Monday, November 17, 2008

Now THAT is Customer Care - Amen!

I was running a Customer Care workshop today and came across a gem of a story about customer care which I am re-producing here with the kind permission of Jill, the participant who told the story when I asked for examples of good attitudes in customer care.

It seems Jill and her wheelchair bound husband went on holiday to Crete and when they booked the holiday they requested a ground floor bedroom. When they arrived at the hotel they discovered, to their horror, their room was actually on the top floor and the hotel had no lift.

The manager - who spoke little English - apologised
profusely and immediately transferred Jill and her husband to a ground floor room and they were thrilled.

They slept soundly that night after their initial anxiety and when they woke in the morning they discovered that a CONCRETE RAMP had been BUILT outside their room overnight to enable easier access to the garden area for the wheelchair.

They had not heard a sound as they slept and they were simply gobsmacked to see what had happened.

Now that is what I call customer service. It restores my faith in what I have always said on the Blog - despite some opposition - that customer care excellence is something that some people just 'get' and some people just 'don't get.'

This manager really understands customer care and I would love to work in an organisation that he runs


J.KANNAN said...


This is the Manager, I would like to describe as a person "With a noble heart and subtle mind- a seldom breed in the customer care services. The meticulous manner with farsight ideas, the Manger took care of the Jill couple deserves to be spoken very high and good.

Trevor, as you have rightly mentioned some people just "get" it and some just "don't get' it.and lucky are those who get it.

A wonderful workshop experience well narrated.


Trevor Gay said...

JK - We think alike.

This manager REALLY understands the relationship between the customer and the organisation is the most important one.

Going the extra mile to not only ‘please’ the customer but to ‘delight’ the customer should be the norm rather than the exception in my opinion.

So many companies see customer ‘satisfaction’ as good enough –

I love to hear of stories like this when merely ‘satisfying’ your customer is not good enough.

We need to see more of this type of brilliance.

Joel D Canfield said...


I'm looking forward to a time when it's not astonishing, but the norm!

For now, though, I'm making a note to keep surprising folks with something remarkable.

David Wike said...

That is quite extraordinary. I agree with Joel’s sentiments but I can’t help but feel that such a level of customer care will always astonish us.

By the way Trevor, I didn’t get round to commenting on Sir Alex’s 50 years. I agree that he is quite a good manager. But I think that Shanks edges him for quotes!

Trevor Gay said...

Hi there Joel and David - I think this is the best example of customer care I've ever heard. I also hope it becomes the norm. There is no reason at all why we can’t all aim that thigh in my view.

I agree 100% David about shanks – he was the master of quotes – I loved his style with words – simplicity was his key word!

Sir Alex does his talking on the field

Richard Lipscombe said...

Trevor... Interesting that you think this is an example of Customer Care... I don't know that term so may be I can be forgiven if I have missed the point of your message.

Item 1....The most worrying part of this story you do not even comment on. It is the failure of the business system that screwed up a "special request" booking for this woman. Health care systems put front liners under unnecessary stress and strain because of these systems failures all the time.

Item 2 ... This manager is at the pointy end of a very loose system so she or he is accustomed to dealing with customer crises. This is evident in the story - no problem to switch rooms. Either this place is not full and so reallocating rooms is easy or juggling room bookings is commonplace and the next customer is also a problem child because she wanted a ground floor apartment and now has the top floor. We will deal with the next customer's problems when she arrives.This type of business model is not one I want to own or attempt to run.

Third, doing business development on the run is a fine result for this customer. She got a ramp and she is happy. But the net profit from this sale is now probably zero or negative and this expenditure is being done on the run and without due consideration to all the issues concerning the proper treatment of disabled customers in the future. Such business development, on the run without proper thought or consultation, is a sure sign to me that this business is a mess not a shinning example of excellence.

This business is going down if it does not fix its booking system. If it is prone to fix that system the way it does its business development (building ramps in the middle of the night to respond to one customer) it is not any type of business I want to own or work in...

Apart from all that it is, I guess, an example of excellence in Customer Care. Perhaps I simply do not "get it" as you like to say BUT my customer care would start with getting the booking right in the first place.....

By the way, if I had this type of an experience with a booking for a holiday I would not use that booking agent ever again.....

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Richard and thanks for your comments.

My point was the ‘example’ of customer care set by the hotel manager and was nothing to do with the booking agent. In fact I agree with you completely about the booking agent and I would not use that booking agent again either.

