Save Your Business the Headache (and Money) and Get Ahead of Bad Customer Service Experiences

I recently visited Boston for a speaking engagement. As I was arriving to the hotel I noticed picketers with signs and heard loud drums. My rideshare driver was confused because he didn’t know how to pull into my hotel, which was a luxury brand. The protesters were lining the entire sidewalk and blocking the entrance to this Back Bay hotel.

I reluctantly got out in the street with my bag, alongside angry protesters. I was feeling weird about crossing the picket line (I mean isn’t that forbidden?). I asked the bored-looking police officer standing in the street to walk me through the protesters, who were chanting loudly and angrily while someone beat loud drums. Pulling my own luggage, I walked up the circular driveway to the hotel door, where the bell attendants were standing doing absolutely nothing (they saw me coming). I was greeted, but no one apologized for the inconvenience of my arrival. They directed me to take the escalator up to the check-in desk.

The clerk at check-in greeted and welcomed me to the hotel and asked how she could help me. I told her I wanted to check in and she asked me for my name and my ID and I gave it to her. Once again I’m speaking to a hotel employee and it had not been acknowledged that I had to walk through a protest line to get inside of the hotel. As I was waiting for the woman to check me in I noticed they had a printed letter on their letterhead on the counter. The letter did explain that they were having a labor dispute and that guests would be experiencing some delays and reduced staffing. I mentioned protesters and that I was unable to be driven up to the door and that I had to cross the picket line to get inside the hotel to the clerk. At that point, she did apologize for the inconvenience but offered me no concessions.

If a company knows if they are going to have a customer service issue in advance, should they have provisions in place to deal with unhappy patrons?

I share this as a rhetorical question because the answer is emphatically YES! There should be no question that this hotel should have prepared to assist its staff in managing unhappy guests. I even asked for something because I actually felt uncomfortable walking across that line and getting a police escort. This high-end hotel, at minimum, should have offered a monetary value voucher to use within the hotel for the inconvenience to anyone who was unhappy, but they failed to do that.

My advice to any business owner who knows about a potential customer service matter that would make customers uncomfortable or unhappy is there should always be a plan in place to ensure that it is easier for customers to overlook any inconveniences. Something as simple as a gift card or a credit for as little as $10 for use at your business would likely bring additional revenue, especially if the amount you are offering is less than any one thing that you sell.

The cost of a bad customer service experience is lasting. In today’s age of review websites and Google business pages, many negative reviews could have been avoided if the business had gotten ahead of the issue. Instead, bad reviews have long-term adverse effects that often cut into the bottom line. Anyone who has tried to remediate a poor review on Yelp will tell you the costs are astronomical and it would’ve been well worth it if they had done something to get ahead of the problem in the first place.

How to get ahead of bad customer service

If service is not up to a customer’s standards they are likely never going to be satisfied. However, if you know in advance that your customer experience will be compromised there a number of things that can be done to help smooth out the issues:

  1. Offer a free gift: if you have the type of business that you can offer a credit or a discount, then you can prepare your staff to offer one of them to get ahead of any customer complaints about your known issues. You can also prepare a small gift bag with some inexpensive items such as snacks and promotional items to make the customer feel better about the situation. Remember most customers just want you to recognize that they’ve been inconvenienced and if you do that ahead of time, it’s a win.
  2. Tell them you are sorry before THEY say something: I actually encountered three to four hotel employees before I got to the check-in desk, and no one acknowledged that I had just walked through a picket line. When I got to the door it would’ve been simple for the bell captains to say we are so sorry for the inconvenience and help me up to the next floor so I could check-in. This was a simple thing, but it was completely overlooked in this case. Acknowledgment of the issue or inconvenience is simple and free—don’t waste the opportunity to do that by pretending that everything is OK.
  3. Empower staff to make things right: I asked for something for my trouble. I was offered nothing. The hotel desk staff was well aware of what was going on outside, yet she had nothing to offer me to ease my anxiety. If she had been empowered by hotel management to make things right with me or anyone else who said something about the protesters, you would likely be reading a more positive story about my experience. I have spoken to customer service representatives with major online retailers who have offered me a refund and a $10 credit for not receiving my packages. Most importantly, it happened without me having to wait on hold for a manager’s approval. Trusting staff to make these types of decisions in the moment is key.

No matter the type of business or service you offer, a high-quality experience is key to keeping customers happy. If you can avoid a negative customer service experience you should do so at all costs and I mean at all costs. Be sure to offer concessions when it makes sense to avoid having to clean up a very dirty mess on the internet that can harm your reputation and ultimately cut into your bottom line.

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