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Thursday, June 14, 2012

The World Needs the Customer Service Guru - Part 1

The Customer Service Guru feels like the Johnny Cash song, “I’ve Been Everywhere.”  I spent my spring on the road in seven countries across Europe.

What I discovered is delivering excellent customer service is a worldwide challenge.  Many of us experience this working with Asian call centers, but I think there is a general American perception that Europe is on a more sophisticated plane than the United States.  Yes, there are many things that are wonderful about Europe, but as with any country or region, getting people to perform at their best is a challenge. 

I must preface my blog that whenever life involves travel, domestic or international, it brings as many thrills as challenges.  Please do not take my words as a warning not to travel overseas.  Traveling overseas is an experience everyone should have, and I mean traveling beyond the Caribbean on a cruise ship.  Get out there, reach beyond your comfort zone, have fun, and most of all enjoy life!  

These are some of the most interesting and frustrating experiences my husband and I had over our seven weeks aboard, and as always my professional advice how to improve the situation. 

England – Days Inn Technical Issues
In Bristol, England, we stayed at a Days Inn located on the motorway.  My friend asked the front desk if they could print her train ticket.  She had it on her smart phone, but needed the physical ticket.  The common lobby computer did not have a printer, which was her original plan to print the ticket.

She asked the afternoon clerk, who was extremely polite – to an American ear there were many pleases and thank yous, but the clerk obviously had not a clue about technology and said she couldn’t do it.  Instead of the more honest, “I am not sure how to do it.”  Her solution was to find the local library, which we were miles away from and had no idea how to get to, to print the ticket.

My friend returned with the ticket on a USB stick and this completely floored the hostess.  Although she was extremely kind about it, she was consistent she could not print the ticket.

The next morning my friend asked a second hostess.  This hostess again was extremely pleasant, but said those dreaded words, “We’re not allowed to do it because of viruses, etc.” I really hate that excuse.  It is like employees are children, and they are not.  The kicker of all this is the clerk said if Lucie emailed the ticket to her that she could print it.  Technically speaking, this is the same difference as uploading the USB stick, as their virus program would scan both documents. 

The Guru’s Solution
This cannot be uncommon in England, or really anywhere in the world.  The hotel should develop a blanket policy on printing any documentation as now travelers need to proactively print almost all travel documents. 

This I lean towards the company to eat the printing and toner costs and print it for the customer.  This is a small, but important, convenience for travelers.  Most travelers have their documents, but when one doesn’t it is a real challenge.  

The other piece of that policy needs to state what cannot be printed.  I can imagine guests wanting to print emails, which I don’t think again is such a big deal, but it is better for the company to set the guidelines and clearly state the policy so employee’s can communicate it rather than the employee state, “We’re not allowed to do it.” As the English would say, “Bullocks!”

Budget Airline Baggage Inconsistencies
We traveled with several European budget airlines because they make travel ridiculously affordable. When I say budget airline in Europe this is my frame of reference: our flight from Cyprus to Crete was 19 euro per person, roughly 25 USD.  Traveling on such airlines come with restrictions and bare bones service. For example, there are no complimentary drinks of any kind, not even water. It is understandable, because the airlines operate on a tight budget.  

As in America, a major source of revenue is a baggage charge for checked-in baggage, but carry on luggage is not charged.   There is a difference that hand luggage also has tight restrictions in dimensions, and some airlines include a weight restriction.  Most airlines in this class have a rule to truly one carry on item. That means a purse is a carry on item and any type of additional baggage would be considered a second item, which the passenger needs to check and pay the fee. 

What annoys me is the inconsistency the restrictions are applied either to different parties or from different airports.  Many passengers clearly do not follow the carry on baggage rules to avoid the fees, and they are not called on it to check in their bags or repack to meet the rules. That means the baggage rules are simply arbitrary, and operationally have no impact to the airline.  As a customer who follows the rules this frustrates me.

The Guru’s Solution
The most effective airline I saw manage this was UK’s Monarch airlines.  They weighed all carry on luggage when checking in for the flight.  At that time the desk agent tagged the carry on baggage as meeting the weight and dimension standards.    

That flight had the smoothest boarding process of the six flights we took within Europe.  By having this policy there wasn’t a ridiculous dance at the boarding gate of people hiding their small purses behind their jackets, or the boarding agents making some people repack their bags right before boarding, delaying the entire line.  But then others who were obviously over the weight and dimension restrictions were not asked to repack or pay, causing a decline in good will in those who did follow the rules. 

Pathos Hotel Check In

In the Cyprus city of Pathos we checked into a hotel for three nights.  Cyprus is a beautiful ancient island in the Mediterranean.  The clerk at the desk said, with no hint of hospitality displayed verbally or non-verbally (I wanted to say, “There is a reason it is called the hospitality industry. You are supposed to be hospitable.”) “We have that you are a party of four people.” 

This puzzled us for a minute.  Then we realized we made the reservation hoping to have friends join us.  They could not come, so it was only my husband and myself.  My husband answered, “It is only the two of us.”  Clerk, frustrated and arrogantly responds, “But you said there would be four of you.”  My husband, “But there is not.  We thought there would be, but they could not join us.  That shouldn’t matter as the price was the same.”   Clerk, maintaining arrogant attitude, “But we made up the room for four.”  My husband, “But there are not four people.  Is that a problem?”  Clerk, attitude not improving, “But if we would have known we would not have made the room for four.” 

The other piece is I can’t really call what the clerk did as registering us for the hotel.  She handed us two pieces of paper, told us to fill them out in our room and bring them back at a later time. Next she gave us a key and walked us to the room about 30 feet away from the desk.  I swear she was ticked off she had to do this. 

The kicker, once we are in the room we discovered the hotel’s idea of making up the room for four people was leaving extra sheets for the two futon like couches. 

The Guru’s Solution
If you work in hospitality, then you know the simple answer.  Coach the employee to drop the attitude.  If we were not violating any policy or pricing structure, and we were not, then drop it.  It’s not worth anyone’s time or trouble to pursue it any further.   It only makes the guest think they booked a poor hotel.

I am always curious with employees in the hospitality industry who have attitudes is why did they choose to work in the hospitality industry?  Some people just aren’t designed for service positions, so why pursue a service job at all?  There are plenty of jobs that do not require people contact.  Also, what did their interviews look like?  Hmmm…

But there were other employees at the hotel who were beyond friendly and hospitable.   The unit came with a gas stove, which I had no idea how to use, and the front desk person on duty came to our room and showed us how to use it.  The hotel was small and slow, so it was no operational impact for her to leave her post for a minute.  The hotel bartender was very friendly and open to discussing the culture, history, and current conflict on the island.  (Political lesson:  Cyprus is partially settled, or occupied depending on whom you talk to, by Turkey. It is not a amiable separation.)

Final Thoughts
There are more fun and frustrating situations, but this is already long in a world of short attention spans.  You can look forward to part 2 of my adventures in the next blog. 

Take heart that the challenges you face are faced by leaders and managers all over the globe.   If you are interested or curious about traveling to Europe and have questions, my husband and I are happy to help.  My husband is European and makes all of our travel arrangements. Please just send me an email at .

Wishing you adventurous travels! 

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