Bad Customer Service in Seven Lessons: Part I

Sharing with you about my amazing stay in Pascale’s chalet reminded me of another getaway that was filled with customer service lessons – the bad kind.  Every time you come in contact with a customer, or a potential customer, you are creating an opportunity to communicate either a positive or negative feeling in that person about your business.  Think about the Small Businesses you yourself patronize and how one tiny detail can make you want to come back to that business again  – or not.  (I love it that the barista I see every morning knows – and uses – my name.)  Last summer Bottle Washer and I observed another Small Business’ weekend of opportunities, and watched it crash and burn at every one.  It was almost too painful to watch.  But, like watching a train wreck, we couldn’t look away.  Read on to learn what we saw…

As you know, owning a Small Business can be relentlessly tiring.  At the end of the day,  you are the one left with the responsibility to make sure everything is going as it should.  Late last summer Bottle Washer and I were really fried.  We decided to take a three-day retreat to some nearby mountains to regroup and refresh.  We arrived at our chosen destination: a rustic, family-owned mid-last-century-but-still-cool-in-a-dated-kitschy-sort-of-way lodge.  (It was actually a bit Twin Peaks-like.)  Anyway, Small Business ownership is an adventure, right?  Well, we were about to walk into someone else’s misadventure!

Customer Service Opportunity #1:  We walked into the dimly lit, dusty Great Room just as a couple was at the front desk confronting the clerk about their room.  As the gentleman nicely explained to the clerk (we’ll call her No-Service Sue), they had reserved a room with a refrigerator, but their room had none.  Apparently the couple had brought a week’s worth of food with them and needed the ‘fridge so it would keep.  No-Service Sue informed the man that no other rooms had been cleaned and tried to convince him that he would be happy with the room provided.  The man’s response was polite, but firm, that no, they really did need a room with a refrigerator.  Bottle Washer, always eager to help, offered up his room in exchange.  (This was before he realized he did not have a refrigerator as expected either.)  Both men proceeded to offer several solutions to Sue, none of which were workable for her for one reason or another.  Finally, No-Service grew so exasperated she blurted out, “I’m fifty years old and here alone.  What do you want me to do about it?”

Misadventure Lesson #1:  When you mess up with a customer (notice I wrote when, not if), there are three things you must immediately do:  Acknowledge.  Apologize.  Resolve.  There are dozens of ways this woman could have handled this problem, nearly all of them with better result.  No-Service Sue should have acknowledged that the lodge made an error in the reservation.  Right Away.  She should have apologized for the inconvenience this error was causing her guests.  Immediately.  She should have either resolved the problem by assigning the couple to another room or offered them a place to store their food until the issue could be addressed.  ASAP.  Sue even could have tried to erase or mitigate the negative impression her new customers had gained by giving them a complimentary night, a fruit and cheese basket, or another small gesture of atonement.  Most customers are very forgiving if you admit to a mistake and try to rectify it.  In any event, it was her job to find a solution, not the guest’s and Bottle Washer’s.  If Sue was the owner, shame on her for not recognizing this.  If she was not the owner, shame on the owner again for not training his or her staff to properly handle such a situation.  When a problem arises, handle it gracefully , promptly, and to the customer’s benefit. 

Customer Service Opportunity #2:  My daughter and I are big into trail riding.  Bottle Washer, not so much, but he was a sport and agreed to go with us the next morning.  The thing was, breakfast was served starting at eight; we had to leave the lodge by eight in order to drive the thirty minutes to the stable and be on time for our scheduled ride.  We asked Sue if there was a bakery or other breakfast eatery on the way that would be open that early.  Not surprisingly, there wasn’t, as the lodge was out in the sticks, but Sue offered to prepare bag breakfasts of hot egg sandwiches and yogert to be ready for us by eight to take on the road.  Great!  Well, I bet you could see this coming, but the next morning, the care packages were still not ready at 8:20, although Sue kept saying she would get to it in ten minutes or so.  We had to bolt and settle for leftover bagels before our four-hour ride.

Misadventure Lesson #2:  Do what you say when you say you will.  Remember, Sue offered to pack an early breakfast for us.  We were counting on that breakfast by eight o’clock.  Having it ready at 8:30 or 8:45 was useless to us.  By failing to live up to her promise, Sue gave us a worse impression than if she had never offered at all.  If you make a claim to your customers, be sure to live up to it. 

Customer Service Opportunity #3:  After our sweaty four-hour trail ride, we decided to go kayaking and took a short hike.  When we returned to the lodge, we were hot, tired, and thirsty.  In that cavernous Great Room, beyond the massive stone fireplace, log furniture, and taxidermy bear, there was a large buffet set up with glasses, a water cooler, ice machine, and carafes of hot drinks.  We each expectantly grabbed a glass and lined up at the water cooler – which was empty.  The ice machine didn’t work.  There were no hot drinks.  We were parched and forced to drink tap water from the bathroom sink, which for some reason I find gross.   (For those of you wondering why we didn’t go out and buy something cold to drink, remember we live in a rural area and retreated to get away even further, so there was nowhere to go!)  The next day, the water cooler was still empty.

Misadventure Lesson #3:  Amenities, if not maintained, leave a worse impression than if they don’t exist.  If we hadn’t spotted the beverage set up that morning before heading out for our ride, we certainly would have stocked up on drinks on the way back from the trail ride (to store in Bottle Washer’s non-existent refrigerator.)  But, since we knew it was there waiting for us, we didn’t bother.  It turned out to be a disappointment, not a welcome relief after a day of tough exertion.   If you offer an amenity at your place of business, even something as simple as a bowl of candy at the register, be sure it is maintained, clean, fresh, and of good quality.  If you can’t afford the time, effort, or money to do this, then skip the amenity.

There is no doubt that Bottle Washer and I have made all of these mistakes in our own business, but it is always easier to spot the speck in someone else’s eye than the log in your own!  Tune in next Friday to learn how the rest of the weekend turned out.

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One Response to Bad Customer Service in Seven Lessons: Part I

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