If you focus on your hotel guest instead of your image, you’ll be happier and so will I

A few weeks ago, I attended the yearly Weight Watchers regional “convention.” It’s called “Innovation” and it’s held each November. (I’ve just been too swamped to write about this until now.) Weight Watchers LogoIt’s when they introduced the changes for the new 2009 Momentum plan (which is rolling out this week) and they give out the awards for staff. (I won a whole lot including the Jean Neiditch Service Vision award for best leader, I was really flattered.)

I was one of the people helping to set up the big room for 600 or so folks who would soon fill it. I wasn’t supposed to be one of the people helping to set up the room but due to some glitches, the hotel didn’t flip the room early enough so the Weight Watchers management team was busy trying to get several hours of work into a very short time. I had shown up early to rehearse a small piece I was going to do. When I entered the hall, my Territory Manager (next up the [low-fat] food chain in the Weight Watcher  hierarchy) asked if I wouldn’t mind putting out centerpieces.

Christine’s a good person. I like her. I like Weight Watchers. I like to help. I had time. All the ingredients of being a volunteer.

“Sure, why not?” And so I did.

In addition to centerpieces, I helped set out awards and arrange noise makers and — in general — make myself useful. Because I was there early, and because I need access to the stage, I was told to sit at a table right next to the stage. That’s nice, because those of us from Eureka, are usually sitting in the back forty.  I wanted to sit with my peeps when they came in later, so Christine suggested I just reserve that table for my cohorts.

Sounded good but because I was going to be helping some more, and it was going to be outside of the hall, and because the next time everyone was going to enter the hall would be all at once, I had a dilemma. How do I keep the table secured when no one will be around? I didn’t want everyone else to beat me to my table and I’d lose the place so I had to mark it in some way.

“Aha!” thinks I, “I can put napkins on the back of each table! Brilliant! That’s the universal symbol of table reservation!” And I did; removing the nicely folded napkins from the cups and placing them gently over the back of each of the ten chairs around the round table that would be mine.

It didn’t last long. Like white blood cells protecting the body, a collective of black-and-white suited folks soon converged on the table and began undoing my undoing of their work.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“We were told to put the napkins back like they were,” replied the collective, barely pausing in their synchronized assembling of flower napkins.

“Can I lean the chairs then?”

“No, that’s a fire hazard. You must leave them like they are.”

“But I want the table to be marked for my friends and I can’t stay in here,” I replied.

“We were told to do this,” came the combined reply.

Resistance is futile. You will have flowery napkins.

Resistance is futile. You will have flowery napkins.

“Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.” (OK, they didn’t say that last part but I love the Borg on Star Trek and I couldn’t resist.)

Enter the room captain. My guess is she was watching the hive from afar.

“Hi,” I said, “I want this table marked so my friends will be able to know this is our table. Can’t I put napkins on the back?”

And here’s where it all ties to marketing.

“No,” she replied. “If people come into the room and see napkins on the back of the chairs, they will think badly of the hotel. Our image matters. We

Guests don't like to hear "NO"

Guests don't like to hear "NO"

want that to happen so you can’t do that.” Harrumph!! (OK, again, she didn’t say “harrumph!” but I love the image of her “harrumphing” and turning on her heels in a huff and walking away.)

It’s ALL about the customer — or “guest” in this case

If you’ve known me longer than the time you’ve been reading this entry, you know I teach several courses on marketing. Not only am I co-founder of the Humboldt Marketing Seminar (with Richard Borough), but for the last four or five years, I have done a monthly class on marketing for the Northcoast Small Business Development Center or “SBDC.” (Personal note, if you’re looking for great resources during a tough economy and you run a small business or you’re a “solopreneur,” contact your local SBDC. You cannot go wrong!)  So, in all of my marketing, I try to remind everyone (including myself):

THERE IS NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR CUSTOMER! Nothing! Zero!
Everything begins and ends with your customers!

Got it? Am I making myself clear here?

So, why in the name of all that’s hospitality and service-industry-oriented, would the catering manager tell me that what I — the guest and client — wanted  was not as important as the fact that the hotel did not want the first impression of the ballroom to be degraded by eight napkins on chair backs?

Sure, I can understand the fire hazard thing. That makes sense. But in a room with about 100 tables, having one table with a few napkins politely hung on the back of chairs in one corner; are people going to really think bad things about the hotel?  I mean, can you picture this conversation?

“What do you think of the hotel?” asks one guest of another.

“Oh, it’s very nice. They have nice food. The service has been top notch. The room is clean. Check in was quick. Rates are good. Parking is free. It’s all been great…” She lowers her voice and turns in both directions making sure no one can overhear.  “But, did you see those napkins in the ballroom?”

“Wasn’t that disgusting?”

“Sure was! We better get out of here quickly.”

And away they run, not even stopping to wipe their faces.

The rules must be about the customer, always, forever, every time. Especially in times, like these; stay close to your customer. He doesn’t like to hear “You can’t do that.” And in reality, if you don’t let him, he’ll find someone else who will.

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~ by scottqmarcus on December 8, 2008.

5 Responses to “If you focus on your hotel guest instead of your image, you’ll be happier and so will I”

  1. Scott, you’re the best … and certainly right on about customer service. We can all do better … in any industry or business that we are in. What you do to help one will hopefully be passed on to help others in a positive way. Keep on doing what you are doing and talk about the little ways an employee can improve a customer’s experience with their organization.

  2. that seems a little ridiculous! When will people learn it is all about the customer experience? what hotel was this? Remind me never to stay there!!!

  3. You are so right Scarlet. I can’t tell you the hotel name because that would be inappropriate but suffice it to say it’s part of a chain that rhymes with Harriet. 🙂

  4. Well, we wouldn’t want you to be inappropriate! I will certainly remember this in the future!!! 🙂

  5. I won’t even begin to tell you about the worst customer service I ever received. It was from an airline, but I can’t tell you which one. However, it rhymed with Shumited.

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