Saturday 23 March 2019

Pól Ó Conghaile: How to turn a silly mistake into great customer service

The best hotels are proactive, not reactive, when it comes to customers service, our Travel Editor says

Checking in... Photo: Deposit
Checking in... Photo: Deposit
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Some weeks ago, we arrived at a well-known Irish hotel to find the family room we’d booked had been changed to a twin.

Instead of separate beds, there were two doubles alongside one another — one of which our 12- and eight-year-old would have to share.

A first-world problem, sure. But it wasn’t the room we had booked and our kids don’t share beds well at these ages, so we asked to move to the room we’d confirmed.

So far, so simple? It didn’t stay that way.

The hotel’s front desk told us we couldn’t change, because they were full. Their offer? A ‘roller bed’ could be brought to the room, at an extra charge of €50.

We asked for the Duty Manager. He told us the room had two “industry standard doubles” (i.e. queens), reiterated the €50 offer and firmly stated that no room change was possible.

At no point was an apology offered. A blip began to bulge into a stressy situation. An hour or so later, as we discussed whether to stay or go, the Duty Manager rang back with a change in tone. He apologised, and offered two roll-away beds at no charge.

We’re not sure what happened, but assume somebody senior intervened.

The booking was a simple mix-up. Handled well, I could today be naming the hotel, commenting on how it turned a mistake into an opportunity, or created goodwill by showing us that mistakes happen, but it could quickly rise above them. Instead, when I think of this hotel, I think of this experience. This is the story I share.

The hotel was a five-star, which seems especially dumb. Yes, nobody died, and the place was full. But a quick establishing of facts (“We’ll look into this right away”), a genuine apology (no “ifs” or “buts”) and an authentic offer to rectify the situation (the roller beds) would have been an easy win.

Exceeding expectations (“Can we offer you a complimentary drink or snacks while we prepare the room?”) could have gone a step further, turning a cold negative into a warm positive. 

Admitting to a mistake and making up for it graciously is basic customer service. Even more so in Ireland, where we are slow to share feedback face-to-face — but quick to gripe with friends or post angry, after-the-fact reviews on TripAdvisor.

Top-end hotels in particular need to show they care, that they are an experience rather than just a room.

Doing so makes business as much as customer service sense.

A guest is just one person — but he or she is also much more than that. They can leave with a sour taste that quickly ripples around their social pool, or spread glowing word-of-mouth and return as a loyal customer.

It pays to be proactive, not reactive. Even with roller beds.

Read more:

Six secrets to great Irish service - Pól Ó Conghaile on the best (and worst) of Irish hospitality

Online Editors

Editors Choice

Also in Life