Nightmare at 2:00 A.M.

August 22, 2009
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As you work with your customers, always keep the mission, vision and values of your organization in the front of your mind.

Of all the problems that organizations face when serving their customers, the simple truth is that most simply do not understand what business they?re in. They lack a clear view of the type of services that will meet their customers? particular needs and expectations. An experience I had in Atlanta very late one night is a prime example of how this lack of understanding can have a dramatic impact on how a customer views a particular organization.

My client base includes businesses, associations, government agencies, and educational institutions all across North America. Sometimes, two clients may book programs on successive dates that are on opposite sides of the country. Normally I try to reschedule these situations, but on this occasion, it was unavoidable.

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So at a little past noon, after having spoken to about 400 people at the American Society for Quality?s annual convention, I began the long trip to Atlanta where I would speak the following morning. My flight was scheduled to arrive in Atlanta at 11:30 p.m. With time to pick up my rental car and drive north out of the city, I would arrive at the hotel sometime around 12:30 a.m.

I should note here that my office always confirms my travel plans during the day of travel, making sure that the hotel, in particular, has my room preference and my arrival time noted. This case was no exception ? they had called the property directly and confirmed that my room would be waiting for me.

To my complete dismay, when I arrived at the hotel, at 12:30 a.m., I received some sobering news from the front desk clerk. They didn?t have a room for me. ?You mean you don?t have a non-smoking king?? I asked. ?No, I mean we don?t have any rooms left.? I offered to have them upgrade me to one of their deluxe suites. They said there were none of these available either.

Needless to say, I wasn?t happy, and anyone who knows me can imagine the conversation that followed. I won?t bore you with the details, but it did involve the manager, the fact that I stay with that hotel chain frequently, and that I present customer satisfaction programs to thousands of business professionals annually and use real-life stories to illustrate my points.

The manager spent a few minutes on the computer and said that they had a hospitality suite I could use. What is a hospitality suite? A large room used to hold meetings and host small receptions. ?Where do I sleep?? ?On the fold-out couch.? Not a very exciting prospect after having traveled cross-country for most of the day; but it was late, and I was tired.

The front desk clerk and I went up to look at the room. Big mistake. This non-smoking room literally reeked of cigarette smoke, and the foldout couch had been folded out?and slept in!

A trip back downstairs to meet with the manager finally yielded one last option: the Presidential Suite. Now we were getting somewhere! We went up to the top floor and entered the room. Beautiful furniture. Kitchen. Dining room. No bed.

?There?s no bed in the Presidential Suite?? I asked. ?Where does the president sleep, on the floor?? No, as it turned out, this was the ?sitting room? of the Presidential Suite. There were actually two adjoining rooms that were the ?sleeping rooms.? They would bring in a rollaway cot for me to sleep in. Did I mention that this property was part of a major, well-respected hotel chain?

After a long and heated discussion with the manager, he stated that it was perfectly appropriate for a frequent guest with a confirmed reservation who had been guaranteed a room that morning to sleep in a smoke-filled room on an unmade fold-out couch or on a rollaway cot.

I ended up staying at a Fairfield Inn across the street. It was 2:00 a.m. before I finally got to sleep.

Needless to say, I will never stay at that property again, and I?ve written a long letter to the hotel?s CEO. But just as disturbing as the experience was, what was more distressing was the fact that the hotel staff didn?t seem to understand what business they were in.

One of the national chains recently ran an ad on television that shows a person giving a presentation and tripping over cables, dropping his material, and falling asleep. The ?tag line? is ?Never underestimate the importance of a good night?s sleep.? To a frequent traveler flying in from the opposite coast and arriving in the middle of the night, the most important thing is a ?good night?s sleep.? No one at that property grasped that idea.

As you work with your customers, in normal situations and in difficult ones, always keep the mission, vision, and values of your organization in the front of your mind. Remember why you are in business and understand in each situation which one of your customer?s needs you are addressing. This will help ensure that your customers? needs are met and maybe even let you rest a little easier.

Ron Rosenberg helps organizations get more customers than they know what to do with and keep them for life. For a Free Special Report with 44 Proven Customer Service tips, visit www.qualitytalk.com/tips.

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