We Don’t Do Customer Service Anymore

Maybe it is just me, but shortly after posting about how pygmies are taking over the world, I had 2 really bad experiences of customer service from the same company.

There is a well-known budget hotel chain here in the UK called Travelodge. I have used its various hotels frequently in the last year or so. Normally my stay is a fairly painless experience – it’s a budget chain so you get what you pay for, but the rooms are pretty comfortable so I’m happy. I tend to arrive at my destinations late so I nearly always get the night porters when I check in. Without exception these people have been courteous and kind. But the behaviour of the management in these 2 recent incidents defies believe.

On the first occasion, I was told, apologetically, by the night porter when I arrived that the advertised breakfast bags for the following day had not arrived. The next morning I politely asked the day manager why there had been no delivery and where I might get some breakfast locally. His response was astonishing. Had I not been told there were no bags when I checked in? Yes? In which case the reason why was none of my business. And this despite the advertised promise of a breakfast bag. And where could I get some breakfast now? “Dunno!” was the curt reply. Which was strange given that I’d seen him at the hotel over several months.

The second occasion was in a different city. My wife woke at 3am and walked into an eave in our room almost knocking herself out. The night porter could not have been more helpful, bringing a bucket of ice to the room along with an incident form for us to complete. On returning home I wrote and complained about the safety aspect of this eave. After 4 weeks I’m still waiting for a response. Not an apology mark you, just a response.

What is disturbing is that I hear similar stories from friends and colleagues about all sorts of companies. In my experience it is service companies that seem to provide the worst customer service; just think of all the complaints over the last few years about the banks and building societies and their high-handed attitude towards their customers.

One of the lessons all business leaders need to learn is that they must listen to their customers and try and act upon what they tell them. But do most businessmen listen for themselves (assuming that they listen at all) or do they rely upon some third party to tell them what their customers think (i.e. their customer services department)? At my last company, I made a point of spending time answering the telephones in the technical support department as often as I could because this connected me directly to our customers. Whenever we made a change to our service (we were a large Internet service provider), I got almost immediate feedback from the customer base telling me whether or not we’d made the right decision – and some of that feedback was very blunt I can tell you!

If business leaders don’t talk to their customers directly they are bound to alienate them at some point. And alienating customers is likely to mean a rapid drop in sales with all the problems and pressures that can bring.

We don’t do customer service anymore.

Perhaps we should.

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