For the first time in several years, I haven’t maintained this blog on a daily schedule. The problems started in Turkey, when our own security precautions and IP address blocking resulted in my not being able to publish daily postings. They continued in Zimbabwe, for another, entirely different reason — one which should be a reminder to anyone who wishes to go beyond the mantra “great customer service” to actually deliver it.
After a long overnight flight, I spent my first evening at the venerable Victoria Falls Hotel, a colonial relic, which retains its identity by adhering to its traditions. Black waiters deferentially serving white customers in a hotel that was “old” when I last visited Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) more than three decades ago. However, the hotel provided free Internet Wi-Fi to its guests. I could conduct a staff meeting via Skype and posted an entry on the original Construction Marketing Ideas blog.
The next day, I took a long road trip to Bulawayo. If you know what you are doing (as I did on my return), you can make the journey in about four hours. But outbound, I needed to adjust to the British road style, strange roads, animals on the highway and other road hazards and variations North Americans rarely experience. The trip took about seven hours, and I needed to go straight away to my intended meetings, which have absolutely nothing to do with Construction Marketing Ideas but everything to do with my religion. The observations about these meetings and events belong more in Jewish community newspapers than this blog.
Fair enough. I planned to resume blogging on return to Victoria Falls, where I had booked a two-night stay at a hotel which, at the time, had top rankings for Victoria Falls on Tripadvisor.com. Not any more. (I won’t name the hotel here as I avoid negatively identifying individuals and organizations on this blog.)
Things started out okay. The room given to me was bright, airy, and roomy. But things went downhill (or downstairs) quite quickly. When I visited the front desk to inquire about WiFi, the desk clerk told me I would need to pay $5.00 for a scratch card allowing a limited amount of Internet access. And, oh yes, I had been booked into the wrong room. He escorted me to help me collect my belongings, and took me downstairs to a room that, while clean, was certainly nowhere near as bright and appealing.
Oh, and that $5.00 WiFi card — surely this type of limited access “fee for service” deal is not necessary these days in hotels charging more than $200 a night for a less-than-perfect room.
Whatever, I needed to communicate, especially since my wife had her own travel problems. The airline points broker had finally confirmed alternative travel arrangements — to me — but I needed to reach her. The international cell phone wouldn’t work. Maybe I could use Skype. But I would need to buy another one of those $5.00 cards.
I went to the front desk. Sorry, the desk clerk said, we have run out of cards. I explained I needed to urgently communicate with my wife. The hotel staff tried to be helpful. One employee took me to her own computer in a back room, not understanding that I needed a version of Skype with a dial-out phone access capacity. Then the hotel staff got resourceful. They called their supplier, arranged for someone to take one of the $5.00 cards, and scratch the passwords and user IDs. They would then settle up with the card company the next day.
Trouble is, the complicated numeric and letter passwords need to be exactly right — an they managed to get one letter wrong. Try and try again, I could not access the system. I’m boiling by now. Look, this is a $5.00 deal — but I’ve now spent close to two hours trying to sort the problem out. Finally, after two more phone calls, the hotel employees obtained the correct password, and I could reach my wife with the essential travel news.
Now, I’m not faulting the hotel employees. They did everything they could to make things right for me. But they had no flexibility and capacity to waive the $5.00 charges or change the system which causes inconvenience and earns the hotel very little actual revenue. (Heck, I wouldn’t have noticed a $10.00 daily higher rate if they hotel had thrown in free WiFi, but I would certainly have felt better about the experience.)
Obviously, if I tried to write my blog postings through this ordeal, the charges — and $5.00 cards — would have added up (assuming they were available).
Things are somewhat better today, though I had one final and memorable travel client service memory at Johannesburg airport. South African Airlines cancelled my original scheduled flight to Munich (connecting to London England and then home). When I arrived at the airline’s transfer desk, clerks said there were some special challenges because they could not easily rebook me on other flights because I was using an Aeroplan reward ticket. This seemed strange to me. Airlines usually have procedures for involuntary delays and changes — and the rules are generally to get the passenger to where he needs to go, as fast as possible.
After several hours waiting in the transit area, I used a Skype line to call Aeroplan directly. An agent responded. She said indeed I could change my ticket. It seems that simultaneously the South African Airways staff discovered the same thing. Trouble is, the alternative flight, a non-stop to London England, had boarded and was about to take off.
Here, South African Airways redeemed itself. The transfer desk agent escorted me through security and then suggested we run to the gate. Literally. More a sprint than a jog, we flew past duty free shops, gates, and hallways. I started losing my breath (I really hadn’t planned this much physical exercise for a Sunday night at Johannesburg airport.) The SAA employee apologised for the inconvenience as we jogged — an apology I took as entirely sincere since obviously I was receiving truly “rush” service in the circumstances. When my running legs gave out, the employee said she would continue running to the gate to make sure that the gate staff knew I was on my way and not to close the doors. Five minutes later, panting from the vigorous exercise, I plunked myself into the first class seat for the nine hour flight to London, England.
That’s where I am now, in the Star Alliance Heathrow Terminal 3 lounge. Lounge staff gave me keys to the shower, and the lounge has a comfortable sitting area with (yes), free WiFi. With about four hours still for the connecting flight, I can catch up on my blogging.
These experiences provide some clues about effective customer service, which when genuinely delivered is the cornerstone of effective marketing. The hotel staff in my second Victoria Falls hotel certainly had good service ethics; they really tried to make things right; but didn’t have the managerial control or flexibility to waive minor nuisance charges — and hotel policies to generate a tiny amount of additional revenue certainly alienated me. Meanwhile, while I suffered unnecessary delays at Johannesburg airport, I truly appreciated the experience of running a sprint through the airport. Apologies really have far more meaning when they are accompanied with vigorous physical exercise. As well, in the end, the airline delivered me safely to the correct place to continue my journey home.
In the next few days, you’ll see more regular postings here. The two week intercontinental vacation has ended and it is time to catch up on the work backlog. Remember, the client experience is vital and few things can influence perspectives than how your employees and your business policies create perceptions. Don’t nickel-and-dime with add-on costs for less-than-perfect service. Be prepared to sprint to deliver the service, even if the client needs to join you in the run.