One of our hobbies is hiking. We arranged a hike from Tan Hill, a pub in northern England that is the highest in Britain. We believe we can justify a few calories after a good 10 miles and planned on having a meal at the pub at the end of our walk. Before setting off we went into the pub to book a table but were told that you can only book a table by going online. This seemed weird to us as we couldn’t see why the person we were talking to behind the bar couldn’t book the table for us. No worries; he explained that booking a table isn’t always necessary and we can eat in the bar when we return.
Off we went on our hike and returned as planned to the pub. A car park that was empty when we set off was now full. When we enquired at the bar about ordering food we were told that the kitchen was under pressure, tables were fully booked, and it would be at least 40 minutes before we could be served. As seasoned travellers we worried about this time estimate thinking that it would probably be a minimum waiting period. Our timetable was tight and we decided to press on without sustenance.
One of your correspondents is a pianist and enjoys the sound of his Bechstein. It’s a fine old piano, built in Germany in the 1930s and it needs tuning every six months. This routine has taken place for years. The piano tuner arrives at a due date, does the business and, as he leaves, sets a date for the next service in six months time. But wait! The piano tuner has gone digital. He has a website and the only way you can now arrange for a piano to be tuned is to make the booking online. Maybe this seems like the modern way of doing things to the piano tuner but to the customer it seems crazy. What could be easier than putting a new date in the diary during each visit? With an interest in customer experience your correspondent hasn’t gone online to book a new service for the piano, waiting and hoping that the piano tuner would call and remind him that it was overdue. It is now overdue by two years and beginning to show.
We know that automated devices have a special attraction. They remove the tedious task of someone having to talk through the best date for providing the service. They put the onus on making the booking on the customer. But surely these automated activists are missing an opportunity to offer great customer experience:
Speaking to someone at the time of making a booking is so much more helpful. Making the booking through a real person enhances the customer experience. There is a warmth in someone’s voice. They offer the opportunity to answer questions. Someone could have told us if it would be a problem if we couldn’t be sure exactly what time we would return. We didn’t have a need for dietary restrictions but for someone with this issue it may have felt comforted being able to discuss it. We may have wanted flexibility on the number of diners or seating preferences and this could have been sorted out.
Our piano tuner always has the opportunity of offering additional services. The piano is due for more than a simple tune and could do with the felt hammers being shaved. The restaurant could suggest a special menu items and up-sell the meal. Speaking to someone provides an opportunity for increased revenue.
When the piano tuner said that the booking had to be made online, we had the feeling that we were no longer a privileged customer or at least we were not important enough to receive the regular service that had been enjoyed for so long. A long-standing relationship and loyalty was threatened.
Putting the requirement to book something online places the onus on the customer. Any problem is now the customers because they have chosen the date, the time, and the number of people who will be dining. A warm blooded person rather than an automated procedure can be proactive and help maintain customer satisfaction and mitigate potential negative reviews or feedback.
We understand the temptation. Everybody is using automated booking systems. Most of the time they work well but we suspect that the real reason for installing them is not to enhance the customer experience but to save a few bob. We can’t help thinking that a business that uses personal bookings can gain an advantage through the human touch, offering more flexibility, and the ability to provide personalised service. Surely it won’t be long before some businesses see the commercial advantage of providing a customer-centric service.