To set the scene:
7:27 a.m. – reading the newspaper in the hotel lobby.
The shrill scream of the hotel’s fire alarm shatters the hotel’s Sunday summer calm.
Within seconds the front desk switchboard dances to life with query after query of “What’s going on?” and “Must we leave our rooms?”
To set the response:
Actually, I’ll present two responses. Both intended to quell an anxious situation; but only one designed to quell the hotel guests’ anxiety.
One is designed to spin a difficult situation into a positive opportunity. The other is designed to magnify the angst and virtually guarantee some very negative word-of-mouth – not to mention a few hundred guests that will think twice about booking this hotel again!
Which one can you identify with in your day-to-day service offerings with your clients?
RESPONSE ONE: Calls to the switchboard are politely answered with “We’re not sure if it’s a real fire or a false alarm – but our chief engineer is checking into it. You can come down to the lobby if you want.”
Pajama-clad kids and sleep-starved adults soon fill the lobby to capacity. Available seating is quickly occupied. Guests soon spill into the hotel’s restaurant looking for an empty chair to sit in while they wait out the alarm.
Or do they?
The wait staff quickly informs them “the restaurant is for guests wishing to have breakfast – and those not wishing to eat must retrace their steps.”
Twenty minutes have passed and the anxiety level is on the rise. Guests approach the front desk and ask, “What’s going on?” “Why isn’t the fire department here?” “Is it safe to return to our rooms?” and “Where’s the manager?”
They receive the following replies: “We’re still not sure, but our chief engineer is checking into it”; “We don’t know why the fire department hasn’t yet arrived, maybe it’s a different kind of alarm”; “You can return to your room if you want to” and “The manager is busy in his office.”
RESPONSE TWO: Calls to the switchboard are politely answered with “We’re not sure if it’s a real fire or a false alarm – but our chief engineer is checking into it. Please come down to the lobby – just in case.”
Pajama-clad kids and sleep-starved adults begin to stream into the lobby – which soon fills to capacity. The manager-on-duty and front desk staff redirect guests to empty chairs in the hotel’s restaurant. Wait staff begin to circulate through the restaurant and lobby with glasses of juice, muffins and danish for the inconvenienced guests while they wait out the alarm.
At checkout each guest received a hand-written note from the hotel staff apologizing for the inconvenience – along with an invitation to come back with a $100.00 Off-Your-Next-Stay voucher.
Which story do you want your customers to tell about their dealings with you and your company?
While outrageous service in its positive sense serves to create customers for life, service that is merely outrageous – outrageously poor – turns the situation into an unending saga of negative word-of-mouth. The service displayed in Response Two was unexpected, out of proportion and highly involving. It turned an unplanned, unforeseen and uncomfortable situation into a memorable event that was sure to harvest some positive word-of-mouth marketing for the hotel.
Or at least it could have.
The hotel in question chose Response One!
Here’s a great place to start if you’re looking to gauge the level of outrageous service offered at your location. Become a customer. Wear a disguise. Call in a take-out order. Call with a complaint. Call with a compliment.
Check it out for yourself.