Industry Update
Opinion Article 4 March 2010

The Customer is Always Right (Unless they are Wrong)

By Carl Schneider

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Schneider

If you are working in the service industry, I know that you’ve heard the age-old rule that “the customer is always right”. I’m here today to reject that notion!

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Strange comment, especially from someone whose company is designed to improve consumers’ hotel experiences (while making the hotel additional bookings and revenues, of course). It seems to go against everything that I believe in and support so strongly. The truth is that upholding guest rights doesn’t have to be synonymous with always giving in.

First, let’s look at the definition of customer service according to a variety of sources:

  • “Customer service is the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase.”[i]
  • “Customer service is about treating others as you would like to be treated yourself.”[ii]
  • “Taking care of your customers, their needs and desires in a professional and courteous manner.”[iii]

Nowhere in any of those definitions (or any of the hundreds of other ones I found online), did anyone define good customer service as “the act of always giving a customer what they want”. While, of course, we want to try to please our customers and give them what they want and need whenever possible, it just isn’t always possible.

Today’s consumers are smart. They know what to do to get what they want and what they feel like they deserve. And in some cases, what they want is a free room and free food and anything else they can get. But if a hotel gave a comped room to every single guest that complains about something – be it a serious problem or an imagined one – hotels will be at 100% occupancy but $0 ADR – not a good thing for hotelier’s pocketbooks.

Obviously good customer service doesn’t mean giving away the house; instead, my definition of customer service focuses on the following principles:

Politeness Pays

One of the basics of good customer service is politeness and attentiveness to your guests’ needs. Seems pretty obvious but often, because of a bad day or an overabundance of work, politeness is the first thing to go out the window. Good customer service means always being polite. That doesn’t mean chatting and sharing your life story with each customer but it does mean saying please and thank you, being friendly and listening to what they have to say. Patience is also an important part of politeness; impatience is never polite and shouldn’t be a part of a hotel employee’s customer service attitude at any time.

Think Beyond the Band-Aid Solution

If a customer comes to you with a problem, rather than just sweeping it under the rug and giving the guest something for free to make them happy, why not look at the complaint as an opportunity to improve your hotel’s offerings. By consistently addressing customer concerns and improving the property as needed, you are guaranteed to increase your guest satisfaction rates (thereby increasing revenues as those repeat customers are the most profitable for hotels).

How to Say No the Nice Way

Like I said, you can’t always give a customer what they want. But it is up to hotel management to do the best they can to accommodate and please each guest, no matter how big or seemingly small the problem is.

And if you have to say no, there are good and bad ways to do it:

Bad: “No.”

Good: “I understand your concern. Unfortunately though, I am not able to [INSERT GUEST REQUEST HERE] but I can offer you this instead. I hope that will make your stay with us more enjoyable.”

Saying no isn’t always a bad thing but if it’s said the wrong way, consumers will leave your property with a bad taste in their mouths. Learning how to listen to a customer’s problem, showing real concern and addressing the issue as quickly as possible and to the best of your ability (whether you can give them the comped room that they are demanding or not), will go a long way to creating satisfied customers in the long run.

As you can see, my definition of customer service focuses on being polite, attentive, solving problems whenever possible and, even when you have to say no, respecting and caring about your customers’ happiness and well-being. That doesn’t mean giving away rooms, meals or souvenirs; good customer service can stand on its own.

So let’s all adopt a new adage: “Customer service is always right.”

About GuestRights | GuestRights is a membership program for hotels and resorts whose purpose is to maximize the hotel guest experience and increase hotel bookings and revenues. To achieve this, GuestRights developed the Guest Bill of Rights®, a list of ten customer service principles that all GuestRights member hotels must agree to uphold. GuestRights also offers its member hotels a CommentCard Service and a Dispute Resolution Service, which were designed to help hotels implement the new customer service mandates that the Guest Bill of Rights requires. For more information on GuestRights and the Guest Bill of Rights®, please visit .

Carl Schneider

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