The gentleman running the hotel had no idea until the guests arrived that one of the couple was a wheelchair user. As soon as he saw the obvious problem he changed their booking to a downstairs room and BUILT a ramp overnight!

In whatever language we use that is exceptional customer care.

I’m sure the gentleman simply wanted to please his customer without getting bogged down into unhelpful complexity of ‘business models,’ ‘business system’ or ‘business development.’ I suspect he just wanted to ‘care’ for his customer and show the customer he cared. I applaud him and I can’t find a single reason to even begin to criticise anything he did! Let’s agree to differ on this one my friend.

I would recommend the hotel to everyone I know and on every occasion I could.

Richard Lipscombe said...


"I’m sure the gentleman simply wanted to please his customer without getting bogged down into unhelpful complexity of ‘business models,’ ‘business system’ or ‘business development.’ I suspect he just wanted to ‘care’ for his customer and show the customer he cared. I applaud him and I can’t find a single reason to even begin to criticise anything he did!"

WOW! If you really believe that my friend then I have nothing else to say to you. I can however confidently predict that this will happen again and again to this business. If I owned or ran it I would never want it to happen again so I would take remedial action on what you dismiss as the "unhelpful complexity" of business models, business systems, and business development.

I do hope there are others who read this blog who have a more open minded approach to business topics... For them I add...

Business is and always was complex and it is growing more complex each day - just read the papers!

In this case Customer Care starts with the booking agent - that is an integral part of this business and as such the booking should have been checked and verified by this Manager (or his front line delegate) before the customer arrived. If he had taken the time and had the "simple" checking systems needed to pick up that there would be a guest in a "wheelchair" then this whole episode could and should have been avoided. Being good at what you do is what Simplicity is all about. This business is not good at what it does. It is good, perhaps (even that is debatable in my mind), at calming people who have a perfect right to be agitated.

Customer Care Amen! Hardly.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Richard - I spoke personally yesterday to the wife in this story. I only had to look into her eyes as she told the story to see how moved she was by the kindness shown to her and her husband. She was clearly touched that the hotel owner had busted a gut to go the extra mile to do something he didn’t really have to do. This has clearly made a life time impression on her and indeed upon her husband - who has sadly died.

I do hear what you say about complexity and yes there is a lot of complexity around in business …. A high proportion of it totally unnecessary. I would argue most business processes can be made far simpler- starting with the language used in business. Even people within business agree that most of the language used is indecipherable – designed to confuse and create an air of superiority among those who use it.

This example of caring for your customer is just not about complexity at all - it is only about caring for your customer – and that’s simple – always has been always will be.

Great exchange as always!

Anonymous said...

To me the beauty of this story is in the recovery from the original error. Meeting and exceeding a customers expectations is clearly the goal every customer every contact every day. Mistakes will happen, regardless of the business system, manager, or employees involved. Going to this extreme to recover from an error...priceless! I am thinking that a hotel that "enabled" their managers to go to this extreme to resolve an issue is probably one who has a reputation for excellence...and satisfied customers...who repeat their forums like yours! Outstanding story...

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Dave – this was a small family run hotel and not part of a national chain or large organisations. I’m convinced the owner just wanted to go the extra mile.

I think Richard’s point is excellent about the ‘whole system’ needing some attention but the point of my repeating this story that Jill told me is to illustrate how exceptional customer care delights the customer and has a profound and lasting effect.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Richard - I think this story illustrates perfectly how guru Seth Godin describes customer service. Seth says;

“Did a human being treat me in a way that made me glad I had the interaction?”

I assure you Jill was VERY glad about the interaction. Her memory will not be about ‘business models,’ ‘business system’ or ‘business development’ but simply the way she and her late husband were made to feel very special.

David Wike said...

For once I find myself agreeing with Trevor … well almost! The guy running the hotel took exceptional action to ensure that this customer received the service to which they were entitled. If you are the customer, you do not care about processes or systems, you just want that for which you have paid.

Even in well run organisations things do go wrong. What differentiates the great from the good is what happens next. Dave puts his finger on it: “Going to this extreme to recover from an error...priceless!”

Of course, where Richard is absolutely spot on is that operating in this way all of the time is a recipe for going out of business. We cannot know where the error originated or whether it was a one-off. And we don’t know whether the room change inconvenienced someone else, who may have gone away with a different view on customer service. Perhaps one should also query why there was no wheelchair access in the first place.

I am not a great fan of processes, procedures and systems, but in our increasingly complex business world it is essential that we have them, but we should only have those that are essential. They should be there to help, not to hinder. If we have an orderly way of doing business for 95% of the time, we will have the management capacity to deal with the unexpected problems that arise occasionally. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the odd problem should be expected, even if its nature is unpredictable.

