Nothing exposes you more viscerally to great or lousy customer service than what you experience on a long-planned and much-needed vacation. And when you’re paying the bill, with your precious free time and money, all your senses are on full alert for any delta between what you need or want and what you get. So it’s no surprise that I noticed and decided to write about some particularly good customer service we experienced touring southwest England in September.
Most of our in-depth customer service experiences during our recent English travels were centered on the staff of our hotel near Torquay, The Cary Arms in Babbacombe (a gastro pub with a few comfortable view rooms), and in Evershot, Dorset, at the Summer Lodge (a truly luxury country house hotel in the grand manner). Not that it’s central to this post, but I can recommend highly both of these establishments (and you all know how picky I am).
At The Cary Arms, there was a comfortable informality from what appeared to be a very local staff. While not highly polished (nor did we expect that from this type of accommodation), the staff were terrific. Without exception, there were genuine smiles, helpful offers of local knowledge, a willingness to cook whatever we’d like with 24 hours notice so that we weren’t bored by their set menu during our longish stay, and so much more. Access to The Cary Arms is a death-defying descent on a winding (lots of blind curves) and VERY narrow country lane, at the end of which we were lucky not to drive right through the pub. Without missing a beat, the manager offered to park our car in their really scary lot each evening and retrieve it for us every morning. Now that’s great customer service.
At the Summer Lodge, where the other guests were probably Lord and Lady whatsis or rock star whomever, and all of the staff had very classy foreign accents, every room comes with its own teddy bear. But that’s not the best part. When the receptionist who toured us to our suite noted that I had brought my own, the resident teddy was whisked gently away without comment. Very classy. Dinner at The Lodge was a grand affair, and we could have lingered for hours, but they were happy to have us eat a little lighter because it’s just not possible or healthy to have a destination gourmet dinner for five nights straight. But grand or light, dinner was high theater and a joy to partake. But there’s more. Umbrellas were handed out at the first sign of drizzle, snack needs were met by their having bought the village shop, local touring suggestions appeared that were geared to the asker rather than the askee, snacks for Ron were topped up no matter when he ate what (he does look thin on some days, but it’s probably just the comparison), and would you like some bottled water for your touring today? Now that too is great customer service.
Great customer service requires, in addition to all the important HRM practices being done well, giving every employee (1) a clear understanding of what customers want or need and (2) the authority to make it happen. No passing of the buck (unless deep expertise is needed, like bringing in the senior sommelier when your wine preference (not ours!) goes right by the 100 GBP per bottle mark), and no excuses. Just make it happen unless the customer is being unreasonable or a twit. All very well you say for actual, IRL customer service. But I say that it should apply to ALL customer service, whether human, robot, or software-delivered. All of my dealings with Amazon and Landsend, the two online stores we use the most (and I mean very often), make me feel well-served and smart because I chose to do business with them. If they can do it, we should expect no less from anyone else.
Yes, real customer service is simple — to recognize. But it’s damned hard to deliver all the time and every time. That takes great HRM!
[If you want some dreadful customer service stories, just follow my colleague Ray Wang on Twitter @rwangO as he outs poor customer service at airlines, hotels, you name it.]