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No Cheese, Please

Cheese (c) Naomi Karten

In conjunction with a keynote presentation I was scheduled to give, my client generously arranged a room for me on the concierge level of the hotel where the conference was being held.

At 9:30 the evening before my talk, as I was mentally preparing to speak in a ballroom large enough to hold several small cities, I heard a knock at the door.

"Whoís there?" I asked. "Room service," came the response. "I didnít order anything from room service," I bellowed in my best go-away-you-knocked-on-the-wrong-door voice. He shouted back, "We have an amenity for you, a gift of the hotel."

No thanks, I told him. "Itís wine and cheese," he said. "NO THANKS," I said again, speaking in all caps.

Earlier in the evening, wine and cheese would have been delightful. I might even have enjoyed them at 9:30 if I didnít have a speaking engagement the next morning. But at this hour, and given my need to concentrate, I found the interruption distracting and intrusive. Fortunately, after two rounds of No Thanks, the fellow went away.

Not 30 seconds later, the phone rang. "We have an amenity, courtesy of the hotel," said Mr. Persistent, who must have been paid based on the number of guests he annoyed while delivering his amenities. "And it wonít cost you a thing." Great ó I wouldnít be charged for a gift I didnít want. My answer remained the same, if you donít count the increase in decibels, "NOOOO THANKS!!!"

Perhaps this sort of attention was customary on the concierge level of this hotel, and perhaps it had never occurred to the management of the hotel that anyone would turn down their gracious offer. That would have been enough of an issue to justify this article. But . . .

After my keynote the next day, when I returned to my room to prepare to leave, I found a note from the hotel general manager that said, in part (the comments in brackets are mine):

"I trust that we met or exceeded your every expectation [Well, no, actually you didnít] and that your stay with us was an enjoyable one. If we did indeed satisfy you, I would be pleased to hear from you through our guest comment card, which is available at the front desk in the lobby. [Enabling you to advertise that 100% of all comment cards report satisfied customers?]

"While our team members are trained and motivated to extend every courtesy and service [except the courtesy of going away when not wanted], I do recognize that occasionally we fail. If, for any reason, we have not succeeded in this regard, I would appreciate it if you would take a brief moment to let me know. I have set up a private voice mailbox for this purpose, which can be reached simply by dialing extension "1192" from your guest room telephone. I have found this type of immediate feedback to be extremely helpful, and I do hope you will use it."

This approach to feedback gathering struck me as an intriguing way to elicit complaints from customers who might otherwise just go away angry. It was a clever way to ensure that grievances reached someone in a position to rectify the situation.

I called extension 1192 and left a detailed, amenity-specific description of my complaint. I assumed the general manager would immediately call me back. When he didnít, I assumed heíd contact me shortly afterwards. Wrong! I never heard back. I have no idea if he received my complaint, listened to it, cared about it, or made any adjustments based on it.

In terms of building customer loyalty, soliciting evidence of dissatisfaction and then not following up with the dissatisfied customer is worse than not requesting the feedback at all. This hotel will not be my first choice next time Iím in that city. But if circumstances dictate that I must stay there, Iíll ask to stay on a cheese-free floor.


Text and graphics copyright © 2009 Karten Associates. +1-781-986-8148, www.nkarten.com

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Karten Associates
Randolph, Mass., USA
Phone: +1-781-986-8148
Fax: +1-781-394-0530