Not too long ago I was booked into a hotel in Manchester which treated the guests as though they should be grateful to be able to stay there. The service left much to be desired, despite their great Citizen's Charter which was paraded everywhere, and I made a mental note, as well as passing the word along, about not staying there in the future.
Stuck in my room feeling helpless, cross and unhappy, I suddenly remembered a wonderful summer I spent in Stratford, Canada, a few years before and the warm cosy atmosphere of the guest house I stayed in; a quaint little house where the towels were big, the toothpaste my favourite brand and the tissues were really fluffy. Mind you, it was not all roses when I arrived.
Being a theatre critic, I was scheduled to review the matinee performance of a Shakespearean play and was late arriving in Toronto. Wishing to dispose of my bags first before rushing to the theatre, I instructed the taxi to call at the guest house on the way. I dashed up the steps and rang the bell impatiently. A puzzled, small, wiry man with greying hair gingerly opened the door and gazed incredulously at me. Breathlessly, I explained who I was and that a room had been booked.
The man looked quite flustered by now as he muttered uncomfortably, "You must be mistaken. We are not expecting you."
Disbelief turned to panic as the minutes ticked by relentlessly. I hastily explained that I hadn't booked it myself, it was done by my newspaper, and this was the address I had been given. "Are you sure you have no knowledge of me?" I asked, with more than a hint of exasperation.
The man was not pleased that I dared to doubt his knowledge. "Yes, I am," he answered firmly. "Maybe they haven't informed us yet," he added to placate me, as his eyes took in my person with dazed bewilderment. He was trying very hard to retain his composure and to hide his surprise.
"I'll speak to them after the show," I replied wearily, "but if you have a room could you book me in now, please?" I added crisply, a little annoyed, then rushing down the steps and into the waiting taxi before he had time to refuse. He reluctantly took my bags through the door as the taxi disappeared round the corner.
Kindness and Jollity
I now expected to be sleeping rough, maybe in the local undertaker's shop which was nestling comfortably between No.62 (the guest house) and No.66, the next door neighbour! However, by the time I returned, things must have been sorted fully because I was met by his wife, the cheery housekeeper, who was kindness and jollity itself, and made to feel particularly welcome.
This probably had more to do with the feeling of guilt they now had for not acknowledging that a room had been booked for me. They knew my name and the fact that I was a freelance journalist. What they didn't know, and certainly didn't expect, was my being Black!
Standing on their doorstep, in this sleepy little town where nothing out of the ordinary ever happened, I had created history. I was the first Black person to sleep under their roof in forty years of business and they did not quite know how to deal with it. Nevertheless, by the time I returned three hours later, incredulity and acute embarrassment had given way to brisk professionalism and business as usual for the 'honoured guest from England'. They proceeded to tell me the history of the house, its part in the community life and the many people they had accommodated. No doubt, the musty corners and shady nooks could tell a few tales too. I had a truly lovely time being treated like a VIP and was exhorted to return as soon as possible to have a special cake which would be baked for me.
The couple's emphasis on service was impressive and they did not need a citizen's charter to do it. They took nothing for granted and I was left with the reassuring feeling that, if there were ever an emergency, I would be all right. The local undertaker might be next door but these caring, pleasant folk would ensure it remained short of business for a long time. Needless to say, I relished telling my little tale to everyone I met, and encouraged them to look up the couple whenever they were in Stratford to enjoy the special treatment. I would not have felt inclined to do that if the service had been found wanting, especially after my initial reception. I know that at least eight families have been there since, on my recommendation.
Compare their sterling service to the one in this hotel I found myself in. The difference between them was so stark. There is much truth in the advice that negative experiences will always be passed on to far more people than positive ones, and will also be embellished for good measure, which is why reputations are lost much quicker than people often realise.
The main secret for businesses aiming to be truly successful is to ensure that a positive, memorable experience is routine for the customers or clients they seek to serve, especially if they value their reputation too.
Invariably, bad customer service certainly hurts any business, because customers simply take their patronage elsewhere. They vote with their feet by going to competitors instead. Treating the customer as king or queen could have unexpected rewards while enabling lifelong patronage. That's the only way to make your mark and stay ahead of any rivals.
About the Creator
British Empowerment Coach/Public speaker/DEI Consultant. Author: The New Theory of Confidence and 7 Steps To Finding And Keeping 'The One'!. Graduate/Doctor of Open Univ; Postgrad Cambridge Univ. Keen on motivation, relationships and books.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!