Customer service – where did it all go wrong?

This post is about customer service, or rather the lack of it, why people serving customers get it so wrong, and what can be done about it.

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Get a room

A few weeks ago I hired a room to make it convenient for guests arriving from various territories to meet us and discuss plans, joint ventures and strategic partnerships. Our usual facilities were out of action, so we had to hire somewhere. A friend had previously told me about the rooms at the service office they used. Because it was convenient I asked them to make a reservation and we would pay for it on the day.

We turned up on the day, and were greeted by an immediate demand for payment. It was a little odd, but understandable. Perhaps people had absconded after using the room and not paid for it, and they were wise to it. After 15 minutes in our hired space it became evident that the Wi-fi was not working. So we approached the reception, where they said they would reset it.

Returning to reception 10 minutes later for an update, they advised that they were unaware that it hadn’t been fixed. They assured us that they would call the engineers and let us know when it was fixed. Meanwhile, we got on as best we could, without the all-important Wi-fi which were needed to allow us to access platforms, websites and applications in order to make progress.

Empathy Gets You Everything

Half an hour later, I popped out to reception to find out how long it was taking the engineers to fix the Wi-fi issue. I was told they had no idea, but it would be soon. With “soon” not actually being a time on my watch, I said I would pop back in half an hour, to which they said “it would surely be fixed by then!” 30 minutes later – no progress, so we decided to break for lunch, and asked them if it would definitely be fixed after lunch.

The receptionist was so positive that it would be, that we were totally comfortable that our break would be a productive one, and we could talk about everything we actually intended to do, and then put it into action in the afternoon. I said to the receptionist as we left to go and get our sandwiches “if it’s not working there’s no point in us being here, we need Wi-fi. We booked and paid for a room with Wi-fi.”

I think this is where I made my mistake. When the receptionists looked at me blankly when I said I need Wi-fi, I’m not sure that they fully understood that what I was saying.I don’t know what they thought I meant, but perhaps I should have been clearer at the time, perhaps I should have said “Wi-fi is the only thing we need, you can take the tables, the chairs, the tea, the coffee, the water and the lighting, and we would be happy. But without Wi-fi we are stuffed.” The fact that they didn’t seem that bothered that we were so badly affected is an interesting thing to think about. I’m not sure they know why people actually hire their rooms.

Not Bloody Likely!

By the end of the day we had visited reception 8 times and each time we were told that it would be fixed “soon” and refused to be drawn on an actual time. We didn’t have the option of other rooms, and it was too late to order something else for a half day. On the other hand, their staff had popped into our room once, to see if everything had been switched on, and told us with a very big smile on her face, that the hard wired internet was working. I think that 5 people sat around their laptops without “ethernet” cables was lost on this lady.

Upon leaving the building for the day I approached the reception desk to ask who I should speak to about a refund. The gentleman was polite but said I would need to speak to a manager. I asked if a manager had collected my money in the morning, and he informed me that was an assistant, so I said it was a little odd that one person could collect money for a service that was supposed to be provided, yet the same rank of employee couldn’t refund the money for a service that wasn’t provided. The gentleman shrugged and suggested that someone would give me a call back.

However, it would not be until 4 days later, when a manager authorised to make returns would be back at the office. I received an email, rather than the promised phone call, from a lady who offered me a 25% refund. I asked if there was anybody else I could speak to about this. After being put on hold, I was given the name of someone who would actually be able to discuss with me. So I made the call, and explained the situation, and the lady said she would speak to the the director of operations, and would give me a call back.

A few hours later, I received another email, again not the call that was promised, stating that they would give me a 50% refund. I contacted the sender and asked on what basis the refund was being provided, because the room had been of little use to us. It was as much use as a chocloate fireguard. The lady said the refund was offered as a gesture of goodwill, and that they would also offer me a 10% reduction in any room bookings that I made in the future, and that she really hoped that this episode would not prevent me from booking a room with them in the future.

I’m not often speechless, but I decided to remain so in this instance. I was silently incandescent. Not only had they failed to provide the service that was actually detailed on the invoice, they refused to acknowledge that they hadn’t provided the service; they then offered us a reduction that meant the most important part of their provision is only worth 25% of what they charge.

The only picture these people have painted for me is one of exploitation, where they are happy to take bookings for a particular service, but not able to provide refunds when the service is not provided. There were also a number of training issues which meant that I think their whole organisation lacks trust in their staff and credibility. They are exactly the sort of money grabbing people who are running the banks. They are happy to take your hard earned from you, not provide what they said they would, not accept responsibility for that fact, and are so lacking in empathy that they believe offering you a discount off a service that they are incapable of providing is enough to keep you onside.

This sorry scenario does annoy me, yet I’m not going to name and shame. Yet if you do want to a hire a room in a studio with a Garden between Holborn & Leicester Square, ask me first.

Wrap up: One of the beautiful things about “Word of Mouth” is the fact that those that provide great services rise to the top of their chosen networks.

Top Tip: When something goes wrong, take responsibility. With so few people doing it, it will differentiate you from the competition. If you don’t believe me, call and I’ll provide you with myriad examples.

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