We live in Manchester, or at least in its suburbs. A train service from the small town where we live links with the centre of Manchester. The other weekend one of us chose to take the train to Manchester rather than drive. It is a 30 minute journey which delivers you into the centre of the city - so it makes good sense. Hmm, except on Sundays, which is probably the worst time to travel by train in the UK. The train operators seem to believe that on this day any requirement to deliver a great customer service can be thrown out of the window. On the day we travelled, the information screen at Marple station announced trains were cancelled and had the affront to say it was because drivers were not available. How dare a train company, responsible for managing a franchise with a promised timetable, make excuses like that. Surely the franchise requires them to ensure drivers are available. The return journey from Marple was no different. This time there were no excuses as to why the scheduled train was cancelled and we sat on the platform for an hour wondering why on earth we hadn’t come by car.
Customer experience is put under the microscope when we travel. It is a psychological thing. We are away from home, full of expectations, and often driven by tight agendas. Hague senior recalls an occasion couple of years ago when he was working in the USA. He was travelling from a client meeting into New York and had booked a room at the four-star Stewart Hotel through www.lastminute.com. At $324 it seemed to be reasonable value and it was close to Pennsylvania Station where he would be making a late arrival. At 11 PM he queued at the hotel reception to receive his room key. He found his way through the labyrinth of corridors to what he thought must be a box room. In the tiniest space imaginable was squeezed a bed and en-suite. The single glazing rattled in the chill December winds and the noise from Seventh Avenue made you think that you were lying in the busy street. When he checked out the next morning and was asked if he enjoyed the stay, he voiced his disapproval of the room. The hotel clerk said he should have complained at the time of checking in and not as he was checking out. The desk clerk didn’t seem to understand that after a long day and a tiring journey, the last thing a guest wants to do at 11 PM at night is traipse back to the reception desk and voice a complaint which experience says will raise the blood pressure and get nowhere.
No doubt readers of this blog will have their own travel atrocity stories. In fact, we were prompted to talk about this subject following an article we read in the December edition of The Financial Times. Claire Wrathall, a travel writer, told the story of how she had checked into the SO Sofitel hotel in St Petersburg and was asked for her credit card to pay 6000 rubles ($100) to cover the contents of the minibar. Some bright spark at the hotel had worked out that this is how guests should pay for their drinks from the minibar, being refunded for any that had not been consumed at the end of the stay. Claire refused to pay and within minutes someone from the hotel arrived in the room and swept the contents of the fridge into a carrier bag. So that is what it means by the boast on the hotel’s website propounding “a new service concept”!
These lessons from life on the road offer a wonderful catalogue of how not to please the customer. Undoubtedly they cause pain at the time but there is some payback. We can dine off the stories time and again and hopefully learn never to make similar mistakes with our own customers.