Do You Deserve Good Service?

It is my belief that there are two kinds of people in the world: those that get good service when they travel, and those that don’t. I have often wondered why some people report getting great service at an establishment while others report quite the opposite at the same place. I think I finally have the answer. A bit of background:

My wife and I like to travel a lot, and we enjoy staying at fine hotels and dining at high-end restaurants from time to time. Before we try a new place I read a lot of reviews, from both professional and amateur reviewers. After our trip, I often write my own reviews of our visits. When I post an entry, I read other recent reviews to see how our experiences compared. What amazes me, over and over, is how many people complain about receiving poor service, when our experience has been exactly the opposite.

It happened again this week. We just returned from a 4-night stay at a high-end resort in Scottsdale, and we spent the majority of our time on property, enjoying the pool scene and the wonderful restaurants and bars. Every single staff member we came in contact with was professional, prompt, friendly and accommodating to our requests. We commented on the plane home how wonderful the service was, and how it helped justify the price we had paid to stay there. Yet when I read other recent reviews, from just a couple of days earlier, I was surprised by those who felt the service was poor, slow, or impersonal. How can the same employees provide different levels of service to different guests, just a few days apart?

My hypothesis is that, to a certain degree, the guest plays a large role in determining the level of service he or she will receive. How else to explain it? Countless times over the years, I have observed fellow guests in hotels, in restaurants and on cruise ships. I have watched and listened as they dealt with hotel staff, waiters and shipboard personnel. It is amazing to me how often these guests are rude, demanding, demeaning or downright boorish when it comes to interactions with service personnel. It doesn’t take much to imagine how the service professionals feel about dealing with these kinds of guests. Most will simply try to handle the situation to the point where the guest gets some level of satisfaction and finally goes away. It is unlikely that the guest will be “delighted” with this result.

Watching these types of interactions, I always feel empathy for the service provider. It is hard enough dealing with nice customers all day, much less the challenging ones. So what do we do that seems to result in more satisfying experiences when we dine out and travel? Here are a few tips:

Present a positive and friendly face. I know, it sounds pretty rudimentary, but you would be surprised how many surly people step up to a hotel registration desk or greet an arriving waiter. Make eye contact. Smile. Exchange pleasantries. Don’t always be in such a hurry to get your room key and move on. The initial impression you make with at the hotel registration desk may make or break your stay. The conversations you have here can lead to superior service. Ask questions. Ask for recommendations. Learn a little about the person assisting you, such as where he is from or what other sister properties she has worked at in the past. Ask the waiter what dishes he recommends. Even if you do not choose his suggestion, you have valued his opinion, and he likes that. Engaging with the staff on a quasi-personal level is always a good thing to do.

Make use of their nametags. My kids used to be embarrassed when I talked to the checkers at our neighborhood grocery store and called them by their first names. I said “if they didn’t want to be called by their names, they wouldn’t wear the nametags.” We try to learn the name of every service professional we come in contact with, whether they are wearing a nametag or not. We also encourage them to call us by our first names, rather than our last name. It’s friendlier that way, and that helps establish a more personal connection. And it makes sense that people will try harder to please people they know…even if they really don’t know you. Once you learn his or her name, remember it. Call her by name when you see her coming next time. Everyone likes to be remembered, and this will encourage her to remember you. Use her name when dealing with other staff members on site: “Susan recommended we come talk to you.” Now the new staff member feels compelled to help you even more because a colleague has referred you. And now you have a chance to make a new connection.

Ask nicely. Again, this sounds like standard practice. But not everyone does. And guess what kind of service people get when they are rude or demanding? Exactly. If you have a request, find someone who may be able to help you. Hopefully this is someone you have already met and whom you know on a first-name basis. Ask “is there any way possible for us to be able to do X?” Sometimes it just won’t be possible, and you should be okay with that. (Most service people actually want to make you happy. If they cannot accommodate your request, giving them grief does not make things better for you.) Sometimes your request won’t be possible, but the server will have another idea that you had not thought of. This constitutes a win. And sometimes, they will make your request happen just as you wished, at which point you should be grateful and most appreciative. The scope of the service, and the favor, will depend on whether tipping is required.

Do the unexpected. When we cruise we take small gifts (usually a small bag or box of candy from our hometown) with us and hand them out to key staff members at the beginning of the cruise. While tipping is expected or required at the end, we have found that these small gifts at the beginning pave the way to a great week ahead. Not only do the crew members appreciate the gesture, but they tell other crew members about the nice people in Cabin 712. You would be surprised how far this can go. Anyone can hand over money, but the act of bringing a local gift, however small, can make other people go out of their way to please you.

Finally, when something goes wrong, don’t lose your cool. In the travel world, things always go wrong; it’s part of the business. As stated above, service professionals (especially at higher-end places) usually want to do their best to delight you. But sometimes it is out of their control. Maybe it is past 4pm and your room is still not yet ready. Maybe the table you requested is not available. Maybe they ran out of the entrée you desired. Resist the temptation to make this a huge issue, thinking it will somehow get you something better or for free. In my experience, making a stink only serves to label you as “that obnoxious couple from Cabin 712,” and that word will get around. Instead, gently express your disappointment, but accept the result, and move on. The staff will appreciate that you did not cause a scene, and many times they will find another way to make it up to you. But let that be their idea, not yours.

Service is something we all get when we visit a restaurant, hotel, or other travel venue. But there is no guarantee that it will be good. While there are always going to be factors out of your control that affect your experience, there are also things that you can do to increase your chances of having a great experience. Happy traveling!

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5 Responses to Do You Deserve Good Service?

  1. Tom Riley says:

    Great post, Kort. Yes, it seems so common sensical. And we know how common that is. Can’t wait to share!

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  2. Robert says:

    Great reading Kort! I think there are a few other explanations why some people get good service and others don’t. It only takes one bad apple in the staff of a hotel to ruin the experience. For me it was a recent stay at the Waldorf Astoria in London, supposedly not a bad place to stay and whilst front desk staff, cleaning staff, and bell services were absolutely curious and customer oriented, the restaurant staff at breakfast quite the opposite. I completely agree that on average guests are unnecessarily obnoxious and rude to staff and yet true customer servicing would be ignore guest behaviour (to a degree) and convince the miserable bastards that they’re in a place of comfort where staff do their utmost to make you feel comfortable. I’m with you however, I worked in hotels in my student days and know how tough the work can be, a friendly chat or simple smile goes a long way to motivating staff to go to work every day.
    I doubt that we’ll ever meet the entire staff of a (upscale) hotel, you have shifts and rotations, contractors and staff turnover is generally high in the service industry. A lot can happen over the course of a few days. I think it’s also down to how hotel management set expectations and what kind of mindset they motivate their staff with. I do a lot of amateur postings on TripAdvisor, and sometimes the establishment come back to you but I often wonder if this kind of customer feedback is actually being used effectively when a commons thread is identified through a collection of reviews? It’s about averages, one review doesn’t make the place good or bad so I tend to look at the average ratings and how many people have contributed instead of the actual wording. My two pennies!

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  3. E says:

    Kort great insight….it maps well to my ideology…..you get what you give…..in anything in life:)

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  4. KJ Hare says:

    Coming from someone who actually met you while working at a restaurant and has continued to have a friendship with the two of you after moving to a new hotel, I’d say you nailed it.

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  5. Jan says:

    Kort — I believe your comments got a ringing endorsement just ahead of me. The old saw about honey and vinegar still holds true, as does the old Golden Rule. Interesting, maybe the fact that I refer to these two expressions as “old” is a comment in itself.

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