Earlier this week I spent a night in a hotel.
I was doing a project for an out-of-town client and had reserved a room several days in advance.
The hotel is part of a large international chain that proudly boasts of having more than 6,000 properties around the globe.
This chain is most certainly known to all of you and, indeed, most of you will have spent at least one night as a guest in one of its properties.
One of the many things that draws us to businesses as repeat customers is the memory of past experiences and when we return, we do so with the full expectation of repeating the pleasant, previous experiences.
My experience at this hotel was extraordinary from the huge smile on the face of the front desk clerk who greeted me upon my arrival, to the handwritten welcome note signed by the housekeeping staff to the front desk manager who accompanied me to my car upon my departure all the while questioning me to ensure that every moment of my stay was to my satisfaction.
When I woke in the morning I went to the coffee maker found in almost every hotel room these days only to discover that the carafe was missing. I called the front desk and within a few moments of receiving a sincere apology for my terrible inconvenience there was a gentle knock on the door of my room and a beaming staff member presented me with both a freshly made thermos of coffee and a brand-new carafe for the coffee maker.
When I checked out I asked for the number of the general manager and left a voicemail requesting mentioning that I had been a guest in her property the previous evening and would like to speak with her.
My call was returned within two hours and she shared her appreciation of my taking the time to call tell her of the outstanding customer service I had received while a guest at her hotel.
Interestingly, my wife Gimalle had also recently completed a project for an out-of-town client and had stayed at another one of the properties belonging to this same chain.
Her experience in no way mirrored mine.
Like me, Gimalle also enjoys a cup of coffee in the morning. She had taken the carafe from the coffee maker, placed it in the bathroom sink and filled it with water to only to notice a hole in the bottom of the carafe through which the water poured down the sink.
Like me she called down to the front desk and explained the situation to the clerk on duty.
From that point on, the rest of her experience bore absolutely no resemblance to mine. The clerk responded to her tale with a rather cryptic “what would you like me to do about it?”
There was no apology for the inconvenience will was there attempt any attempt made to rectify the situation. Gimalle was told she was welcome to come downstairs and help herself to coffee from the breakfast buffet.
When she checked out she asked to speak with the Front Desk Manager and was told that he was tied up but would be happy to call her back.
She left her cell number and went about her business with her client.
By 4 PM that afternoon when she had not heard from the Front Desk Manager she called the hotel and asked to be connected with the General Manager. He was not available and she left a voicemail, much like mine, in which she mentioned she had been a guest in his hotel the previous evening and would like to discuss her experience with him.
As of today, four weeks later she has not heard from either the front-desk or the general manager.
The test of quality customer service does not take place when everything is going well but rather when everything is going to hell.
The same is true of any relationship – the real test of its endurance and quality is determined by how we conduct ourselves and manage the situation when everything is going off the rails not when everything is going swimmingly.
The old saying, mess up, fess up dress up, is a model worth following for all of us when we make mistakes or are responsible for amending circumstances. It reminds us that acknowledging our blunders – confessing to them – is always the right thing to do and along with messing up always comes the opportunity of dressing up which means we can score innumerable brownie points by confessing to our mistakes, or apologising for the event, and then making good by doing good.
Apparently this lesson is not part of the culture at the hotel Gimalle visited and yet it is at the very heart of the culture at the one in which I stayed.
Consistency of deliverables is at the very heart of all great businesses should and, along with replicability and sustainability, it forms the three essentials that are must haves for any business aspiring to greatness.
Need, desire, inquisitiveness, sense of adventure and the desire to try new things are some of the many reasons that draw us into trying a business for the first time.
Consistency is the secret sauce that brings us back again.
This chain has grown to massive size because it has demonstrated, for decades, consistently good service and great guest experiences. It has been able to replicate that quality of work around the world and has managed to sustain it since, I believe, the 1960s.
And yet, as Gimalle recently experienced, there are cracks in the consistency of its guest services and we are anxious to find out whether that is of concern to senior members of the organization or if, like many great organizations that have preceded it, it’s declining consistency can potentially lead to its slow and painful demise over the next few decades.
With the help of the General Manager’s of the hotel in which I stayed, we have left a voicemail for the Canadian President of this company.
We are now both anxiously waiting to see whether he subscribes to the culture of the hotel Gimalle stayed in or to the one I visited.
Till we read again.