Customer Service: Keeping everyone on their toes
An inspector assigned by the market research company masquerading as a guest made full assessment of the hotel’s services. The 42nd part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business
The hospitality industry survives on rendering the best of customer service that could be made available at a given location. To this end, competition from the hotel owners is very severe and really, if I may say so, it is cut-throat in approach.
I think this is the most important aspect that keeps everyone on its toes! In our case, we had continuous training programs, and, very often, we had impromptu tests to see if we were up to the mark!
The guest commentary card, which many guests left in their suites, were collected diligently by the housemaids who cleaned the rooms, and these were daily passed on to the housekeeping director the same day, who in turn, would submit them to the GM’s office immediately; generally the person concerned was a lady in charge, as the staff were mostly young women, and she would spend some time making notes from these cards those that relate to the housekeeping department, because she could take prompt action. By the afternoon, all the relevant departments indentified in the comments would be alerted, both for the compliments received and complaints made; if there were suggestions made to improve our services/facilities, these would be subject to further study and investigation by the top brass.
In addition to the commentary cards submitted in the hotel (both directly at the front desk and left in the rooms), the guest may still have the option of filling up the questionnaire that would pop up on their email addresses, as soon as they have checked out. Very often, the comments may be filled in by the guests as they await their flights, or even when they are airborne! In any case, by the end of the month, the data would be processed at the headquarters, and each unit (branch) or location would get its grading, which again will be computed on a national scale. Based on the outcome of these reports, we would still have to meet the boss when they discuss our standing on the national level. This was a continuous process and trainings where we failed to come up to the guests' expectations were brought to our notice and corrective steps taken, so that the negative comments become positive even before the next visit. In effect, as a very large percentage of the guests were ‘repeat’ visitors to the hotel, we had the opportunity to improve ourselves for an enduring happy relationship.
On the top of these natural reactions of the customers, we had unexpected guests, who came and stayed with us and who gave extremely detailed account of every single service they ‘enjoyed’ or found ‘lacking’.
I shall share with you with an incident that took place on one such occasion. I was on duty, when I received a call from the courtesy phone at the airport. “I am Gloria Fernandez at the airport; when is your coach coming to pick the guests?” “Madam, I am Ram at the Suite, welcome to Washington. Right now our coach is at the airport but please tell me your location and if you have collected your baggage?”
“I came on Continental, and I have two in hand, one expected anytime now”. “Madam, you are close to gate No 5 where our coach will stop after which it will go to gate No 9. What I will do is to ask the driver to take a second round to collect you. Please hold on for a moment”. I called Ibrahim on the radio: “Ibrahim, your location, please?” “Approaching gate No 5”; “I have a Ms Gloria Fernandez at gate No 5, but she had to get one more baggage; please take a round and definitely collect her” “Ok will do”. “Madam, thanks for holding, our Ibrahim will collect you in the next five to seven minutes, as he will stop at gate No 5 now and proceed to No 9, collect some guests and then take another round before reaching No 5, by which time, we hope you have the luggage” “ok thanks”. After about 12 minutes, Ms Fernandez arrived at the hotel; she was welcomed at the main door before she came to the front desk. She was checked in by 5.15pm.
While booking, she had asked for a suite near the elevators; she was a Starwood Club member, and I had blocked both 720 and 722, so that she could make a choice, both non-smoking; as I checked her in, seeking her photo ID, payment arrangements, etc. Ibrahim had got the trolley with her baggage, and in a couple of minutes, she was all set to go. Along with her suite keys, I had also given her some hotel leaflets, brief brochures for sightseeing in the area, and a list of restaurants with a wide choice of food.
Ibrahim took her to the suite, explaining other details, and seeking if she wanted any other assistance in terms of cabs for visiting places or if she wanted to hire a vehicle. In the evening, she came down asking for dinner suggestions, and after a brief chat decided to dine at our own restaurant. On her way, she stopped again to reconfirm that she wanted a wake-up call at 7am. She spent a few minutes at the Shoppe before going back to her suite.
Next morning, she came down and enjoyed a well-spread buffet breakfast, and wanted to look around the hotel on her own. She sought assistance to have her laundry done (by using complimentary equipments in the tenth floor), but came to pick up some detergents at the Shoppe. For lunch, she had met an associate at the front desk and took her suggestions for taking a walk on King’s Street, so that she may decide on the spot! She came down again only in the evening to have a brief chat with me, and asked why she was not given a suite in the Club level?
I explained to her that because of the limitation, of 20 suites in that floor, it was generally allocated to Platinum card holders on availability basis, and even there, rotation was done so that all such members had the opportunity to enjoy the benefit. In any case, the major difference was the location of the Club lounge, for which all Platinum Card holders had access keys even if they occupied suites in other floors.
After this chat, she asked for recommendations for supper, choosing Italian food, and I gave her the names and locations of the restaurants nearby. Aamir was on duty and had him drop and pick her up later. Once again, on her way back, she stopped at the front desk, and sought my assistance for booking for her family to arrive a couple of weeks later, and also wanted a list of sightseeing places. I had given the brochure earlier, and as for booking I suggested to her that as soon as she got back to her suite, when she calls us on the phone, we would be able to connect her to the central reservations who were not only qualified but authorized to make the bookings, as at the front desk we were not equipped with all the required information for this purpose. After she confirmed her wake-up call, she went back to her suite.
On the next day, around noon, when she returned back to check out, she was surprised to see me! “Ram, do you stay in the hotel itself? I saw you late yesterday night?” “Yes, Ms Fernandez; a colleague of mine is sick since yesterday, and I came in to assist Robi, this morning”. “Will you be staying the evening as well?” “Yes, but tomorrow is my day off, so there won’t be a problem!”
As Robi progressed with her check out, we continue to have a general chat; as to how she liked her stay and if she was able to make further bookings for her planned return in the next couple of weeks and so on... Once the check-out process was complete and her baggage was down in the lobby, she asked, “Who is your GM?” Robi replied, “John is our GM”. “Is it possible for me to meet him, where is his office?” Robi directed her to Alex’s office, special assistant to GM, and we did not see her for maybe an hour or so. Only when she had left, John came and told us that she was an ‘Inspector’ assigned by the market research company, to visit us ‘incognito’ and make a full assessment of our services!!!
We did have good comments on her card and she had made certain recommendations in regard to rates for suites and the need to increase the number for Platinum and Gold Card holders as more and more guests will be falling in these categories due to frequency of their visits. We were not fully aware of all the recommendations she had made.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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