Photo: The Savannah, Port of Spain, Trinidad

“Welcome back. We haven’t seen you in awhile” said Vanessa, the front desk receptionist at the Hilton Trinidad Hotel. The last time I stayed at the Hilton was about 18 months ago. Yet, Vanessa at reception, the restaurant greeter and wait staff, the barista at the coffee bar, all greeted me with smiles and similar refrains. The barista even remembered my coffee order – double espresso macchiato. I felt very special.

Then little nuisances surfaced:

  • I arrived at my room, tired and frustrated that my luggage had been left in Antigua or St. Lucia. With nothing to unpack, I tried logging on to the internet. I kept getting a message “Incorrect name/password.” I called the operator and was transferred to Guest Services, which I suspect might be in the Philippines (giveaway – I was addressed sweetly as “Miss Marguerite”). The problem was solved eventually (after extensive questioning about which hotel I was residing in, from someone who clearly had no clue where Trinidad is) when it was discovered that my first and last names were mixed on their hotel register. I reported this to the front desk the next morning as I wanted to make sure that the members of my client’s team who would be arriving later did not experience this nuisance. “That’s how they sent the list to us.” “They” meaning my client – and theirs too.
  • The shower mixer in my bathroom ran hot and I couldn’t get cold water. I reported this to the housekeeper, who fiddled with it and got it to warm. On my insistence that it was still not cold enough, she smilingly called maintenance to report the problem. It took 2 days and another call from me for someone to come and repair it.
  • As I was leaving my room one morning, I pointed out to a housekeeper a few doors down that my in-room coffee service had not been replenished for 2 days. “You have to call in-room dining” she said, “We don’t deal with that.”

Now you may say that I am just a miserable and cantankerous guest. Truth is, I love the Hilton Hotel – it overlooks the Queen’s Park Savannah, a 260 acre park in the center of Port-of-Spain. It’s one of my favourite places in the world. The hotel has lots of open space, including a balcony in each room. I can hear the parrots and kiskidees, take a 4k walk around the Savannah, stopping for fresh coconut water, look out over the city past the islands strung like pearls in the Gulf of Paria, and on a clear day, see Venezuela. I feel relaxed and at peace. Most of the time.

Those nuisances brought to mind the words of David Maister, my Service Management professor at Harvard in 1985: “Service is a million little things.” Together, each of them created a less than great service experience, alleviated only by the warm, beautiful and very genuine smiles from the staff. How could they have been avoided?

Start with the processes: the call center in the Philippines ought to be able to see which room and hotel their guests are calling from. Would really have been nice to have been greeted with “Hello Marguerite. How can I help you?” rather than having to give my name, hotel, country and room number and then explain the problem. And the responsibility for replenishing the in-room coffee service should rest squarely with housekeeping, as they check the room every day. In-room dining doesn’t.

But even with the best processes, things will go wrong. And this is where culture is key. The “we don’t deal with that” culture should be replaced by “We deal with anything necessary to create amazing experiences for our guests.” So, the person entering the list of names from my client would have questioned first/last names and entered them properly; the housekeeper would have followed up with maintenance that they had fixed the shower and would have checked the coffee service each day and herself requested replacement from in room dining.

Excellent service requires that you align the right people and processes to create amazing experiences. The challenge for management is that the “devil is in the details.” The solution lies in relentless attention to those “million little things” and the creation and constant reinforcement of a culture where every team member understands that their job is to “deal with that” – whatever “that” is.


Taking Care of Customers When Things Go Wrong
click HERE to view article

Exceptional Service Lies in the Exceptions
click HERE to view article

How To Deliver Customer Happiness
click HERE to view article

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