Visionary Experience Leaders, Are You Conquering Customer Loyalty?

PART I

Visionary customer experience leaders know that it takes more than a thin veneer of customer care to turn customers into their loyal advocates.

When you think of Ritz-Carlton, the image is one of universal excellence not because of the high end price tag but because the leaders consider every single aspect of delivering customer care. From vision through execution, the focus is success through the ultimate customer service.

This can happen in any organization of visionary leaders committed to superior customer experience.

It is a deep commitment, where loyalty takes root. The opposite of that — conquering customer loyalty with a few broad strokes — blocks the root of success and prevents growth.

Leaders, Plant Deep for Customer Loyalty - Don't Conquer With a Thin Veneer

Image by: Blockpartypress via creative commons license.

Plant Deep Roots for Customer Loyalty
The classic advice for building customer loyalty — from listening to the customer, planning & designing, to employee empowerment, brings success IF you attend to every aspect of it.

Recent Customer Experience: A Strong Growing Root Cut in Two Defensive Moments

    On several trips to Minneapolis area, I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Eagan, MN. As a Hilton Honors member, I checked the Hilton family of hotels first for my upcoming trip. The Garden Inn had the features that I needed: Clean comfortable hotel near the work site, restaurant onsite, shuttle service to/from airport, accessibility to taxis, and a good star rating.

    The first trip delighted me with positive customer service attitudes from managers and staff. So I automatically booked the Eagan Hilton Garden Inn for the second trip. Again, the service attitudes were warm, welcoming, attentive to detail, and flexible on special requests.

    I thus booked it for the third trip on this project. My customer loyalty to the brand and property was well on its way. They had removed all reasons for me to even consider another hotel.

    And then it happened. During that stay, they reserved a taxi for me to get to the work site. I came down at 7:15am, went outside to the cab driver, and he asked me for my room number. I replied that for safety reasons of course I never give out my room number. I gave him my first name and asked him if I was his ride? He insisted on my room number. I asked if he would like to go back inside with me so they could indeed confirm that I was his 7:15 am ride. He agreed.

    I described the situation to the Karen at the front desk, gave her my name, and noted that of course I don’t give out my room number. She looked in the reservations book, looked me in the eye, turned to the cab driver and said, “Her room number is 210.”

    Karen gave out my room number and threw my request back in my face with blatant disregard for my preference and concern. Shocked, I said to her, “Excuse me, you just gave my room number to this man.”

    Karen replied, “the cab company requires it”.

    I thought to myself: You take orders from the cab company and push my preferences and safety aside?
    Instead I repeated, “You just gave this man my room number.”

    Karen replied, “Nothing has ever happened.”
    I thought to myself: So you will change the procedure after something bad happens? There is a reason room keys don’t have room numbers printed on them.

    Nonetheless, I simply repeated one last time, “You just gave out my room number. How are you going to fix this?”

    She then fired the final bullet: “Are you going to argue with me or are you going to get in the cab?”

    What??#!? Since when is a customer objection to a hotel’s mistake seen as arguing? I immediately asked to speak with a manager. She replied: “I am the manager on duty.”


After work I spoke with Jason, the general manager.

Even though he put me in a suite, comped me a room, and gave me dinner, he showed that he too defined customer experience as a veneer of customer care. He, general manager, severed my loyalty when, in the middle of telling me how sorry he was, added that Karen was a good manager.

Wrong Jason. A good manager doesn’t verbally attack a customer communicating a safety concern.

Karen’s approach to conquering my objection with an ultimatum about getting in the cab couldn’t even be called customer service. It was a rude, low class, insulting personal attack to silence me and get me out of the hotel. It showed defensiveness about her mistake and incompetence in service recovery.

If Karen were a staff member, you would consider remedial training. When a manager makes this attack and the general manager defends this manager as capable, it is a statement about the brand’s definition of a great service experience.

Although, they stated they would never again use any cab company that requires room numbers, their purely reactive view of great service means customers will suffer a bad experience before the hotel learns and improves. It also says nothing about delivering great care when a customer is highly dissatisfied — another critical moment, the studies show, for securing loyalty.

When I checked out the next morning and Karen was at the desk, I wondered how many other customers would unfortunately suffer that day and in the future. My memory is one of gross disrespect and disregard for me — not one of a free room and dinner.

I now have a reason to consider a different hotel brand for my next trip.

The root of customer loyalty grows from a deep and pervasive care about everything that affects the customer. The root at the Hilton Garden Inn Eagan stops growing at the bedrock of management’s expectations of its front line managers and the thin veneer of care that defines their view of great service.


In the next post, Part II of this customer experience, I will provide a deeper list of the steps to customer experienced based loyalty. In the meantime, ask yourself — How do your staff and managers react when customers object?

