How Employees Impact Customer Choice – Vacation

Dana (my wife) and I were on vacation last week in Los Angeles.  We wanted to go someplace warm (bad choice) and sunny (really bad choice) and where we might see some good theatre and music (one out of three isn’t bad) while enjoying some good food too (this took us to two out of four).  We created an itinerary staying in two highly rated hotels in different parts of the city – figuring they’d both present different dining and entertainment options that would give us a cross section of vacation fun in L. A.  The fun was dampened (it did rain virtually all week and the temperatures seemed to barely touch the low fifties), but we still had a great time.

The two hotel experiences were markedly different and how they impacted us was all about our interactions with their employees.

Hotel experience #1.

  • The bellman brought our mismatched luggage to the room (when we do go to nice hotels, I kind of feel like we’re checking in as the Clampetts from Beverly Hillbillies) and asked, “Is the temperature OK?  Can I get you some ice?  Can I hang your clothes up?”  When we tipped him he acted surprised and sincerely thanked us.
  • We came down to the lobby on our second morning to find it pouring rain. In spite of the conditions, we were going for a walk – so we asked for an umbrella.  The bellman had just given away the last one from a bucket in the driveway but said, “Someone’s gone to buy some and should be back in a minute – let me see if I can find another.”  Within 30 seconds he returned with an umbrella, unfurled it for us and apologized for the wait.
  • The woman who checked us in remembered us by name and a smile each time we walked by her in the lobby, “Hello again Mr. and Mrs. Wilson!”
  • We sat next to the pianist in the cocktail lounge and shortly after settling in he asked, “Can I play anything for you?”

Every employee seemed to love their work – from housekeeping to the pianist.  The hotel was spotless.  Every interaction anywhere with a hotel employee was accompanied by a smile and a “Good morning” or “Good afternoon”.  The service we received in the hotel, restaurant and bar all created an experience.  And we’ve been talking about the experience since our return.  It was terrific!

Hotel experience #2.

  • The bellman brought the same luggage up to the room, took his tip and left.
  • We went down to the lobby and again it was raining.  We asked the bellmen if they had an umbrella and they sent us to the concierge.  The conversation with him went something like this.  “Excuse me.  Do you have any umbrellas?”  “Yes.”  “Can we borrow one?”  “Yes, but people steal them, you know.”  “Well, I imagine they do, but it’s raining and given that we’re on vacation and the song says it doesn’t rain in southern California, we didn’t bring an umbrella.  And, no, we won’t steal yours.”  “You’ll have to sign for it.”  “OK.”  Then we had to fill out a form.  Geez Louise.
  • The next morning on the way to work out, we asked the front desk clerk for an extra washcloth to be sent up each day.  She made a note, but the washcloth never came.
  • As we walked to the gym that first morning to work out, we noticed a cotton swab on the hallway floor.  It was there the second day too.  We bet each time we went down if it would be gone.  We both won each time – the swab kept its place.

The staff wasn’t entirely surly, but it wasn’t overly friendly either.  It was apparent most of these people didn’t love their work or weren’t trained to show they did.  The service we received in the hotel, restaurant and bar also created an experience.  And we’ve been talking about the experience since our return.  It was a real disappointment.

When you have those kinds of contrasting experiences, it’s natural to think about what the two organizations did or didn’t do to create the impressions on the customer.  Who do you think had the superior supervisor training programs?  Who was more concerned about employee engagement?  Who would you guess had the better employee retention strategies?  And more importantly, do you have the system built into your strategic planning approach that will tend to the soft side of your business?  Does it address the side of your business that works to create the organizational confidence that leaves your customers saying, “Terrific Experience!” after interacting with your company.  It’s this difference between “Terrific Experience!” and “A Real Disappointment!” that yields lost or won business every day

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