The customer’s experience: tales of disappointment and delight


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Clarion Hotel Cork: in a services business the personal touch matters and it is not present at this hotel

I stayed at the Clarion Hotel in Cork for two nights. At the functional level almost everything worked: the check-in was reasonably quick, my request to change room was granted without question/argument, the room was spacious, comfortable, had the right furniture for a business hotel, and everything was clean. Yet, I am unlikely to go back. Why?

Why is it that so many businesses show up as robotic? The Clarion Hotel showed up for me as an emotional void. No employee of the hotel connected with me emotionally and I did not connect with anyone either. Put more precisely, not a single employee reached out to make an emotionally connection. The employees showed up as competent automatons: robots with fake smiles going through routines they have gone through hundreds if not thousands of times.

How is it that a business whose central concern should be providing a good nights sleep does not take care of the details that contribute to that mission? The sheets were too small for the size of the bed. I tried and tried and I could not tuck in the sheet on both sides. So what happened? The sheet slid as I moved in the bed and that detracted from the quality of my sleep and my sleeping experience. Is that the best that is on offer from one of the most expensive hotels in Cork? I wonder if anyone from the hotel has actually slept in that hotel?

Kathleens Country House: how to connect with your customers, create a “wow” experience and get rewarded for it

I was welcomed by a Welcomer even before I entered into Kathleens Country House to register/check-in. A smartly dressed, well spoken, woman greeted me with a beautiful big smile and told me that she had been expecting me and knew who I was. And that was in the car park whilst I was emptying my luggage! Before I even entered the guest house I felt that I had made a great choice, that the reviews I had read on TripAdvisor were spot on.

Check-in was completed instantly – yes instantly. Then this lady asked me about my plans and I told her. She listened and responded to each of my points providing helpful information. Then she went further. She pointed out without pointing out explicitly that my plans for the next day were misconceived – I simply did not have enough time to do what I was proposing to do. And she made two suggestions (and marked them on a map) based on what she had learned about me. They turned out to be excellent suggestions.

Whilst a welcome is great and proactive information and advice is great, it is not enough. The core service I hired Kathleens country house to do was to provide me with a quiet, clean, spacious room that had the amenities I needed. That is what I got. The room was just right. The bed was just right and I did not have to try to tuck in a bed sheet that was too small. The bathroom was just right. And the breakfast was just right: the food, the service, the young ladies serving me, the guests, how Kathleen introduced me to the other guest who were having breakfast……

Whenever I encountered this lady I felt in the presence of someone who is fully alive, totally present and who ‘loves being of service’ to her guests, her customers. So much so that the thought occurred to me that if I could bottle the essence of this lady and clone it then I would transform the world of service centred business. Who is this lady? The proprietor: Kathleen.

Before I left I told Kathleen that she is the most welcoming person I had encountered in Ireland. And that I would write a review on TripAdvisor. Which is exactly what I did when I got home. Why? Because Kathleen does more than get customers, she creates fans. It is fans and only fans that end up as advocates. This is the least that I can do for a ‘friend’, yes a friend: who else do you end up sharing details of your life – your work, your wife, your children, where you were born, what kind of holidays you like.…. Now compare this with my experience at the Clarion where I doubt if anyone even knew my name

Red Lion Pub: don’t ask a question if you are not in a position to act on the answer

It is 6:30 and my flight doesn’t depart until 20:15, so I decide to order a meal at the Red Lion pub at Cork Airport. After ten minutes or so my meal arrives: it is well presented and the ‘waiter’ pleasant. It is a meal that I have eaten here before as I have been shuttling to/from Cork since October 2011. Usually the quality of the food is good, this time it is not.

The waiter comes over and asks “How was your meal?” I tell him that the food was not to the usual standard, it was poor, it seemed to be three days old. The waiter is surprised, he clearly did not expect this answer and struggles to respond. I am left with “I’m sorry.” Is he really sorry or is he just saying that because it is the right thing to say? I don’t know the answer to that question. I do know that all I got from him, from the pub, was a sorry. There was no follow up like “What can we do to put this right?” Or “Thank you for sharing that with me I will go and get the manager.”

JJM Taxis: why not blame the customer!

It is 9:25, I exit the customs area and am standing around on the first floor of Terminal 1 looking for my taxi driver. I don’t see him so I phone the taxi firm at 9:26 to check what is going on. A lady I have spoken to many times (over the last 10 years) says she will look into it. She rings back at 9:27 and says that the driver will be with me in 3 to 4 minutes. I wait, four minutes pass, ten minutes pass and then fifteen minutes. So I decide to ring the taxi firm and find myself speaking to the same lady.

Is she helpful? Does she apologise for not keeping her word? No, she tells me that the driver is on his way and tells me off. Why does she tell me off? Because when she rang at 9:27 she told me that the driver was having trouble parking. She forgets that she also told me that he would be with me in 3 to 4 minutes. I tell her that I am not going to argue with her. And to myself I say “Well I am never going to use this taxi firm!”

The driver arrives a few minutes later, I look at him and it all makes sense. I have had many taxi drivers pick me up at the airport and I can tell a lot from the way that they hold themselves, how they are dressed, how they greet me. This chap does not greet me, he does not offer to help me with my luggage, he is busy talking on the phone ……. I can tell that he is the kind of person who is self-absorbed. He has lofty dreams and being a lowly taxi driver is not a part of the dream. No, he does not take pride in his work and he does not take pride in being of service. On the way back it is clear he does not even know the obvious and quickest way back to my home and so I intervene and direct him.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


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