As a final thought, if all the rooms had been full so that there was no possibility of a room swap, I wonder whether the hotel owner would have built a ramp to the top floor?

Trevor Gay said...

Crikey David – that’s twice we’ve agreed in the last 6 weeks – Do I owe you some money? :- )

Of course Richard is correct in one way - this is no way to run a business by the management textbook. You can’t ‘build a new ramp’ every day. But my point remains this was exceptional care for a customer and I’m glad you agree David.

Maybe some people have worked all their career in perfect organisations where mistakes are never made … That has never been my experience in a 40 year career. My career has been littered with learning through mistakes. Mistakes made by me and all those around me – that doesn’t mean we WANT to make mistakes – it’s called life.

The world of business has NEVER been and NEVER will be a rational, logical, process driven machine without personality. It is a fabulously mixed up meeting of minds and we stumble through every day/week/month/year against an overall vision - if we are lucky enough to have a boss or leader with a vision. That often NOT been my experience either.

I simply do not recognise this view of the world that says ‘lets get all our processes and procedures right and then things will be ok.’

Life and work is just not like that.

While people are involved with all our glorious inconsistency and individuality we will NEVER see the perfect organisation because such an organisation will have stopped learning.

I love the comment by the way David about building a ramp to the top floor – I suspect the owner would not have done that - he would have put in a lift overnight.

Cheers David

J.KANNAN said...


To me it certainly looks and feels that the Manager of the hotel has done a splendid job (customer care in its true sense) to Jill couple-whatever may be the circumstances .Assuming that some other customer probably must have been inconvenienced, there was no hue and cry scenes and the Manager certainly. Handled the situation aptly, properly and instantly. Might be the person who occupied the GF room might have volunteered or the Manager must have convinced, that person keeping in mind the true circumstances (The handicap of Mr. Jill) It also proves that “Human beings are Humane.”

Assumptions and presumptions can be made for the purpose of debate on the issue, but the end result was good, to go with the saying-“ All that begins well- ends well.” I really did enjoy reading all the comments and thanks to every one for their valuable comments from which I have gained lot of inputs.


Trevor Gay said...

A good summary JK - I agree with you.

Joel D Canfield said...

Richard, your comments make so many negative assumptions. There's no indication that this is symptomatic of ongoing chronic systemic failure.

Perhaps the hotel operator didn't feel the need to waste time checking up on the booking agent because this was, indeed, an outlier, a rare mistake from an otherwise dependable service. If you'd refuse to revisit a business because they made that single mistake, you're going to be switching vendors every week for the rest of your life, because businesses make mistakes.

Is the fact that the hotel had two rooms available at the same time really an indication that it's a failing business? I'm not sure I buy that.

Is the fact that the problem was resolved without lots of muss and fuss *on the part of the customer* (since we have no clue what the hotelier actually did; we're not told) really an indication that it happens all the time? Sheesh; when I make a mistake I don't force my clients to watch the cleanup. I just say "I messed up. I will fix this. I will give you a shout when it's perfect." They have no idea what level of effort it took to fix the mistake, nor should they. But that doesn't mean I'm good at fixing mistakes because I make them so often. I'm good at fixing mistakes because I'm good at what I do, so when the rare bloomer slips through, it's clear and obvious and isn't exactly rocket science to sort out.

'Net profit from this sale'—what about net life profit from this customer? If all I care about is net profit from this sale, my goal is to screw over everyone who walks through my door because I don't care about the future.

I don't mean this to sound harsh, just passionate. But when someone discounts a heroic act of kindness because they think it's bad business, it explains to me why business continues to be as hosed up as it is, and why stories of genuine human kindness are still remarkable and astonishing.

Richard Lipscombe said...


The discussion between Seth Godin, and Tom Peters and the Open Forum moderator on the simple question "Has technology killed customer service?" is relevant here. Your quote from Seth I assume comes from this source. Here is the link for those who are interested in the wider discussion of "customer service"

My real interest in this post is that I believe in universal health care and as such I have been a life long advocate of the NHS. I believe the NHS is once again at risk of being castrated given the economic crisis facing the UK. Cost cutting will be blamed but the real threat will come from the failure of the government (Labor or Tory) to put the NHS on a digital systems platform and thus to reduce the people-based and paper-based culture of this valuable institution.

