Customer Experience: How Minor Issues Create a Major Impact

May 1, 2014

I was staying at a large hotel chain in the Southwest United States earlier this week and received an unfortunate but stark reminder of how minor customer experience mishaps, delivered in succession, can accumulate for a major brand impact.

For someone who speaks and writes about customer experience and customer service, I feel I am pretty forgiving about customer experience mistakes, particularly small ones. I have had dinner with industry colleagues and have seen a few apply white glove standards to every part of the experience. Their eyes were keen, and they were not wrong.

I have a slightly different outlook though and tend to let a little thing or two slide. Coming from the perspective of someone who runs businesses on the front lines of retail, I know how tricky execution is in the real world.

And I say this to set the stage for the importance of consistent execution. The great majority of people are fairly forgiving of one issue, particularly if it’s a minor one. However, as we discussed in our post 6 Ways to Keep the Sucky Service Snowball from Running Downhill, when bad experiences continue to accumulate, they can have a serious impact on the customer.

This is what happened this week with the hotel I stayed at. The hotel missed a great opportunity to reacquaint me with their brand and to help me develop a bond with it — all due to a succession of minor problems.

Since my travel has increased significantly this year, I recently signed up with a rewards card that includes this hotel chain. I am now incentivized to use this brand and to be a loyal customer. This is the first time I’ve stayed with this brand since I committed to the rewards card, and now, the brand has me wondering whether the rewards are enough to make me choose this brand over other alternatives.

Here’s a list of things that happened in our first 24 hours at the hotel.

  • We left our breakfast door hanger on the door, the kind where you prefill your breakfast order. They are supposed to pick it up in the middle of the night and bring you your breakfast during your chosen time. It was never picked up, so breakfast did not arrive, and we had to call for room service.
  • We removed the do not disturb sign from our door while it was still morning, but never received housekeeping for the room.
  • Since housekeeping never came, we needed new towels. We ordered towels around 4pm, as at this point we did not want the housekeeping since we had work to do. The towels never arrived. We called back an hour later, and requested the towels again. This time housekeeping was sent up.
  • When the housekeeper arrived, she handed us two bath towels. We asked her for some hand towels and wash cloths, and she responded in a most unfriendly way. “You need more than two?”
  • We left the room around 5:30 to meet some colleagues and were met with an interesting site. The room service tray that we put in the hall before 9:00am was still sitting there.
  • However, it gets better. When we returned from our dinner around 9:30pm, the room service tray was still sitting in the hallway. It had been there over 12 hours!
  • The next morning we were happy to note that the room service tray had been picked up. Unfortunately, a pair of filthy towels were sitting in the hall (not ours!). They were there at least two hours by the time we left for the conference.

Now, to be fair, there were positive things too. Our check-in was pleasant, and they allowed us into our room even though we arrived at the hotel early in the morning. A number of people we dealt with across the hotel were nice and provided competent service.

Yet, there was no escaping the snowball of issues that defined our experience with the hotel. Any one of the issues above would not have been a big deal, but the aggregation of all of the issues in sequence made it so the dominant framework for our first 24 hours in the hotel was one of problems  — and that damaged our view of the brand.

The issues listed above all stemmed from either failure of systems or a failure of people. One issue would have been indicative of “dropping the ball;” all of the issues combined indicated that there was a fundamental problem with systems and training, and that reflected on the entire brand.

The takeaway is simple: remember how important the little parts of your customer experience are, for a lot of little failed touch points can eventually lead to a failed experience.

4 thoughts on “Customer Experience: How Minor Issues Create a Major Impact”

  1. Definitely agree, in fact, I suspect the minor things are often quietly at play when you have conversations w/a client about the bigger things. I’ve done a lot of project mgmt and product work and if you’re watching closely you can see those moments make or break experience.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that it helps a lot if you acknowledge those things (e.g. “yikes, that doesn’t sound very fun, let’s figure out a way to get things back on track”), but you only have a certain window to do that. People don’t need you to perfect, but they need to know you understand what the experience is like for them. And w/o getting too long winded, I don’t think the fix for those little CX moments is process, I think it’s culture and having one that’s strong and clear and empowers people in the org to take care of things like trays sitting in the hallway of a hotel.

    1. Agreed Joe! If you address the situation in a forthright and timely way, it can go a long way towards neutralizing the impact.

      I do think you need both culture and process, particularly in larger organizations. The culture makes sure the person who’s job it is not still picks up the tray; process makes sure that the person whose job it is walks the halls so no tray sits too long.

  2. Here’s a laugh Adam.. thx to another site, I figured out my comment problem. The middle initial violates some spammy thing?? anyways.. I’ve got some catching up to do. 🙂

    Travel is such a great example, good and bad, of how customer experience impacts the whole brand reputation. Have to link back to this for something I’m working on for sure, it’s all about being proactive vs. reactive, about PR.

    I wonder if these are not the brand, but the specific hotel? I’d post this on TripAdvisor or Yelp — and see how the local management responds. If they don’t, send it up the food chain to corporate and let them know this hotel certainly has dropped the ball. FWIW.

    1. Davina, you figured it out!!! Middle initial? I just looked, and my spam settings prevent comments with more than two words too. Who knew…

      It’s a pretty big chain, so my guess would be that room service trays sitting out for 12+ hours is definitely an execution issue — and not something the Corporate office would consider OK. Whether this chain’s training programs and culture allow this to happen frequently across its brand, well, that is another story altogether.

      Great to have you back Davina!

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