A cautionary tale

rainy ski hillMaybe it’s just me, but some of my best lessons are learned from observations of what not to do, especially when it comes to customer service. That was the case last March when my sister and I took my two daughters and their two friends to a ski resort for a 3-day get away. We had planned for a total girls vacation. When we weren’t skiing outside, we planned to make full use of the resort’s pool and spa, and of course, the fitness room to offset the homemade chili, tacos, and loads of snacks we were going to consume over the three days.

As it happened, March was rather warm. We arrived in pouring rain, making skiing a remote possibility. While we were a bit daunted, we were still determined to have a good time and make use of the resort’s inside facilities that I had touted to the girls on the road trip north. So as I was checking in at the front desk, my daughters went to scout out the pool and spa and the fitness center. They came back distraught from their scouting mission. “The fitness center is closed…all there is is an empty room,” said my 20-year-old daughter, “And the hot tub is broken,” my 16-year-old daughter cried. “What are we going to do for three days…especially if it keeps raining?”

I turned to the front desk clerk and asked if there was another fitness center we could use during our time there. I explained that we had booked with the resort precisely because their web site said they had workout facilities. The front desk clerk replied, “Oh, they were supposed to take that off the web site a month ago.” Disappointed, but looking to make everyone happy, I then asked when the hot tub would be fixed. “I don’t know. The maintenance guy went home,” she replied. “Why don’t you come down tomorrow morning and ask the person at the front desk to contact him?” she added. I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe that she wasn’t willing or able to contact him. And that she was putting the responsibility for that back on a guest.

Because of the remote location of the resort, with very few restaurants nearby, we had brought our own food to cook in the condo kitchenettes. After checking in to our rooms, we noticed that the kitchenettes didn’t have coffee makers, so I made one more trek down to the front desk. Very politely, I asked if there was a coffee maker that I could borrow for our room. I was rewarded with a heavy sigh, as the front desk clerk rolled her eyes at me and said, “Let me see.” She then turned around to open a door behind her revealing a shelf of coffee makers inside the door. I nearly laughed. She had acted as if my request was absolutely unreasonable, and yet here were a half dozen coffee makers on a shelf waiting for guests to request them.

Perhaps the front desk clerk was having a bad day or perhaps she really didn’t like her job, or perhaps she perceived that we were overly demanding guests. Whatever the underlying problem was, the reality was that she was not able at that moment to deliver good customer service or make us feel like welcomed guests at that resort. We felt like our arrival was an inconvenience to her.

Thinking about that experience, I wondered. What are the lessons here for me? Are there times in my work that I make my customers feel like they are unwelcome or a nuisance? Are there times when I need a shift in my attitude to approach a request with a positive attitude? And in my leadership of others, am I demonstrating how to provide excellent customer service, rather than displaying what not to do?

I’m sure we all have cautionary tales to share that highlight “what not to do.” What have you learned from your customer service experiences?

Anita Rios



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