Trent’s Top 5 Customer Service Fails


Over recent weeks I have been traveling extensively. I’ve been staying in 5 Star hotels and visiting high-end spas. Lucky me, right? Each of them is getting a lot of things right, but amazingly, they are also missing the mark on what I see as pretty basic customer service points.

So, I’m sharing a few of these Customer Service Fails in the hope that we can all learn from them.

#1 – Professional vs Practical

Sometimes, especially in high-end hotels and spas, we get so obsessed with our standards of service, that we forget about the guest. Seems like a silly thing to say, but it’s true. Most fancy restaurants will adhere to ‘Serve from the Left, Clear from the Right’. This is generally regarded as the proper flow of service. And I’m ok with that – unless it’s just not practical.

Whilst eating in the restaurant of a fancy hotel this week, the waitress came to clear a plate from my table. True to her training, she came from the right. The problem was, the right side of my table was partially blocked by a wall. That meant she had to kinda contort her arm around to try to retrieve the plate. And in doing so, her arm was now right across my table.

All she had to do was to come from the left side of the table and she could have easily accessed the plate. I would have barely even noticed. Sometimes, the best customer service is the service you didn’t even notice. This was one of those times.

Trent’s New SOP would read – Serve from the Left, Clear from the Right – whenever practical to do so.

#2 – Practical vs Polite

At another hotel this week, after checking in at reception, I was escorted to my room. When the lift arrived, my escort politely gestured for me to enter the elevator first. Nice. Thanks. But when the elevator arrived at my floor, he did the same again. ‘After you sir.’ Now, here I am standing in the elevator lobby, not knowing whether to turn left or right. I didn’t know my room number. He had my key. He was escorting me. So now I have to wait for him to come out of the elevator to lead the way.

I would’ve much preferred my guide to walk out ahead of me and say, ‘Follow me, sir.’ It may not be considered as polite, but it would certainly be more practical. Another option would have been for him to just give me a bit more information. ‘After you sir. Just turn to the left.’ Of course, this only works if both guest and escort are able to speak the same language.

For me, the best customer service means that, as the customer, I just don’t have to think about it.

Trent’s New SOP would read – Leading the guest is always more effective than instructing them. Take the lead.

#3 – Phones Down

The next customer service fail I experienced this week is an absolute no-brainer.

Put your bloody phone down!

It staggers me the number of front-line service staff I continue to see in high-end hotels, spas and restaurants who have their mobile phones in their hand. Every time I see it, I ask why they need it. Needless to say, I’m yet to get a good answer.

One time, a therapist told they needed it to check their client bookings. Hmmm? I’d almost accept that. Almost. Mind you, her argument lost a bit of credibility when I saw her phone screen. Unless Instagram now has a Spa Software module, I think she was a lot busier updating her social stream than managing her bookings.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a BIG fan of social media as a business tool. But there is a time and place. And when you are front of the house and there are guests or clients around, that is neither the time or the place. It’s pretty hard to give good customer service if the guest is in front of you and your mobile phone is in your hand.

Trent’s New SOP (in 99% of situations) would be – ‘No mobile phones allowed front of house.’

#4 – Give Graciously

A wise hotel General Manager once told me, ‘If you’re going to give, give graciously.’ His point was, there’s no point making a special offer, with so many restrictions that it becomes an arduous endeavor for the guests to claim it. Any goodwill you initially gain will be quickly eroded if the guest feels there are too many conditions on the offer.

I’ve taken this principle with me over the years and try to apply it to every aspect of my life and business.

The way many spa businesses treat Gift Certificates is a great example of not Giving Graciously. It’s one of my pet hates. So often the client redeeming a Gift Certificate is seen as a freeloader. They didn’t pay for the certificate so therefore this is a free treatment. Of course, this is ludicrous, but time and again I’ve seen the attitude of staff shift as soon as the Certificate is presented.

Worst of all is when the holder of an expired Gift Certificate is told their voucher is no longer valid. Now, you have two unhappy customers – the person who paid for and gifted the voucher and the person who received it. That just can’t be smart business.

You’re right, of course, the validity date has past so technically, you have no obligation to honour it. But why would you not? Are you really that busy that you can’t find an open slot somewhere? One that you’re not going to fill? Have your expenses increased so dramatically since the original voucher was purchased that you would now be losing money if you performed this ‘free’ (ie: not free at all, pre-paid) treatment?

Do your business a favour. Find a way to honour it.

Trent’s New SOP – Expired Gift Certificates, wherever possible, should be honoured.

#5 – Don’t Spam Me

This particular customer service fail occurred after I checked out a hotel recently.

An hour or so after check-out I received an email asking for feedback on my stay. I didn’t ask to receive that email.

The next day, having not replied to the first email, I received another one, asking for my feedback again. I’m busy. I’m traveling. If my experience was either exceptionally good or exceptionally bad, I might let you know. If it was notable unexceptional, why should I bother? What’s in it for me? I ignored this one too.

Sure, two days later, this hotel is back in my Inbox again. Go away! When I walked out your door, I was feeling ok about my overall hotel experience. But now, I’m just getting annoyed. I understand you want my feedback. I’m just not interested in taking the time to give it to you. Why? Frankly, I’m not convinced you’re going to do much with it. You’ll just add it to the Guest Satisfaction Survey Score that you use to convince yourself, and your corporate overlords, that you really care about your guests.

Occasionally, just for fun, I reply the mail and tell them I’d be happy to speak with the General Manager if he wants to call me directly for my feedback. To this day, I have never had a callback. In fact, often time the email address is one of those ‘do-not-reply’ accounts. So, they’re telling me that they’d like my feedback but only if it’s on their terms. Sorry, but that only confirms my theory that you don’t really care about my feedback at all. You’re only interested in my score.

If I want to receive a Guest Survey via email, I’ll ask for it. Same if I want to receive subsequent emails with updates, offers and deals. But if I don’t ask for it, if I don’t give you permission to email me, don’t. That’s SPAM, by anyone’s definition.

Trent’s New SOP – Ask for feedback in person and get their permission before you send any email to a client.

PS: Permission Marketing is an important concept. Check out Seth Godin’s book on it right HERE.

That’s my Top 5 Customer Service Fails. And that’s just from the last week or two on the road. Don’t get caught up in the specifics, think about the service principles behind them. You might just find that your own business could do with a bit of a re-focus.