My hope for this site is to create a dialogue with readers. Tell me what you think of my views, where I went wrong or even if I happen to get something right. Most importantly, I would love to hear your stories about service and how they have shaped your own opinions. Talk to me. I crave your feedback, otherwise I’m just whistlin’ in the dark.
I thought it would be fun to tell you about some of the difficult service dilemmas I’ve run across and ask, “What would you do in this situation?” I want to believe, if fundamentals are in place, that there is always a solution to any problem, even when it feels like a Catch 22. After we read various solutions from readers, I’ll tell you what I would have done and also what actually was done in each of these cases.
We live in a culture where money is king and power is often the highest value. It’s as old as time and by the looks of the political landscape; it isn’t likely to change soon. Often, situations that have service professionals tearing their hair out involve customers who, due to their position or wealth, wield so much influence they can destroy a business if they become disgruntled. Sad as it is, these are the people who, regardless of their behavior, can never be told ‘No.’
This first scenario involved two families composed of such individuals and took place in Hawaii at a luxury resort renowned for catering to the privileged and wealthy of Los Angeles. To avoid ethnic stereotyping of any subset of Beverly Hills society, lets just call these families the Clampetts and the Bodeens. Each year for decades, in order to escape the pervasive spirit of Christmas on the mainland, each family (parents, grandparents, children, friends of children, nannies, etc.) held standing reservations for several suites in the hotel’s most desirable wing. Among resort workers on Maui, this busiest and most expensive slice of high season is sardonically called Festive Season. Considering activities, restaurants, spa treatments, room service and endless shopping each family dropped 50 to 60 grand per visit. And that’s being conservative.
At the time, the cabanas around the main pool were first come, first serve. Year after year, the Clampetts and Bodeens made a first-light dash to claim the prime cabana with the best morning sun and afternoon shelter. Apparently resentment had been building for years. The Bodeens were too often winning the race and the Clampetts had had enough of second-class shade. One morning, Mrs. Clampett set her alarm for the wee hours, carried her packs and bundles down to the pool, and felt confident she had safely claimed the cabana for her brood to arrive at a reasonable time much later that morning. After confidently sleeping in, the Clampetts arrived poolside to discover to their horror the Bodeens inhabiting their claim. All their possessions had been moved to the other side of the pool to what could only be regarded as a ghetto umbrella. They’d finally had enough.
The resulting discourse and request for explanations quickly degenerated into name calling, cursing (How dare you lay your filthy hands on my personal possessions, etc.) and ended up with the Clampetts throwing the Bodeens towels, jewelry, food trays, electronics and purses into the deep end. If Security hadn’t stepped into the fray, Grannies Clampett and Bodeen could have landed there as well.
Needless to say, both families demanded satisfaction from the hotel, threatening to withdraw their patronage forever and spreading the word to their powerful friends. If you had been in the position to make the call, what would you have done?
This next incident also involved VIPs whose displeasure or disappointment can never be an option. It took place in San Francisco at a famous celebrity-chef restaurant whose proximity to the symphony, opera and ballet made it the first choice among the city’s powerful socialites. The set-up at this boite was such that diners upstairs were seated around a balcony with a view of the diners on the main floor below. If someone has the opportunity to look down on someone else, it isn’t hard to guess the preference of those who consider themselves privileged and entitled. Thus, in this particular house, upstairs seating was de rigueur for anyone who was anyone. On this occasion, the CEO of a large company was having dinner at one of the preferred booths upstairs. Though this particular man and his wife were well known among the hoi-polloi as patrons of almost everything, it would not have come as any surprise to readers of the society columns, that on this visit he was accompanied not by his wife, but what would be immediately recognizable to any viewer of TV sit-coms as a high-class hooker.
In short, no one thought twice about the French attitude of the CEO until his wife showed up at the hostess podium as a guest of the doyenne of all San Francisco society.
The hostess was naturally horrified at the prospect of seating the new party upstairs. It would be impossible to avoid flagrant humiliation for Mrs. CEO in a room already full of her peers. She also knew suggesting a downstairs table to her hostess, the reigning queen, was not only a breech of her standing reservation requirements, but from her point of view no different than seating her outside in the gutter. Very wisely she realized she was in over her head and summoned the manager for help. What do you think he did? If you were he, what would you have done?
The Black Hole Teller
Sadly, this last little story involved someone who, unlike the previous customers, was very easy to say ‘No!” to. I was the customer. Since I live off tips, I have to go to the bank to deposit cash. My bank of choice is a credit union but it isn’t as convenient as the dozens of branches of a national bank that have seemingly materialized on every corner. Like tons of people, I was lured into opening an account with one of their free offers. After a few months of making in-person deposits at a nearby branch, I thought in passing that their staff seemed unprofessional, unhappy, underpaid or all three. Since my transactions were limited to simple deposits I didn’t give it a second thought until something happened that seemed unbelievable.
I’ll admit to being a bit compulsive. I check and re-check door locks, balance my checkbook to the penny, that sort of thing. I always count my cash many times before I go to the bank, so when I’m handing it to the teller, all faced and denominated, I’m secure that my deposit matches the amount on the slip. This particular visit was the same as any other until I handed over my cash and deposit slip and the teller turned away and walked into another room. I was astonished that this wasn’t a major breech of some sort of protocol but I let it pass until she returned to the window. She said my deposit was eighty dollars short of what was written on my slip. At first I was speechless. I asked her why she had gone into another room to count my money and she replied that she was responsible for attending to the drive-through window. She asked me if I wanted to recount the bills myself. I told her it wasn’t in my nature to accuse her of anything. On the other hand, it was my belief that I handed her the designated amount. I know I’m human and it was entirely possible that I made a mistake. Still, I couldn’t get over the fact that I would never know. In all my life I had never had a bank teller count my money out of my sight.
The teller began to act as if I were questioning her integrity and told me there was nothing else she could do for me. I was exasperated but about to give in believing it was probably my fault. That’s when a woman waiting in line behind me saw what was happening and spoke up, “They did the same thing to me the last time I was here.” That’s when I demanded to speak to the branch manager. What do you think he did? What would you have done?
I’m dying to hear your me your solutions to these quandaries and also get your feedback on anything else here at ASR. If the comment box doesn’t show up directly below here, then please click on the tiny, grayed-out link just below the title of the post on the right side of the page next to the chat bubbles (# Responses) to leave your message. Also, please feel free to Subscribe by clicking on the button in the sidebar to the right. It’s free and also the easiest way to make sure you’ll find out what happened in each of these true case scenarios.