As hospitality professionals, we spend a significant amount of time and money on the training and direction of our teams to provide guests with the finest in service and hospitality. Our goal is to keep our guests happy & satisfied so that they will return to us, continue to give us their business and sing our praises to their family & friends. Imagine the disconnect that occurs when our actions convey the exact opposite sentiment to our customers, flying in the face of the most basic principles of hospitality and business development. Everyone in every industry knows that good service, good value, and good product improve one’s chances of growing one’s business. So why are we sabotaging ourselves? Let’s think about the message that we send to our customers by looking at a few specific examples:
1. A consultant is working to bring a potentially interested party to the table to discuss a project that represents an enormous business opportunity for that interested party. The consultant attempts to make contact with the potentially interested party via website, via telephone, and via email. Despite multiple attempts to contact the potentially interested party there is no response. More than two weeks after the initial outreach, the consultant receives a response from a high-ranking executive at the company, apologizing for his slow response due to the “tremendous volume of business inquiries” that they receive making it “impossible to reply to all of them in a timely fashion.”
2. Two customers stroll into a restaurant/club interested in drinks, dinner, and the evening’s live entertainment. At the door, the customers are told that tickets for the entertainment will cost $25 per person. The customers move forward to the cashier in order to purchase their tickets, only to be told that the cost is $35 per person. When the guest challenges this based on the $25 quote from the doorman five paces away, the cashier gets up, pushes his way between the two guests, and shouts around the corner to the doorman “the price is $35, not $25 !” As if this isn’t enough of a jolt to the customer, the cashier then informs the guest that if they choose to pay the $70 by credit card instead of by cash, there will be an additional fee of 10%.
3. A consultant with a significant business opportunity to discuss attempts to make contact with a well-known global brand operating in this business space. The consultant’s outreach takes place first via the brand’s website contact page, but after two submissions and no response from the brand, the consultant moves on to the next tactic, which is telephone. Multiple calls to the brand’s main number are not successful in connecting with a live person, only an “auto-attendant,” and pushing a variety of buttons to get to a live person also fails, as all end up in yet another voice mailbox. Last, an attempt is made via the auto-attendant to connect with a person listed only by name, but who is known to be the President of the company. Not surprisingly, connecting to this extension dead-ends in voicemail too.
The cynical customer could easily sit back from these type of experiences and say to themselves “isn’t it nice not to need business, or not to need to treat customers with respect and courtesy.” This, however, would represent only half of the business tragedy being described. The other half, of course, lies in the fact that those businesses who enact policies such as these will never even know about the business that they are losing. If restaurant/club guests vow never to return to be treated so rudely yet again, they can take pride in their principle, but the restaurant/club won’t even know that they are gone. If the well-known global brand continues to believe that customers calling its headquarters prefer to listen to an auto-attendant as opposed to speaking to a human being, that well-known global brand will likely continue to believe that they are aggressively on top of every business development opportunity that comes their way. They will never know that their customers have negative feedback because they have eliminated the ways for them to provide any feedback at all.
As owners, managers, and leaders in the hospitality industry, we cannot lose touch with the experience of customers who are trying to communicate with or do business with us. Simply because our occupancy is up, our rate is up, and/or our profitability is up, we cannot know for certain that the satisfaction that we are providing to our guests is also up. Without truly understanding how our guests perceive how we do business, we are conceding the fact that a major part of our business strategy is relying on the crossing of our collective fingers and toes.
Knowing that ‘luck’ is not an effective business strategy, the answer here is that we must do a far better job in working to understand what is important to our customers. It is our responsibility as hospitality professionals to anticipate the needs of our customers and to provide a level of service that at least meets this expectation. We need to constantly look within our operations to assess our own performance; how well do we make ourselves available to potential customers, how well do we execute service levels that truly impress the customer, etc. We have a responsibility to our customers (and to ourselves) to relentlessly evaluate our own procedures to make sure that we never disappoint them.