Five Ways to Protect Yourself From a Poor Luxury Experience
Gone are the days when even the risk of a customer complaint struck horror in the eyes of a hospitality manager. Close to a decade ago, I emailed a gripe to Kelly's Roast Beef in Massachusetts. Within 24 hours, I had a call from the manager who as horrified, embarrassed and eager to make things right. I didn't care about the free meal offer – in fact, I turned it down twice before giving in – it was the attitude that made the difference. He was genuinely upset that he was losing a single customer, and the prospect of that didn't sit well with him. Now, so many years later, this remains my go-to story about customer service perfection.
Today, that seems to be gone – or at least scarcer. For some restaurants and other hospitality companies, even in the luxury space, it's the belief that a certain amount customer churn is to be expected. Or that brand is irrelevant. Or that intermediaries (such as online booking sites) have made price the motivator, obviating the need for a commitment to customer service excellence. In a recent case for me, at The Mercer Kitchen, in the Mercer Hotel, it was clear that brand was the problem – namely that a cool, upscale spot didn't need to worry about customer satisfaction.
Using this experience, let's take a look at five things you should be wary of when expressing your concerns to a hospitality manager; they indicate that your complaint isn't being handled properly:
Does the manager to whom you speak give you his name? Business card? If not, he's not even getting started with you. He doesn't care who you are and is making no effort to reach out. On a practical level, if you want to follow up, even to thank him for taking the time to speak with you, you are pretty much out of options.
Customer Service FAIL: I still don't know who I talked to at The Mercer Kitchen. For all I know, he was another customer having fun at my expense. Simply giving me a first name to use in addressing him would have changed the dynamic of the conversation significantly.
2. And ID goes both ways
If the manager doesn't ask for your name, he's failed. There's no way around it. When you run into a customer service situation like this, and the manager makes no effort to learn who you are, don't bother trying more. To be heard, write to the restaurant's/hotel's parent company or a more senior manager at the property where you had a problem.
Customer Service FAIL: I was never asked my name in my most recent customer service situation. Simply saying, "Tom, I'm sorry this happened," is so much more effective than, "I'm sorry this happened.
3. Listening is free marketing
Something as simple as listening can change a customer complaint into an improvement opportunity ... and ultimately into long-term loyalty. The manager is showing that he cares. The key here is "showing." This can be difficult to demonstrate, but there are ways to do so, including eye contact, confirming what the customer says (in the army, we called this a "brief-back") and asking for more information. Signs that a manager is not listening to you include the absence of such behavior, not to mention indicators of clear distraction.
Customer Service FAIL: Sorry, Mercer Kitchen, you blew this one. Eye contact would have been nice, as well as not looking around at the restaurant while I was speaking. Now, I understand that a manager has to keep an eye on the action, especially when the place is busy, but is it too hard to say, "Pardon that I'm looking around while you're talking, I just want to make sure everything is going smoothly. After all, having one conversation like this is too many"?
4. Immediate action
Watch what the manager does. Is he looking in the direction of the waiter or bartender where you had a problem, to get a better sense of what you're saying? Is he taking notes, even to write down an employee's name? Immediate action doesn't have to mean addressing an employee right away – in fact, good business practices and sometimes employment law dictate that the remedy be delivered in private. What you should keep an eye open for are actions that signify the manager's interest.
Customer Service FAIL: Taken in combination with the absence of asking or offering a name, this can be pretty bad, as it was at The Mercer Kitchen. Again, if the manager with whom you speak is making no effort, your best bet is to right to his boss (if one exists) or to someone at the parent company. In my case, the manager offered a quick glance at the bar and showed no effort to note problems to be addressed later.
5. Forget about free
If you have a legitimate complaint, "free" and "discount" should be the furthest things from your mind. Instead, your top priority should be getting the situation remedied. That means recouping whatever financial loss you have sustained and somehow being shown that corrective action is planned, if not being taken already. Trolling for freebies is the customer equivalent of delivering poor service.
Customer Service FAIL: I told the manager with whom I spoke at The Mercer Kitchen right away that I was not interested in getting anything ... except a resolution to the situation. I was leaving at this point, but that didn't mean the restaurant's problem was finished. I was more interested in helping them – and the next customer – rather than getting a sliver of my bill knocked off.
The Moral of the Story
Receiving poor service can be frustrating – especially in an environment that purports to be upscale. It takes more than décor and an interesting menu to hit the up-market mark, and when you don't get the experience you expect, it's natural to want to tell somebody. And, there are times when the service climate is derived from the tone at the top. When that's the case, don't push too hard – it won't matter. Just look for the signs that you aren't being taken seriously, and think about where you can go up the chain.
You have a right to be heard, especially in the luxury market.
[photo by DaGoaty via Flickr]