During a recent vacation, we were fortunate enough to stay at the Hotel Indigo in Asheville, NC where we received a great lesson in top-notch customer service and the art of surprise.
We were in Asheville to celebrate a milestone birthday of my wife’s (which milestone, I am sworn to secrecy on). When booking the room over a month before, we had mentioned the birthday to the Reservation Agent. We wanted a room with a view, and it was July 4th weekend, so we figured a tiny bit of it’s-my-birthday begging was not out of line.
In the end, it was a quick comment, nothing more. We didn’t push the matter or harp on it. We’re just not that picky about that kind of stuff.
When we arrived in Asheville, we were a few hours ahead of the 3:00 check-in. Our room was not ready, so we headed downtown to pass the time for a few hours.
When we returned to the hotel at about 2:45, the room was still not ready, so we waited in the lobby. When the clock passed 3:00, I went to check the status. I was not upset that the room was not ready early, but the staff was aware that we had arrived three hours ago; I was expecting the room to at least be ready on time.
When I asked about the room, the Front Desk Representative leaned over and whispered to me: “We are still getting your room ready. I gave you an awesome mountain view on the 9th floor, but the concierge is still out buying stuff to prepare the room for your wife’s birthday.”
I gave the rep an appreciative smile and walked back across the lobby to keep my wife occupied while we waited. There were a couple of dicey moments when the concierge came back from her shopping and had some obvious birthday materials in hand. Fortunately, I was able to distract my wife while the concierge (who did not yet know who we were) grabbed some things from the desk next to us and left to finish the surprise.
Mere minutes later, the Front Desk Representative let us know our room was ready. When my wife walked in, this is what she saw:
My wife was ecstatic! Unfortunately, I had to admit not being behind the thoughtful gesture (stupid, I know!), and my wife was amazed that the staff had done this of their own volition. I actually had to convince her that it wasn’t me; the hotel staff was just being awesome! She is as big a proponent of great customer service as I am and was impressed as a businessperson as well as a consumer. It was one heck of a first impression.
If you’ve studied consumer behavior at all you are most likely familiar with primacy and recency effects. Simply put, you remember best what happens first and what happens last. Less academically put…
First impressions matter.
Customer service is about meeting and exceeding expectations, and those expectations are contextual. If you spend $29 for a night at a motor lodge while driving across country, you’re pretty much happy as long as the hot water works and you aren’t eaten by rats in your sleep. If you drop $700 for a suite at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan, your expectations might be a tad bit higher. Understanding the typical expectations that accompany your service is important, but no matter what those expectations are, you can set yourself up to exceed them by starting the service experience with a strong and memorable first impression.
A customer or client’s first impression sets the stage for everything that comes after. Canadian business consultant, Kaarina Dillabough, alludes to this concept in her recent blog post about curb appeal. In our own retail businesses, we talk a lot about the concept of having to “dig ourselves out of a hole” with a customer, meaning we blew the first interaction and now we must struggle to change the customer’s negative perception, instead of simply creating a good one from the start.
What the Hotel Indigo did was to set the stage perfectly. They were completely professional and super-friendly in the early interactions, and all the while, they were working to make sure our entrance to our room was spectacular. They created a frame for our experience, so that every experience we had afterwards was viewed through it.
And it worked. We did in fact have one bad experience during our stay – a café server who was fairly rude. However, because the concierge and front desk person had set the stage so well, because every other interaction we had with probably 15 or so other employees during our stay was so excellent, we looked at that incident as an anomaly, an employee having a bad day or simply a bad hire, not as representative of the service level at the Hotel Indigo.
Imagine, however, had just a couple of things happened in a different order. What if we had been made to wait for our room past the check-in time (without a reason) and then had passed that time in the café when the rude server was on shift? What if that had been our first half hour at the hotel instead? What would our outlook about the hotel been then?
Fortunately, that did not happen. The Hotel Indigo gave us an incredible welcome to their business and followed up with an entire stay, save one incident, of pleasant and helpful service that reinforced the great feelings they gave us when we first entered our hotel room.
Did it work? Well, we had such a great experience that I am writing a blog post about it, and the next time we are in Asheville, there is no question where we will be staying. So, a hat tip to the staff at the Hotel Indigo for making my wife’s birthday and our trip so special. We will be back and will recommend you to all!
So, what do you to set the stage in your business? Have you ever had a bad first interaction that the company was unable to recover from? An awesome first impression that excused some later missteps?
Note: This post was originally published before the launch of our Customer Service Stories series. We have edited this page to include it in the series; however, all content and comments remain the same as originally published.
By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.