First, let me start off by saying that this was not the initial topic that I wanted to blog about for this week. In fact, I am almost done with the blog that I initially started writing about when I decided to shift topic after a disappointing hotel experience yesterday. Yes, I am deviating from my politically charged blogs this week to give way to a more “learn from experience” blog.
I seldom blog about bad customer service in length because, being in the customer service industry, I have learned to be understanding of situations that involves meeting customer expectations. I have had my own share of clients, handling concerns from the tame ones to the really rude ones, so I am aware of the things that happen when these kinds of situations arise. I always put myself in the shoes of the staff to make me see what is viable among the “solutions” that they present to me and to make me calm down.
But yesterday’s experience was definitely one for my books.
Let me kick it off by sharing with you what happened. On the last week of January, my wife told me that they were going to have their annual conference in Marriott Hotel in Pasay City. Just like in her previous physician conferences, we always tag along with her so I decided to book a room near the venue. I know that these kinds of conferences are well-attended that it was imperative that I book way ahead of time. I did book a room at Belmont Hotel because it is close to the venue and it has a swimming pool.
My wife checked a day ahead in the same hotel and I asked her to confirm our room reservation for the next day to which the hotel staff confirmed our booking. I asked her to make a request for an earlier check-in time to which the same staff said that they cannot guarantee it but she will give Jeh a call if it was possible. She did give her a call on the day of our reservation to inform us that our request cannot be accommodated due to the volume of hotel guests. I understood the situation.
So we arrived at 3pm.
To my surprise, I was turned over to the manager-on-duty and I was told that I cannot be accommodated in the hotel because the electricity supply got cut-off in one of the floors rendering it “uninhabitable”. I perfectly understood the situation but after being told that it was out for a week now, I was asking as to why they confirmed my booking and denied my request for an early check in considering that they had a situation? All that she could do was apologize and they did give me options – be transferred to another hotel, about three blocks away, or to another hotel along Roxas Boulevard.
My wife insisted that we stay there as it would be a hassle moving her stuff from one hotel to another and we told her that we were willing to wait. The manager-on-duty said that even we were to wait the whole day, there is no room available. Jeh then said that why did your staff confirm with her yesterday? Again, all she could do was apologize. She also verified that rooms are assigned to guests only upon check-in.
I gathered my thoughts and weighed the options. I was looking into transferring to the hotel three blocks away but remembered that the reason why I did not book in the hotel was it has no pool. So I told the manager that I wanted to be transferred to a hotel with a pool. She gave me two options – transfer to the one on Roxas Boulevard, which is far from the venue, and use their hotel pool. Funny that she would ask me to walk three blocks just to use their pool and just imagine having to walk back dripping wet – such a hassle.
Here comes the clincher – her fellow doctor comes in, 15 minutes after us, and was able to check-in to a room. I also observed some guests coming in and were being given rooms. We asked as to why she and the others got a room and she explained that there are rooms that were checked in from the day before. How can somebody be checked in from the day before when obviously she just arrived? It was then that I got upset and made my demand that they find me a room in the hotel or an alternative hotel in the area with a pool at no extra cost.
In my frustration, I blurted out that I was a travel blogger with my own website. I saw the change in her face and asked for a moment. She went inside the office and in less than 5 minutes, take note… 5 minutes, she comes back to us and informs me that we can now check-in.
I asked her to help me understand as to why suddenly they have an available room. She quipped that it was because of a late booking cancellation. Two things came into my mind – luck was on our side that she came in just right in time for a room availability or the hotel was just simply a f*ck up and was giving me a convenient excuse. Save your conclusions for later.
We were able to check-in 50 minutes later after we arrived.
What did I pick up on these “unique” experience?
WHAT YOU TELL YOUR CLIENT MATTERS TO THEM
We have always heard that what you say does not matter, it is how you say it.
This statement only holds true IF you are being honest and transparent to your clients. However, if you give false information and, through the process, your client figures it out, no matter how nice you give your justification, you simply tarnished your brand. It will then affect how your customer will deal with you during and after the rendering of your service. In short, what you say and how you say it will determine whether your client will trust you or not.