Do they listen with great care and use their empowerment to make significant changes? Or do they snip back to conquer the customers’ objections and pretend to care with a thin veneer?

If you think they are doing it right, dig deep to make sure. Almost sure isn’t enough to build customer loyalty.

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

Related Post: THE Threat to Superior Customer Experience

©2012 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. If you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please first email info@katenasser.com for terms of use. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.


Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on customer service & experience, employee engagement, teamwork, and leading change. Kate turns interaction obstacles into business success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

23 Responses to “Visionary Experience Leaders, Are You Conquering Customer Loyalty?”

  1. Bill Quiseng says:

    When I was a hotel general manager, I told our staff that the size of our king bed was no bigger than the king bed in any other hotel in town. Our food, while prepared very well, was brought to us by the same vendor who delivered the same products to any number of restaurants in the area. So the only difference between our competitors and us was the service we offered. I would personally explain to each new associate and remind the entire team regularly that if the guest were to interact with five associates and all but one were friendly; the only thing the guest would remember would be the one poor performer. And all it would take is one bad experience with just one associate to lose that guest forever. Your personal experience at the Hilton serves as a great example to us all that one employee is, to that customer, the brand.

    More importantly, hotels have a primary responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of the guests in their care. We made sure the front desk associates knew to write the room number on the key packet and point at it when handing the key packet to the guest, never announcing it to be heard to anyone within earshot. Also for security purposes, we made sure the guest name was not written with the room number on the key packet. So for the manager to simply give it to the cab driver is completely unacceptable. If I were her GM, I would have disciplined her for that, but for her gross discourtesy to you, I would have terminated her. No one should be employed in hospitality if they can’t be hospitable. Given the GM’s response to you, it doesn’t sound like she was even reprimanded.

    From a customer’s standpoint, perception is reality. So while they claim they would change their cab procedures, I am wondering if they really did. If I’m ever in Eagan, I’m staying at the Marriott.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Bill,
      Your professional insight, as a former hotel GM, keeps us all enthused and hopeful that hotels can get it right.

      Thanks so much .. truly for your perspective.
      Kate

    • Jeff Toister says:

      Bill, you hit the nail on the head in your analysis of Kate’s very interesting story. Loyal to a brand, loyal to a location, but one person (albeit a manager?!) can damage it all. Ultimately, I blame the GM as Kate ultimately did. A Hilton Garden Inn isn’t so large an operation that it would be excusable for a GM not to know about their arrangement with a cab company. He also hired the manager, or at least has condoned her performance, which makes him responsible for that too.

      In the end, the manager takes her cue from the GM, not the other way around. I wonder if she might truly have the potnential to be a capable manager if she wasn’t learning from such a poor role model.

      • Bill Quiseng says:

        Jeff,
        Couldn’t have said it better myself. Two proverbs come to mind:
        “The reputation of a thousand years may be destroyed by the conduct of one hour.”
        “The fish stinks from the head down.”

  2. Martina says:

    Good post, Kate.
    It is indeed the front line that makes or breaks customer loyalty. Managers and leaders should spend as much time training the “lower eschelons” as they do on middle and upper level management. It is these people working in the strenches and rubbing elbows with your guests and customers who are the real face of your company. All the glitzy designs and advertising cannot over come being treated poorly.
    Martina
    @martinamcgowan

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Yes Martina! Customer service people-skills training needs to be ongoing through all the levels. I still learn new things every single day. When we stop learning, it is sad for it leaves so much potential unrealized.

      Best wishes,
      Kate

  3. Pattie Roberts says:

    Hi Kate! As always, you get to the bedrock issues that make or break the customer relationship. Karen’s appalling disregard not only for your preference as a customer, but also for your basic safety, and Jason’s incomprehensible response that she’s a good manager, are part and parcel of what continues to be broken in customer service (and in fact, many aspects of business) – the clinging dependence on rules and procedures as a substitute for critical thinking.

    I am reminded of a quote from the late Admiral Hyman Rickover (an unique thinker if ever there was one): “If you are going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy. God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won’t.”

    Karen took refuge in rules, with a side dish of personal pique. Jason (who should have known better) took refuge in Karen’s past performance, most likely in the more operational aspects of her job
    (e.g., getting guests checked in, keeping reservations straight, etc.) When faced with something that probably falls outside of the more common customer service issues in a hotel (like “I’d like a higher floor/bigger bed/more towels”), both Karen and Jason retreated to bureaucracy.

    What’s really sad about this is that you weren’t a “borderline” customer, you were a fan. Now you’re going to shop around. And after reading of your experience, so am I. It’s an expensive lesson for Hilton, one that I hope they learn quickly, particularly since customer safety was involved.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Your writing flair comes through even in your comments. Many thanks Pattie for highlighting the issue of bureaucracy. I often call it “procedur-itis” and it is a sinker every time.

