Last summer my wife, daughter and I went on a cruise. Overall we had a fantastic experience, but one story is still stuck in my mind 6 months later.
Weeks prior to departure, we booked our seating for the main dining room. We chose the late seating and a table just for our family. However, when we arrived at the main dining room the very first night we discovered that our table had been given to another family who had arrived earlier than us. Possibly they were unhappy with their own seating arrangements.
Although the seating plan indicated we should be seated at that table, the maitre d’ now directed us to another table, which was a table for 6 — which already had 2 older couples seated at it. It was obvious these couples didn’t know each other because they were seated at opposite ends of a rectangular table — with the remaining seats between them.
I took one look at the disappointed faces on my wife and daughter and it was clear they were disappointed that rather than having the opportunity to spend this time together each night, we were expected to now become part of a larger table.
When I expressed our disappointment to the maitre d’, their response was that they were sorry — but what were they supposed to do, our table was already seated.
You can probably guess my reaction. Suddenly their problem had become my problem.
There was no doubt that we had booked the smaller table that had been given to another family — but the maitr d’ was hoping we would simply sit at the larger table and they wouldn’t have to deal with the issue.
No deal. I politely insisted that this was their issue and we expected them to resolve it for us — if not tonight, then certainly for the remainder of the cruise.
My Perspective: This is all too typical of many organizations. There is an inherent expectation that poor service is okay and that customers are willing to accept less than they expect. Which is true — customers regularly accept sub-standard service without complaint. Although they tell their friends.
We were required to book our seating and specifically were asked whether we wanted a private table versus a group table. I expect they ask for this information because 1) the cruise lines have learned that it contributes to making the vacation memorable, and 2) by asking in advance they are able to plan the dining room configuration accordingly.
In this case, they expected the customer to bear the result of their error.
How often do we assume the customer will accept less than expected because we are inconvenienced by their request? Do you have the convenience factor unconsciously embedded into your service culture — or do you communicate to all employees that your first goal is to ensure the customer expectation is met or exceeded, regardless of the inconvenience to the organization.
In the end, when pressured by an insistent customer — the maitre d’ was able to find us a lovely table that evening — and we were seated at another table for the balance of our vacation. Everything worked out great.
Except for the fact that 6 months later I still remember that they tried to make their problem mine.