Let me be transparent with how I processed the information that was being relayed to me and how it affected the whole “Belmont” experience:
Belmont Staff Statement: You are only assigned a room once you check-in.
My thoughts: With this statement, I easily figured that they overbooked and the hotel is already at maximum capacity. Why then was my wife’s colleague able to check-in considering that we arrived 15 minutes earlier before her? We had the same case, we were booked on the same day and yet a room was assigned to her immediately.
Belmont Staff Statement: Even if you wait for the rest of the afternoon, no room will be available.
My thoughts: The staff stood her ground and held us up for 45 minutes but after I asserted my point and introduced myself further, a room suddenly became available in less than 5 minutes. I was given the reason that the room availability was because of a last minute cancellation. So I go back to the first statement – you are only assigned a room once you check-in. I definitely did not see anyone at the reception cancelling their room after they checked in.
The first two statement are both crucial as I lead to the third statement. But before I just do that, let me point out that at the time that we were having the “stand-off”, these thoughts were running in my mind. I was starting to doubt the integrity of the information being relayed to me. In simple terms, “niloloko ba ako nitong kausap ko?”
Do not get me wrong, the manager-on-duty were saying things in the nicest way she can but when a room suddenly became available, I started to not trust her and any of the staff from that point on so no matter what assistance they offered, like assisting me to the room, I blatantly refused. I simply did not trust them.
Which then leads me to the third statement.
Belmont Staff Statement: One floor does not have electricity so we have less rooms to accommodate guests.
My Thoughts: Throughout the duration of my stay, I made a mental note of the floors where people were going on and going off from the elevator. I had to confirm whether there was truth to what I was told. Guess what? All floors seemed to be occupied.
This was a case where the words spoken by the staff mattered to a guest and the conflicting statements had an adverse effect towards the actual guest’s experience. My whole experience became a “witch hunt” on the validation of what I was being told earlier on. It did not help that the conflicting statements at the start and as the whole experience progressed my doubts were being validated. In the end, I started to cast doubt on the integrity of every staff that even if they offered help, I simply turned them down. I simply did not trust them.
In short, be mindful of what you tell your clients because they will always find ways to validate the information you hand them. The honesty will determine the level for trust, or in my case – distrust, that they will give your brand and your staff.
MANAGE CUSTOMER EXPECTATIONS AND CONSIDER CONVENIENCE
It was also interesting to note that my Belmont experience also brought into light a very crucial element of service delivery – understanding the expectations and convenience of the guests or clients.
Understand that prior to us entering the premises of the hotel, our expectations were already set. We confirmed our booking from the day before and the turning down for our early check-in request was some sort of a confirmation on the hotel’s end that we had a confirmed booking with them. So you can just imagine the frustration of traveling for 2 hours from my point of origin only to be greeted with a “booking concern”.
If I were to take Belmont Hotel’s excuse that they had maintenance issues that has been running for a week, they should have had anticipated the problem. Remember that they had two opportunities of open communication to us prior to our arrival. And yet they still went through with the confirmation.
It was interesting to also note that they would inconvenience me to walk three blocks just to have access to the pool. It was quite obvious that they cared less about giving their guests a great experience. I got the impression that they didn’t care for their guests to even consider offering me pool access that was three blocks away. I couldn’t imagine myself walking the streets of Newport dripping wet.
Honestly, I did not feel the sincerity of the apologies of the hotel staff the whole time. They were simply trained to speak that way and they do not care less.
A great experience will always emanate from the value of caring for your guests. It is about managing expectations ahead of the actual experience. I have always maintained with my team that you anticipate and inform the affected client, way ahead, because it shows that you care for them. Furthermore, you always provide solutions based on their expectations and their convenience because it shows that you are not only addressing the inconvenience that you caused them but it also shows that you are taking that extra step to make the situation better for them.
