Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Just Walk 10 Feet

An experience at a hotel in the last couple of days prompted me to resurrect a topic that I find myself addressing over and over at client sites. When your business is service-based (sounds redundant, I know) you need to have someone who does nothing but put themselves in the perspective of the customer.

Let me explain.

Firstly, not all businesses are truly service businesses. Most are just transactional. You go into a convenience store you aren't exactly looking for service, you want some products at your convenience (hence the name). When you walk into Wal-Mart you know there is no such thing as service, they live almost exclusively in the space of Price. They just dump the DVDs in the bin because you'll dig through them for a low enough price. You rent a car based on price and maybe for a select few some intangibles like the reward program or convenience, etc. Airline tickets are price-sensitive and location specific. From time-to-time, the real travelers will discuss aspects of service (I like the Southwest attitude better!) but in reality we are driven by non-service factors. And the list goes on.

In a service-business, however, it matters How You Are Treated, and what the Experience offers. A good example would be a restaurant or hotel. Not fast-food, I'm talking sit-down, atmosphere, ambiance, etc. If it's too loud, you won't want to socialize there. If the waiter is abrupt or inattentive, you may not return.

The example that prompted today's rant was a hotel. When I checked in, I asked to be given access to the special floor which meant I would get to have free breakfast in the morning and appetizers at night. They also let me print for free, and a few other amenities like free bottled water. The nice lady checking me in, said they didn't have room on the floor, but she didn't bother to ask me if I just wanted into the lounge. Why the hell else would I want to be on a specific floor? Naturally, I want you to hook me up with the special key card! In reality, about half the time they charge me extra for it and I don't care, I want the service. But she didn't even offer. Just nope, you can't stay on that floor. So they miss out on a chance to make me happy (a very regular customer with options) or alternatively a chance to up-sell me to a higher rate. She just wasn't listening.

Once I'm in my room I take the stroll around and can't find the switch for the blackout shades. This is because some genius mounted it directly behind the lamp so that you can't see it until you are standing up against the wall actively looking. This would be the same wiring savant who put the only outlet for the desk directly behind the desk so you can't see it, and getting to it requires gymnastics. Who would think that someone using the desk might actually need to plug something in? What else do you use a desk for in this day and age? Crafting letters on the non-existent stationary?

This solitary desk outlet hidden in the nether regions behind the desk also has the lamp plugged into it. What traveler doesn't need a place to plug in their phone? Everyone has a phone, everyone needs to charge them over night. Except to have both the computer and the phone plugged in requires unplugging the lamp. This room layout is brilliant! Not one to be defeated so easily, I look around for a plug near the bed, but rather than place it near the night-stand, it's practically in the hallway so I have to lay the phone on the floor. Which means in the middle of the night I'm either going to A) trip over the cable and bang my head on the wall, or B) step on it and crack the screen, or C) all of the above. As somewhat of an overachiever, I chose C.

In the bathroom, which is stunning by the way, and huge, they have beautiful bordering on gorgeous marble floors. What they don't tell you is that marble is really flippin' slippery when it gets wet. In here though, someone at least tried to think ahead, they give you a two foot floor mat that you can lay down. You can either A) put it in front of the shower and then hope you are dry enough when you get the sink so you can brush your teeth without breaking your neck, or B) put it in front of the sink and then twist an ankle trying to leap out of the shower across the room onto a two foot square floor mat, or C) start in front of the shower and then shimmy it across the floor to the sink. Having gone to a good university, I naturally chose C again.

Back in the living room, the beautiful flat screen TV caught my eye. I don't really watch TV but it would be an expected ability to hook my computer up to it and watch a DVD later. No chance. Evidently the TV Gestapo is allowing no uncontrolled use of the display device and they've locked it down tighter than an Alabama tick. Why on earth would you disable a perfectly good display? What could possibly be gained by denying me access to something that costs you nothing and would increase my satisfaction? They are just missing the opportunities all over the place. They are making the Experience feel transactional, instead of like a service.

There are hotels that understand this distinction and I patronize and recommend them as much as possible. The inverse is also true.

The point of all this isn't (just) to rail on the short-comings of this particular hotel. What they missed is having someone who would walk into the room as if they were a customer and see what we see. Oh sure, we talk about being customer focused and so forth, and in truth this hotel normally does a great job with personal connection. But they weren't listening. They aren't listening. They haven't walked where I've walked. I don't think my expectations are very far out of line. I simply expect to be catered to and thought about, and I'm willing to pay for the privilege. Even if trade-offs have to made so I don't get what I want, at least make me feel you are listening. Give me insight into the why and options to change my experience. From time-to-time, we all have bad experiences, a big part of your reaction is How You Were Treated, not just what the Experience entailed.

Are you in service business? If so, how do ensure that what you think of as good service is the same thing your customers will think of as good service? Who in your organization is specifically chartered to represent the customer viewpoint? Are you relying on one of your core-values being Customer-Focused to handle this for you? You don't have to walk in my shoes, and you don't have to walk far. Just walk a little from my point of view. Ten feet or so ought to do it.

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