      Warmest thanks!
      Kate

  4. Wow! What a wonderful post. I appreciate that you shared your personal story to illustrate well the principle. I very much enjoyed it!

  5. Wow Kate! Stories and experiences like this push my buttons too!

    Between high school and college I worked for an organization that hired the North Dakota State Tourism Department to provide customer service training for us. That training provided such a vision of the art of customer service that it transformed everything for me. Some of the most powerful things that still resonate 2 decades later:
    1. Don’t take a customer’s frustration personally. (You have no idea what they have experienced today. The death of a loved one, the diagnosis of a terminal illness, challenges in their homes or workplaces, etc…)
    2. Take the HEAT! H-HEAR Them. E-Empathize with them. A-Apologize. T-Take Action!
    3. Do everything you can to transform the situation into such a positive experience that they remember what you did to solve the problem more than the problem itself. Make it a goal to turn that frustrated customer into a raving fan!
    4. It costs more to find a new customer than to keep the ones you have, and a frustrated customer tells more people than a happy one does!

    I keep thinking about the gift they could have received if they had really listened to your concern. What if they realized that you are an EXPERT in customer service with connections all over the world? What if they had demonstrated a desire to learn more? How would that have transformed their future and the rest of the story?

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Love your “what if” approach Chery. It is a tremendous teaching tool, coaching tool, and even negotiation tool. It releases all from the grip of tunnel vision and breathes life into customer experience.

      Many thanks for your contribution here.
      Kate

  6. Samantha says:

    What a frustrating and all too common experience in today’s world Kate.

    Love this post as it strikes right at the heart of the problem: when the customer is treated as if they OWE it to the business to provide better ‘service’ as a customer then the company/employees.

    What you described was so similar to an experience my oldest daughter recently had with an assistant manager of an apt she is living in.
    Her apt is a modestly small 1 bdrm apt that fits into her current budget. Very clean with updated interior and appliances. Just right for her current needs.

    All was going well until she noticed something leaking from her closet ceiling. She reported it to the office. The assistance manager on duty proceeded to let my daughter know that the maintenance man was ‘on call’ as it was his day off. He was on his way to a family function. Rolled her eyes at her as if my daughters problem in her apt was totally putting her and the maintenance man ‘out’ for the day.

    My daughter is young, so she said that she immediately started apologizing for ‘bothering’ them and then was stuck in the position of having to explain and justify just how serious the leaking in the ceiling was and why it needed immediate attention. (the customer should NEVER be put in this position, yet since my daughter hasn’t had much experience with these things yet, provided a good learning opportunity with myself and others to learn some assertiveness skills)

    Eventually, maintenance man arrives to assess situation. Said he fixed it. Ceiling would dry out eventually. Although my daughter is very young, she expressed concern that since the ceiling was completely wet, it would probably need to be replaced or it would cave in.

    Long story short, after having to back to the office a couple extra times to report the SAME leaking problems. That were now spreading to the point she removed all clothing from closet, etc. And after receiving same treatment from same assistance manager. Who basically said…’The problem has been FIXED so why are you still HERE complaining?’ The maintenance man was once again sent to her apt. Who looked at my daughter and said…there is no leak. It is fixed. And just as he said that, he placed his hand on the area in question, and the ENTIRE ceiling caved in from inside the closet….

    Apt had to send in people to clean up all the debris from the cave in. Replace portion of wall and ceiling. Clean carpets.

    Problem is now fixed. Oh…and the assistant manager no longer works there.

    I’m convinced my daughter will be very prepared in asserting her rights as the ‘customer’ the next time she encounters this experience in a customer service provider. :-)

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Samantha,
      Bravo to the lesson your daughter learned. I wished it could have been easier on her — much easier. Yet please extend to her my kudos that she will be among many customers who teach through their lofty yet reasonable expectations.

      If I can ever be of assistance to you or her — with ideas etc… — please let me know.

      And thank you for you time in leaving this story. I hope you will share your thoughts on any post of interest here at Smart SenseAbilities(tm).

      Kate

  7. Joshua Symonette says:

    Kate,

    This post was so good, I yelled, “WHAT”, out loud when you got to the part about giving out your room number.

    There are so many things I can say about this story. But you made the point very clear. The only thing I will say is, the disregard we have for the smallest things often costs us so much in the end.

    This was a very simple situation that was badly mishandled and the impact is exponential. Not only do you need great people on the front lines, you need great people who can problem solve beyond the common sense level.

    Thanks for sharing this story.

