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What a difference a stay makes


The story

As coaches and trainers often do, I was booked in to stay overnight recently in Birmingham before a day of work there. I had a room in a Travelodge very close to the client site and had booked and paid for it in full. Checking-in, albeit around 10pm, I was told there were no rooms.

Holding back shock (and a hilarious compulsion to ask if they had a stable nearby), I politely inquired as to why my booked-and-paid-for room had gone to someone else. "It's Travelodge's policy. Sorry, we work like airlines. You'll find it in the small print." Excellent, small-print was not going to help me now. "Even those who've paid in full? Why wouldn't they turn up?" (when they've shelled out £90 for what was very likely to be a shabby cupboard). "Not our fault, just the policy. We'll get you a taxi to another Travelodge and you can have one back in the morning. All complimentary. Oh and a free breakfast for the inconvenience."

A few other parts of the story then happened:

  • The 'other hotel' was 3 miles away. And was distinctly similar to a motorway service station.
  • They didn't have shampoo (they don't do it) – cue £2 in a vending machine for a thimble of Nutrogena.
  • The free breakfast was a soggy croissant in a bag.
  • The complimentary taxi back in the morning to the client site wasn't booked on account – cue 15 minutes in it outside the site on the phone to Travelodge to convince the driver they would pay him (and I didn't have to).

The thinking

Not an ideal situation by any means.

Having worked with the customer services industry many times, it pains me to be on the receiving end of such poor service, and it's exactly the kind of thing that'll earn an organisation a shocking reputation. Now, the ladies at the first hotel weren't rude by any means, but a couple of things would have made the world of difference:


  • Empathy – show me you understand that the situation is rubbish; that I've had a long journey and this is probably the last thing I need. They didn't, they seemed stressed and annoyed they had another person to 'sort out'.
  • Take responsibility – show that you're owning the problem, as Travelodge's representative, I as the customer need you to sort this out. Explain exactly where I'm going, and book my travel to and from the place so I'm back to where I need to be in the morning. Don't pass the buck on, even to "the company", at this point you are the face of it. They didn't, they blamed the company incessantly with a 'we didn't make up the rules'.
  • Continuity – when I am passed on (as I had to move physical location) make sure the next person I deal with understands the situation. I need to know that Travelodge are still looking after me, even 3 miles away I am still in good hands, and all that's been promised to me will happen. It didn't (see taxi example above).

Great customer service isn't actually that difficult, but it's astounding how wrongly it can go, and how damaging it can be.

I'd love your comments and stories of great (and terrible) customer service - what makes the difference for you?


+1 #2 Bhavini 2011-09-19 19:38
I think people often think good customer service is about covering oneself in case of any comeback and it's so much more than that. It's about keeping the punters happy not in the bend over backwards to appease you sense but having open and respectful channels of communication - managing client & customer relationships with the long term gain in mind NOT the short term.
+1 #1 Ed Toll 2011-09-12 21:03
Completely agree. Great customer service is usually just common sense but get it wrong and the results can be disastrous.

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