Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

Brand Killing Customer Service


You really appreciate the importance of brand, when you see it being trashed. Companies spend millions over decades constructing the right brand image with clients. Brands are there to decrease the buyer’s sense of risk. A brand carries a promise of consistent service at a certain level. Now that level can be set very low, like some low cost airlines, where "cheap and cheerful" is the brand promise. Another little gem from some industries is "all care and no responsibility". At the opposite end are the major Hotel chains. They have global footprints and they want clients to use them whereever they are in the world. They want to be trusted that they can deliver the same level of high quality. There are plenty of competitors around, so the pressure is on to protect the brand.

When you encounter a trusted brand trash their brand promise, it makes you sit up and take notice. The plane from Haneda to Taipei was delayed because of weather conditions, we sat on the runway for 90 minutes waiting to take off and so I finally arrived at the Taipei Westin Hotel at 6.00pm. At the check-in was told there were no rooms ready. Okay. That set off a warning buzzer in my head because the check out time for the Hotel is 12.00 noon.
Things happen though, so maybe there is some reason for this lack of expected service, but doubt has begun to arise in my mind about this Hotel’s management team. I asked when a room will become available. The second buzzer goes off immediately, when the young lady checking me in, tells me she doesn’t know. How could they not know that information, when there is a lobby full of punters like me, all frustrated about not having their room available?
My immediate thought is that this hotel is obviously not being run very well. I ask her for the name of the General Manager. This is where it gets very interesting. Her response - stone motherless silence. Not one word in reply. Nothing! Now we have identified there is a serious training and leadership issue with the way this Hotel is being run. I am the client speaking to the staff member and waiting for a reply, but absolutely none is forthcoming. Unthinkable. So I asked again. More total silence. I elevated the volume of my request to try and illicit a response. More pure silence. This low level of client service has now morphed across to the ridiculous zone.
I keep going and I finally get an inaudible name offered up. I ask to hear it again but louder because I can’t catch it. We go through this slapstick three times until we can now identify the name "Andrew". Great, so what is Andrew’s last name? More pure silence. We are now back to where we started. The client is asking the staff for information and cooperation and they are not getting either. I repeat this process a few more times, digging for the surname and we finally get a whispered "Zou". Andrew Zou. Finally. So what am I thinking now? Wow, this Andrew Zou character is a lousy General Manager, because his staff are so poorly trained.
There is no room ready for me and no indication of when it will be ready, so in that great Aussie tradition, I head for the bar. I tell them I am going to be in the bar and when my room is ready please let me know. Did they contact me as promised? No, I asked the barman go find out what is the status of my room. Another brand promise destroyed right there. A full two hours later after waiting in the bar, I am in my room.
While I was waiting in the bar, I went on to the Westin site to try and find their headquarters, to complain about the service here in Taipei. I had a lot of trouble finding who to contact, but did manage to send an email into the system. An answer came back the next day, helpfully telling me I should talk to the staff in the hotel about the service. While in the bar, I rang the Hotel switchboard and ask to speak with Andrew Zou. He had gone home already. How about the Duty Manager? He was busy and will call me back on my cell phone. I never did get that call back from Andrew Zou or the Duty Manager. I did get a note from the person in charge of rooms and an email from the Duty manager the next day. Was I satisfied? No, I wanted to hear from the General Manager.
Any number of things can go wrong with the delivery of a product or service. We all understand that. The problems arise when our client facing team members are not properly trained in how to deal with these issues. Hotels have guest complaints all the time, so they should be absolute gold medal winning, total geniuses at dealing with them. This would have to be a key area of training in that industry. The poor training is a direct result of poor leadership. If the leaders are working well, then the staff service levels will be working well.
That evening there were a large number of guests in the same boat as I was – no room and no information. The Westin brand is global and I have stayed in a number of their properties in Asia. The Taipei property was killing their global brand and that is an expensive thing in the world of cut-throat competition amongst leading Hotels.
From this experience, I realized that I need to be very vigilant about the service levels in my own company. Are we fully geared up for trouble, should it arise? How do we protect the brand across 220 locations worldwide? Can people get to me easily if there is a problem? Are we doing enough training in client complaint handling? The Westin Taipei leadership did a poor job. We should go back a take a long hard look at our own operations. We may be incorrectly assuming things are working, when they may not be functioning properly. We have to protect the brand at every touch point with the clients. That is the job of the leadership team, starting with the boss.



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