quelled my will to fight but it only bolstered my resolve to take my business elsewhere. Ultimately, ignoring the problem has only resulted in loss of business for the hotel. Instead of losing 40 dollars to a credit for our troubles, this property will now lose 1,000 dollars a year in lost revenue from our family when we choose to stay at a different property during our frequent visits to the area. Compound that small amount by other customers being lost to poor housekeeping and overall service and the issue of “ignoring the problem” cannot be, well… ignored.
We waited years for a fresh, new hotel property to open in New Hartford so we are BUMMED to have to take our business further away to Utica but, word on the street is that the new hotel opening there has actual two bedroom suites. Business secured!