Maybe it’s time some companies *stop* focusing on “customer service”

From my perspective, there has been a general focus on “customer service” in the travel industry over the past few years, probably thanks to the recession. I think it’s great when companies focus on customer service, though more often than not, I find the focus to be on superficial “satisfaction” metrics and buzz words instead of actually improving the shortcomings of a company.

A year ago I posted about how frustrating I found hotel surveys to be. You stay at a three star hotel, and instead of asking whether you were satisfied with your stay, they simply want the highest ratings in everything.

[email protected] sends in something interesting he noticed at the Hilton Toronto, whereby they have two key drop boxes. One box reads “I was extremely satisfied with my experience,” and the other box reads “my experience did not exceed my expectations.”

[email protected], like any good travel industry citizen, dropped his key in the “my experience did not exceed my expectations” box. Why? He stayed at the hotel a handful of times before, knew what to expect, and the stay met his expectations. Why, as a guest, should he have to flatter the hotel by telling them the stay exceeded his expectations? As a matter of fact, I think the world’s best hotels meet customers’ expectations, because customers come in with high expectations and they’re met.

There are just so many buzz phrases in the travel industry that mean, well, nothing.

Another frustration of mine is when I call a certain major hotel chain and am greeted in an entirely apathetic voice by someone saying “and with whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with today?” Thank me for my business if you’d like, but I screech every time I’m greeted that way, since there typically isn’t the slightest bit of sincerity in their voice. Of course I can’t blame them for that, since they probably take over 100 calls a day.

It’s the same thing when you call credit card companies. Many answer with “and what can I do to exceed your expectations today?” or “what can I do to make your day great?”

I guess my point is, I’d much rather see fewer buzz words and more sincere service. Instead of asking whether my stay exceeded my expectations in a scripted voice, ask me, in a personable way, how my stay was. Any company that wants honest feedback wouldn’t ask leading questions. If I rave about one employee or one part of my stay, mention you’re happy to hear that and that you’ll pass on my feedback. If I complain about a serious issue, don’t just say “oh, okay.”

In other words, do what Delta is doing — send people to charm school! Don’t teach your employees how to learn scripts, teach them to be sincere (or hire sincere people to begin with, preferably).

Filed Under: Advice
  1. While some of it is well intentioned others just seem pointless. Certain fast food restaurants are now asking for your name so they can call it instead of an order number. Unfortunately most people don’t really want to get that friendly in a fast food place.

    As you mention often the product simply meets your expectation, which isn’t a bad thing.

  2. The fact is, crap like that works on most of the population, and frankly, as long as consumers are not willing to pay more for better service, those things are really all hotels and airlines could do.

  3. “It’s a GREAT DAY at the Fairfield Inn, how may I help you?”

    * Better sound insulation in your walls between rooms
    * HSI that is really High
    * Elevators that elevate at more than one foot per minute

  4. Unfortunately a call center environment has a Quality Assurance department that requires you to say certain things in order to get a perfect quality score. This causes customer service agents to “go by the script” instead of being genuine.

  5. I realised something though. Say what you want about them, US Airways agents have been probably the most genuine phone agents I’ve spoken with. The majority are of course somewhat incompetent and don’t particularly care to be there but the few that I’ve gotten that have cracked jokes, commented (positively) on my insane routings etc. have made my spending 2 hours on the phone more enjoyable than “how can I provide you with outstanding customer service today?”

  6. I agree there’s a lot of window dressing when it comes to “customer service”. Just provide good service. Period. I don’t care about platitudes and fake-iness. One reason I like waiters in a Paris cafe or brasserie… non nonsense, down to business but generally quick and efficient. I really don’t need the “Hi my name is Brandi and I’ll be takin’ care of ya today – can I start ya off with some appetizers” Just take my order and bring me good food at reasonable prices!

    Surprisingly, one of the consistently best call centers is Waste Management (or at least the center than services my area). I call often durng the summer for yard waste pickup and things. Always friendly and professional without sounding scripted; they are efficient and quick; volunteer helpful info when needed – and never experienced any errors.

    So if a garbage company can get it right, why not others?

  7. I have to say that customers need to relax with their expectations. “The customer is always right” is a dead wrong saying. Sometimes the customer has high in the sky expectations that are unrealistic. Complaining that a place has no gym when they never advertised having one? Unreasonable. Complaining about the price before you book? Do not book! Give me a break. Maybe customer service would come across as more sincere if hotel workers weren’t fatigued by unreasonable complaining guests.

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