It is simply showing that you care.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS MATTER
I have always shared that the first point of contact will determine how clients will evaluate the brand. A good impression will give a lasting one but a bad impression will make clients critical of everything. As an example, a client who had a bad first impression who sees a single candy wrapper on the floor will see your facilities as dirty.
It was the same case during my stay in Belmont Hotel. The initial contact created an “untrustworthy” atmosphere that I started being critical about the experience. I did not entertain any assistance from any of the staff. I found the room small. Worse, I got an impression that they do not really put emphasis on cleanliness after I saw an empty C2 bottle, from the previous guest, tucked inside the refrigerator. The housekeeping did not even bother to clean it out! It was gross that I did take a picture of it. As a result, we kept checking the complimentary water if it was sealed and was not previously opened.
The bad experience at the start magnified the small things. The usual stuff that I would have probably set aside on a normal day became noticeable and all these noticeable things defined my Belmont experience. And it all began because of a bad first impression.
As of this writing, I received an email and a reply on my FB feedback from a Belmont Hotel manager apologizing for the inconvenience and offering me a free room upgrade on my future visit. Honestly, I am no longer interested on staying at the hotel. My recent stay have clearly defined what I now call my Belmont experience and it was not a nice picture. It is definitely an experience that I do not wish to repeat.
My Belmont experience highlights an important lesson – building your brand boils down to experience. The experience that you give your clients will define your brand and the values that the brand stands for. The experience that you offer will make your brand stand out from the rest and it starts at the moment your client steps into your establishment.
We call them the so-called “privileged” clients who thinks that, with the measly amount that they paid for product and services, it also included ownership of the person to whom they made the purchase. These are the clients who have the gall to shout and undermine the person’s capacity, upbringing, and dignity. In their minds, we are owned by them and they can do and say anything because of what they paid for. They see us as small people who deserve to be at the receiving end of their unbecoming and rude manners.
I read an article regarding a slapping incident that happened to one of the flight attendants of Cebu Pacific. The incident supposedly stemmed from the attendants failure to assist the passenger in handling her carry-on bag. The passenger even cited that it was the duty of the flight attendants to stow the passengers’ bags just like “bus conductors”. The female passenger concluded her Manila – Davao trip by slapping the face of one of the flight attendants without provocation. Now that is one rude and unbecoming b*tch on the flight.
I must say that I had my own share of these “privileged” clients who are so full of themselves that they actually think that they are over and above the people who provide products and services to them. I will not go into details but I will share my own story as I try to give consumers tips on how they can complain with grace while gaining the respect of the people in front of them.
Tip #1. Raising your voice will not get you what you want.
This is a very common mistake of a lot of clients. Clients think that, by shouting at the staff or the manager and in broad view of the public, they will get the resolution that they want. Intimidation will get you nowhere and it probably exposes you to humiliation in the public eye, not the staff. The staff are probably balking at your tantrums at the same time. The last thing that you want is to be escorted out of the premises with security on your side.
The best way to do it is to calmly call the attention of the staff or the manager and explain your concern. Nothing beats a good a conversation and there is a huge chance that management will be more understanding and might grant your request.
There will be times that you will get frustrated and you would want to explode. Do it with grace. Ask to be confined in a closed room with the staff and then get upset. You save yourself and the staff of getting embarrassed in public.
Tip #2. Stick to your own issue.
A lot of clients will always try to raise the issues of others as if they were suddenly designated as the official spokesperson citing different incidents. That is a big no. Accountability plays a huge role in complaints. The person who has the concern has to raise it. Let me put it simply – when a crime is committed, only the aggrieved party has the right to file a complaint or a case, not the neighbor or the relative who lives on the other side of town who heard the story. The same principle works in complaints. As a manager, I like to deal directly with those involved and not a third person relaying the story.
In the same way, you should stick to your concern so we can deal with it. Putting references like what you heard or what you read on the internet does not help in resolving your concern. In the end, the staff or the manager will resolve your concern based on the merits of your case, not on what you heard or read.
