This past Friday I shared with you Part I of the customer service meltdown Bottle Washer and I witnessed at a mountain lodge. Experiencing these customer service infractions as patrons made us squirm like night crawlers on a hook, as we recognized some of the same mistakes at our own Small Business. Last week I recounted three mishandled opportunities and the corresponding lessons you can apply to your Small Business. Read on to see how our weekend continued to be a page-turning primer on how not to treat your customer, and the (not so surprising) surprise we discovered at the end.
Customer Service Opportunity #4: The next morning as we headed out to go canoeing we noticed that the maid closet in the hallway was wide open. Hanging in a neat row were the passkeys for each room – labeled with room numbers. There was no maid in sight. I immediately went back to my room and got my wallet and cash. Bottle Washer, always trusting, took his chances and left his in his room.
Misadventure Lesson #4: Lack of security makes your customers feel insecure. In the course of doing business, you are likely responsible for items of value belonging to your patrons, for example credit card numbers, objects which you are servicing or repairing, or personal information such as health records. Give your patrons reason to be confident that you are a trustworthy steward. Develop and implement security protocols to protect objects or information which your customers have entrusted to you. Failing to do so makes you look sloppy and amateur at best and at worst puts you at risk for liability in case of theft or other loss. (I actually could empathize with the lodge owners. This is an issue that Bottle Washer and I deal with daily in our Small Business. For some reason our employees have a difficult time taking security seriously. Do you have problems with this? How do you handle it?)
Customer Service Opportunity #5: The next morning we went to the front desk to get directions to a Rodeo we were attending that evening. Yee Haw! I was really looking forward to it. While we were waiting, several random employees came in and out of the front desk area. They were engaged in an on-going conversation, probably a continuing conservation they had had for the past several months, or even years. Although typical of what you might talk about with a group of friends, the topics were personal in nature, and well, let’s just say provided a little more information than Bottle Washer and I really needed to know. Occasionally, one of the employees would address us directly to complain about some aspect of the lodge or their employment. This left us in the awkward position of either agreeing with them or defending an establishment that was, quite frankly, a mess. The front desk clerk was completely frazzled and told us in detail how she didn’t have any idea what she was doing. We left the front desk with our directions but also exhausted and with a deflated sense of excitement for our day. (But the rodeo was awesome!)
Misadventure Lesson #5: Your patrons are paying you to take care of them. That bears repeating: your patrons are paying you to take care of them. Whether they are asking your help to pick out a great CD or getting a massage, they want to be treated professionally and courteously. They want to feel taken care of. And they want it to be about them. Even if in your Small Business the relationship feels more casual, trust me, your patrons do not want to know about your employees’ problems, that your rent increased, that the cashier can’t work the new point of sale computer, or how your child got busted for chewing gum in the lunchroom. Train your staff – relentlessly – to focus on the customer. Put the serving back into customer service.
Customer Service Opportunity #6: Later in the day No Service Sue was back on desk duty. You may remember No Service from Part I of this post. This particular afternoon a hapless guest had locked her keys in her car. She was explaining the situation to Sue, who was looking at the guest as if she had no idea why this person was taking up her time. Since cell phones didn’t work in that remote area, and there were no phones in the rooms, the guest hinted that it would be nice if No Service Sue – the desk clerk – called AAA or a local garage on the guest’s behalf. No Service caught the gist of the guest’s prompt immediately, and then loudly and dismissively proclaimed, “Well, some people might do that, but that’s just not me.” The guest was flabbergasted.
Misadventure Lesson #6: I’ve got news for No Service Sue: It’s not about you, it’s all about your customers. Surprise them by going above and beyond the expected on their behalf. Seriously, how long would it have taken No Service Sue to call AAA – about five minutes? That five minutes would have translated into hours of appreciation from the unfortunate woman. (In case you haven’t guessed, Bottle Washer stepped in and rescued the keys with the mad coat-hanger skills he learned during his gas station attendant days.)
Customer Service Opportunity #7: The first two mornings we awoke to a choice of a generous self-service breakfast spread (laid out on the buffet that held the empty water cooler and no-ice ice machine) or a sit-down breakfast with waitress service. On our last morning Bottle Washer had looked forward to sneaking in one last kayak expedition before we headed home. But, when he arrived downstairs there was no breakfast buffet. The staff had decided not to bother with it that day and to require all guests to eat a sit-down breakfast in the dining room. Bottle Washer had to ditch his kayak plans in order to allow time for a made-to-order breakfast. He was ticked.
Misadventure Lesson #7: If you set a pattern of expectation in your patrons, be consistent in upholding that pattern. Otherwise you risk disappointing them. Last Friday I wrote that every time you make contact with a customer, or potential customer, you are creating an opportunity to communicate something about your business. Think what was communicated in the above examples, and how likely the various guests involved would want to return.
Thanks to the indiscretions of several employees, as well as a framed newspaper article proudly tacked to the wall, we gleaned some intel about the relatively new owners of this historic lodge. A married couple, they had moved to the remote locale with the intention of applying their Big Business experience to overhaul an aging small enterprise and “to lead a more authentic life with their children.” (I have idea what that last part means. ) The couple was now in the midst of a grievous divorce. Both owners had moved back to The City – separately – and were attempting to run the lodge via long-distance. That explained a lot. No one was minding the store.
That brings up perhaps the most important point about your Small Business: no one cares about your business or will care for your business like you do, so mind your own business. What customer service flaws have you noticed in your own business or other’s, and what did you learn from them?