    Joshua

    • Kate Nasser says:

      I am so heartened Joshua that you (and others here) see this as a simple situation that was grossly mishandled. We are talking about a simple cab ride! Yet, they turned it into a dangerous situation that was handled with a focus on their procedures instead of my goal and need.

      Thanks for weighing in on this one. I am writing a follow-up post to it that can help all businesses to learn several lessons for success.

      Warmest regards,
      Kate

  8. Joyce M. says:

    As hospitality professionals we want to create a positive, memorable, and rewarding experience for every guest; which will ultimately result in profitable repeat business. Our associates at every level of the customer experience must understand and energize that concept no matter the type of guest or request on any given day. Whether the issue deals with safety/security, cleanliness, guest preference, etc., it is paramount to support and enforce guest satisfaction at all points. In your situation, and many others, the immediate personal goals of the employee (self-satisfaction) overshadowed the needs of the guest and created unnecessary discomfort. Unfortunately, this negative impact was reinforced by the actions of the GM.

    There are countless orientations, seminars, training sessions, manuals, and various tools geared at teaching the concept of sincere and proactive customer care; however, the simplest interaction can derail any and every initiative when organizational leaders do not recognize and remedy breakdowns in service.

    I appreciate you sharing your story and feel that you clearly explicated a fundamental issue in service industries; while we work in advance to avoid any and all problems, failures in service must be quickly and formally addressed.

    Thanks again!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Dear Joyce,
      I appreciate your thoughts here. I do agree that there are many venues for training — I teach many myself. Yet as you say, at the moment of difficulty, the employees must choose to treat the customer well.

      It starts with attitude. Here attitude as a desire to conquer and move me on out. From a bad attitude, comes associated behavior and the resulting catastrophe in customer experience.

      Thanks again.
      So pleased you are contributing to this discussion here at Smart SenseAbilities(tm).

      Kate

  9. [...] Skills Coach Kate Nasser posted in her Smart SensAbilities blog about her confrontation with Karen, the manager at the Hilton Garden Inn in Eagan. When Ms. [...]

    • Germinal Garcia says:

      Dear All
      After reading all the reviews on conquering Customer Loyalty I would like to share the following points:

      The GM has to lead by example to all his or her Associates.
      The GM has to know his or her customers. I have found a way to know most of my customers staying in my hotel.
      All the Hotel associates have to be reminded on a daily basis that they get their salaries and tips from their customers. if they do not practice this rule market share will be lost compared to an aggressive competitor with high service standards.
      And lastly General Managers have to spend 80 % of his or her time on the floor greeting to customers, checking personally the SOPs and taking care of her or his associates concerns and so forth. I have found that some Gnereal Managers do not even know their new hires by name or they do not go to the employee cafeteria.

      Have a Happy Easter and passover everyone.

      • Kate Nasser says:

        Hi Germinal,
        Many thanks for your comments. I agree that GM must lead by example. GM must also face reality of who does and doesn’t belong at the front desk or in managerial position.

        If the GM’s standard of care for his managers to follow is below par, all the leading by example in the world won’t change it. S/he must be willing to clearly see when the execution of his vision is going astray.

        Thank you again for adding your perspective here on Smart SenseAbilities(tm).
        Kate

  10. [...] the past I have written that great choices create a super customer experience. A recent jaw dropping experience the Hilton Garden Inn once again shows that the opposite is also true. Bad choices burn [...]

  11. Marcus Collins says:

    Hi Kate,

    What a fabulous story, thank you for sharing. I oversee guest service training for a group of 19 hotels while also running a hotel and relish great anecdotes to share in my monthly newsletter. If I may, I will certainly use this story in my training. It would appear to me that there is a central theme to this travesty. Karen and her boss seemed to be much more concerned about Karen than they were about you! My biggest gripe when managing guest service staff is defensiveness. If they could only appreciate that their first role is as the guest’s advocate, even if the guest is upset with them! If the GM had done everything he did and kept out the defensive comment regarding Karen, your blog might have had a very different tone.

    I would commend his response regarding the change of policy. They had made a mistake, they admitted it and made a correction. Obviously, accepting the cab company’s policy in the first place was wrong, but from the time you brought it to Jason’s attention, there was not much more he could do on that particular point, except change the policy.

    I have to say that I would be very wary of having Karen at my desk at all following her response. The appropriate response would typically be a written warning, but I have to say that you should have received some sort of written apology from Karen. I just discussed your story with my AGM and we both agreed that a minimum requirement would be an apology letter acknowledging how poor her response was. If she were unwilling to provide that, then I would be comfortable dismissing her for not following reasonable instruction.

  12. [...] Posts: Leaders, Are You Conquering Customer Loyalty? Psychological Barriers to Super Customer [...]

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