Tip #3. Questioning the person’s credibility will not make you a better person.
There are a number of clients who have problems with controlling their anger or frustration. They shout at the staff but nothing beats those who undermine the dignity or the credentials of the staff. I call them the “insta-managers” or the “insta-behavioral experts”.
They are the one who suddenly put themselves in the pedestal where they become experts in management and behavior. These clients start claiming that you are NOT qualified for the role that you are in. They question your credentials, your education, your management style, your leadership, and worse, they question your upbringing. They suddenly judge you and your credentials because of one measly incident. This is the lowest that a client can go.
Be wary of these actions as you do not really come out smart because resorting to this type of behavior just shows that you have a poor case from the start or a bad attitude. The staff that you question may have 10 years of experience under his or her belt that it taught them humility and wisdom. Enough humility and wisdom to just let you be. In the end, you come out on the wrong end in this situation.
Tip #4. The do-you-know-who-I-am client
This one is a direct cousin of #3. These are the clients who think that mere relationship affords them special discretion and privileges. They also think that namedropping a certain government or military official would automatically entitle them the respect of the staff or manager before them. They also think that by making the drop, management will accord favorable to them.
What you don’t know is that conversations behind the walls of the office mock the act of namedropping. Worse, you may be laughed upon because the person that you dropped does not even register to anyone in the office, not to mention that dragging the name can be damaging to the hapless official. So do yourself a favor and give your concern some balls rather than making a funny attempt to give us a scare.
Tip #5. Assaulting service or product providers, whether verbally or physically, can land you in jail.
Verbal and physical abuse by clients should never be tolerated by management. I have a very strong stand on this one. Unfortunately, there are still clients who think that by verbally or physically abusing a staff or manager is a right that comes with their purchase. It is not. It could earn you jail time and I encourage that those who encounter these kinds of clients pursue a criminal case to serve as a lesson.
The purchase that you made is for the product and/or services and does not include domain over the staff. I will leave this at that.
Tip #6. Calling the manager is not the solution.
A lot of clients think that talking to the manager when they cannot get through the staff will get them their desired resolution. It is not the case, most of the time. You need to understand that each company has protocols to follow and that each staff are oriented towards these rules. The staff knows the bounds of their decision-making and how to arrive to these decisions. Hence by asking for the manager, you are questioning the decision-making capacity of the staff.
A good manager, on the other hand, will always stand by the integrity of his or her staff. This is empowering your staff to handle situations and it is one way that a manager can grow the staff.
So the next time that you want to speak to the manager, make sure that you have something reasonable to present or wait for the staff to offer to raise the issue with their manager.
Tip #7. Social media is a two-edged sword.
Social media is very powerful that some people have managed to create a stir when they posted their complaints online. However, social media is a two-edged sword. It is a good venue to raise concerns BUT it can also slice you up when the story becomes clearer. Remember the case of the model who claimed of bad service from Philippine Airlines, she was able to generate a lot support at the start of her campaign to the point that some started bashing the company. As the story unfolded later on, it was revealed that it was her mistake and the whole situation quickly turned against her to the embarrassment of her initial supporters.
So when you start threatening to put the incident on social media, you also needs to understand that the whole story will unfold for everyone to see. Expect the company to respond accordingly when it goes live. It can go nasty both for both you and/or the company. If in the end, the case seems to favour the company then expect that the backlash on you can be nastier.
At the end of the day, I follow one rule – respect begets respect. A client who treats me with respect have a higher chance of getting a favorable resolution from me compared to those who scream or question my style of management. I do not believe that the customer is always right. They have rights but they are not always right. Concerns can easily be addressed if both parties listen and find an amenable resolution. Throwing your tantrums, showing off, and, worse, trying to project that you are the most blessed human in the world is not the most effective way to get a resolution to your concern or complaint.
Always remember that the customer service that you receive from our end, whether good or bad, is a reflection of the training that we received from the company BUT how you deal with us, the product or service providers, during these times is a reflection of YOU.