I believe the NHS can only survive if there is a mindset change within it. People have to switch from full care provision to self-service care provisions for many aspects of health care. For this to happen the patient and his or her family have to able to rely on the system where once they relied on the front liners, doctors, etc. If the system is poor then too many resources have to be wasted in "ad hoc" decision making at the point where you get a failure in customer service delivery.

In a climate of cuts to funding this type of NHS can not continue to give the quality of universal coverage that you and I value so much.

Joel... For my sins, I spent years as a lobbyist to government. I was really good at my job (I did a lot for non-profits and I was able to do that without charging them) but I was never really successful at the caper. Why? Because I had the wrong attitude and perspective on what mattered to the people who pay lobbyist. I wanted to "prevent" bad outcomes for communities and corporations from what are often termed the "unintended consequences" of policy and its implementation.

Guess what people do not have "money" for that type of preventative lobbying or advice. It is a bit like preventative medicine or health care - people in general mouth support for it but do little about it. Instead there is no end to the "money" that is made available to fix mistakes (most of which can not be fixed). I literally walked away from huge amounts of easy money every day because I refused to work on trying to fix problems that should have never occurred in the first place and which if worked on could only end up distorting the allocation of resources.

Fixing problems in this way leads to adhocracy and complexity not Simplicity. What you see as my negative comments I see as the way to improve customer service for all not just those who are the casualties of mistakes, systemic failures, or simple incompetence.

What I hope happened at Jill's Hotel is that the manager upgraded his booking system and spent the money needed to upgrade the ground floor room (yeah the one with the new ramp leading to the garden) with wheelchair accessible toilets, grab handles in the bath, etc, etc. To my mind, if customer service is worth doing then it is worth doing well. I guess I am not interested in what either Seth Godin or Tom Peters call WOW customers service - I expect that to be a given. Rather I am impressed when there is no need for special Customer Care ..... Amen!

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Richard – now there is something you and I agree passionately about – the improvements needed to our wonderful NHS.

I am STILL very proud of the NHS which is a universal system based on great principles including treatment at the point of delivery free of charge irrespective of wealth status.

Our NHS – despite all the many armchair critics - is still a precious institution that we should fight to keep.

No British politician of any party will suggest scrapping the NHS because they know such an idea will lose votes.

I agree totally with you about more self care and definitely agree about greater use of digital technology.

There are ambitious plans for every member of our UK population having their own electronic patient record in the next few years. Even that has its critics Richard believe it or not – why do people bury their heads in the sand to progress?

I am the first person to admit we have some problems in our NHS but it is still the envy of many countries across the world and thanks for your support to the principle of a universal system.

J.KANNAN said...


As Dave Wheeler mentioned, mistakes do happen regardless of the business systems ,preventions etc., and if mistakes does not happen- according to me people are not working in the organization - be it Manager or down the line staff. Only the thing is that people in the organization have to ensure that same mistakes are not repeated. Let there be new mistakes, find solutions and solve it- That’s life at work. “No one is with out faults and errors and none is exception to this fact, be it anybody! Let not the same experience of Jill couple is faced by the customer(s) as well Manager.

Customer care service varies from industry to industry and therefore its priority to be ascertained according to the situation and urgency. What is applicable to Hospitality industry may not be apply to health care industry. What’s applicable to a consumer durable industry may not apply to other service related industry etc. As long as the people involved in taking care of the customers with good and fair services irrespective of one’s affluence (I mean to refer to ordinary people of the society in particular and make people happy. Managers and people have been employed by the organization to keep customer happy as long as they are with you. All to bear in mind one universal truth “If you don’t take care of your customers-some body else will” and you stand to loose the customer and customer service credibility. And lastly:-

“We can’t spell S (U) CCESS, without YO(U) customers” should be the watch word for every one connected with customer care.

Thank you all for the opportunity given to me to express my views.


Trevor Gay said...

Wise comments as always JK – My late beloved Dad always told me if you’re not making mistakes you’re not making anything.

J.KANNAN said...


Thank you for the pat on my shoulder.

To sum it up in a lighter vein " If a person does not make mistake. a MISSTAKE will happen- A Miss will take him away to make mistake-Therefore its better to make mistake and correct insted of getting carried away by a MISSTAKE."

It's just for laughter and not for serious reading please.



Trevor Gay said...

Thanks JK – I appreciate your humour Sir!

Tom Peters says all the great leaders in business have made at least one ‘almighty public screw up’ – and I agree with Tom that mistakes are only part of learning.

Front liners should be allowed to make mistakes and not be punished.