A bottle of wine and a lavish cheese plate greeted me as I entered the hotel room. You’d think an oenophile like me would be excited to see these gifts after a long day of travel.
You’d be wrong.
The bottle of wine came with a lot of bad options. Should I drink it? I was only there for one night. That’s too much wine.
Perhaps I could have a glass, but it seemed like such a waste to open a bottle of wine for just one glass.
I could bring it home. That would mean I’d have to check my suitcase instead of carrying it on the plane. A checked bag would translate to an extra 30 minutes waiting at the airport and a $25 baggage fee. That seemed pretty steep for a $20 bottle of wine.
I could leave it. Would somebody’s feelings be hurt if I left their gift behind? I hope not. I really hate hurting people’s feelings.
The cheese plate was another dilemma. It was too late for cheese tonight and cheese isn’t exactly the breakfast of champions. Besides, it looked like it had been sitting in the room for a little while. This one was a lost cause. A total waste.
These gifts were provided with the best of intentions. It’s too bad the result wasn’t delight but rather consternation over wasting them.
Sometimes, giving customers a little extra turns out to be a big mistake.
We’re taught to think of customer service as going above and beyond. Do something extraordinary for someone and they’ll remember us for a lifetime.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out the way we hope. Here are a few examples:
A free dessert at a restaurant can backfire if the guests are already stuffed or watching their diet. Do they eat something they don’t want or reject such a nice gift?
An upgrade to the deluxe package at the car wash can backfire if the customer is in a hurry and finds the smell of air freshener to be sickening.
Upgrading an airline passenger's seat to an exit row can backfire if it separates her from the rest of her family.
Small gifts like these are given with the purest intentions. However, these unanticipated consequences can causes these gifts to become annoyances to the customer.
Thoughtful Gift Giving
I’ll be the first to admit I struggle in this department. There isn’t a perfect answer. And yes, the thought really does count.
So, let’s start there. One way to avoid any trouble is to ask.
At the restaurant, a server can ask her guests if she can bring them a dessert on the house.
At the car wash, the ticket writer can ask if he can upgrade the wash to a deluxe package at no extra charge.
At the airline, the gate agent could ask the passenger if she'd like to be upgraded to an exit row seat.
Asking accomplishes two things.
First, it verifies that the little extra is something the customer actually wants. Second, it avoids wasting the gift on someone who doesn’t want it.
Of course, there are sometimes when you don’t have the luxury of asking. Or, asking might ruin the surprise. So, what should you do then?
Look at it from the customer’s perspective and think how you can brighten their experience. One of the best hotel amenities I ever received was a bouquet of flowers at the Napa River Inn.
The flowers were cut from the hotel's garden and my wife and I could see the same rose bushes in bloom outside our window. It brightened up our room throughout our stay and created an even stronger connection to one of our favorite hotels.