The Cost of Forgetting the Customer Experience

By Chris Bucholtz

Last week, I wrote an article for CRM Buyer that said, essentially, this: you can’t control what your customer does, what he says, where he says it or who he says it to, but you can control the experiences he has with your company. If you do that right, everything else ought to take care of itself.

By “customer experience,” I don’t mean the marketing-generated jargon variant of the term that’s thrown about loosely as a way to sell technology. I mean customer experience, with no quotation marks – the common-sense definition that explains it as the cumulative experience that a customer has while in contact with your company, your services and your products.

You can’t control every aspect of the customer’s experience, because he or she brings something of himself into the interaction. If the customer’s dog died that morning, nothing you do might give him a highly positive experience. But you certainly could make his day worse by delivering a shoddy service or a shabby product – or just treating him without compassion and care.

This experience is especially important in industries that are not ones that provide an irreplaceable human need – for example, the hospitality industry. If you create a bad experience customers will go out of their way to never again patronize you – and they’ll tell others about their bad experiences, too.

That’s how I heard about this little epic of horrible service from an executive who was in Las Vegas last week for a conference. The event was held at a hotel that shall remain nameless, although it rhymes with “PhlegmGeeEm Brand.”

Before booking, the attendee had some requirements, so she called the hotel. She took medication that required refrigeration, so she checked to see if there was a fridge in the room. Check! She liked to shave her legs without having to perform an advanced standing yoga position, so she asked for a tub. Check! And she liked space when she slept, so she asked for a king-sized bed. Check!

However, after waiting in a long line to check in and then an equally long wait for her luggage to be brought up, she discovered her room was missing the tub and the refrigerator.

She called down to the desk to remedy what must be a mistake, and was told that the hotel never guaranteed the things she asked for.  She was moved to another room – without the king bed. And with no air conditioning.

Finally, she settled on room with a queen-sized bed and a tub. But, before she could put her medication away, she discovered the refrigerator had a sensor; anyone opening the door would be subject to a $50 minibar fee.

This put her over the edge, and another tense phone call (complete with a threat of an ADA lawsuit) resulted in a small refrigerator being dollied up by maintenance personnel. Although perturbed, the woman at the desk offered to make amends for the room issues with a $100 food credit.

The visitor took this offer and went to one of the many restaurants to expend it. She ordered a pasta dish, and after taking a bite thought that a stray bit of calamari had slipped into it – until she discovered it was actually a rubber band of the type used to bind bunches of vegetables, like asparagus. The manager apologized profusely and comp’ed the dinner. And so on…

So, here’s the customer experience: the hotel didn’t do what it said it would do, then hid behind policy. It has the room refrigerators sensored, not for the customer’s benefit but to maximize profits. It has insufficient or poorly-trained front-desk personnel who are harried, and, thus, not particularly friendly when confronted with customer issues. It has rooms in Las Vegas that have no working air conditioning. And it has a restaurant that allows kitchen debris into the food.

Not only is the customer experience abysmal – and likely to cause plenty of rough word of mouth that will drive away business – but the hotel was out $150 in comp’ed food to make up for its failings. On top of that, the aggrieved executive made sure to tell the conference organizer about her travails – and that could result in a much bigger cost to the hotel than just $150.

How do you avoid this? First, make sure that you do what you say. If you tell someone you’re going to provide something, provide it. If you fail, apologize and rectify it immediately. Customers do not want to hear excuses or policy explanations. Second, have your product together – if you run a hotel, make sure your rooms are up to snuff. Third, don’t turn everything into a money-making scheme. Refrigerators are no longer seen as luxuries; they’re amenities that travelers count on. Don’t nickel and dime your guests.

As for the rubber band… How about not leaving it in the pasta?

This is a pretty extreme example, but you get the gist. The customer experience was not at the forefront, from the long lines at check-in to the food foul-up. The hotel’s emphasis on maximizing profits was front and center. Is that an experience a guest wants to be part of? Probably not.

Do you have any customer experiences that stand out as particularly bad – or particularly good? Share them with us in the comments.



2 thoughts on “The Cost of Forgetting the Customer Experience

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