Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Avoiding conflict with customer service

With the kids on school holidays and in another city with my parents, it was high time my wife and I got away for a weekend together. We found a hotel/resort online, phoned ahead to make a booking, and leisurely drove down to the NSW south coast.
At the time of making the booking, I had requested a dinner reservation for 7:30pm. When we arrived however, the hotel reception informed us that a reservation had been made for 7pm. Later, when we fronted at the restaurant at 7pm, we were told that the reservation had, in fact, been made for 8pm and that a table would not be available until that time. Slightly inconvenienced, we went back to our rooms with the prospects of our stomachs churning over for another hour. But at 7:30, I received a call from the restaurant to inform me that a table had now become available and we could begin our dining immediately if we so desired.
So in the end, we got the dinner reservation at the time we originally requested but not without some mucking around. I noted all of this on the hotel feedback form when we checked out. The hotel receptionist was very pleasant and smiled warmly as she finalized the invoice. "Did you consume anything from the minibar?, No? Well that's all paid up then. Did you enjoy your stay?"
I hesitated for a moment. Do I tell her that we had been stuffed around by the dinner reservation? Or do I simply return her smile and not mention it?
I chose the latter after convincing myself that I had written all my grievances in the hotel feedback form and that there was no need to make a scene by going over old ground. But as I walked back to my car and drove off, I pondered this interaction.
I've done enough customer service stuff to know that for every 1 person who complains about something, there are at least 10x that many people who have probably felt similarly but have chosen not to say anything for fear of 'making a scene'. So when someone does indicate that their expectations have not been met, it is well worth the effort to resolve things both for them and to ensure the same thing doesn't happen again. But for me, telling the hotel receptionist that I had felt let down by the restaurant booking would have created a position of potential conflict between the two of us and that really wasn't something that I wanted to come between my weekend away with my wife. It was just easier to avoid the conflict altogether and move on.
But in doing this, I had let an opportunity for improvement pass by the hotel.
I started thinking if there was a better question that the receptionist could have asked that would have solicited my feedback without creating a sense of conflict between us. I concluded that a better question might be, "Is there any feedback that you would like me to pass on to management for you?" All of a sudden, the receptionist is no longer my adversary but is now my advocate. My grievance was not between me and her. It was with a faceless hotel reception system that had mucked my dinner plans around. And yes, that IS something that I would like passed onto 'management'.
By asking this slightly better directed question, the receptionist would have created the opportunity for much better feedback without creating a position of confrontation between us. By introducing 'management' as a third party into the discussion, she would invite me into her confidence and create an atmosphere of much better customer service. So while I honestly did enjoy my stay, the hotel is much more likely to receive the valuable feedback it needs through a better framed question.

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