The 36-room hotel faced a perfect storm of problems.
It was normally a stopover for cross country travelers, but a winter storm had shut down the interstate. Many people altered their plans and decided to wait out the storm at the hotel.
The little hotel was suddenly sold out.
To make matters worse, the hotel's reservation system went down. This meant the front desk agent didn't know which rooms were vacant and which were not.
She felt completely stuck when she checked some guests into a room that was already occupied and it looked like every other room in the hotel was reserved.
She couldn't send these guests back out in the storm, but she didn't think she could accommodate them. Meanwhile, there was a growing line of restless and weary guests waiting to check-in.
Almost any business faces a moment like this when operations go haywire and cause big customer service headaches. It's crucial that you know what to do in these situations.
Step 1: Get a Grip On What's Important
Imagine you're the front desk agent at this hotel.
You're trying to accommodate an angry couple you inadvertently checked-in to an occupied room. There's a growing line of restless guests behind them waiting for service. The phone's ringing off the hook.
What is the most important thing for you to do in that moment?
The front desk agent's number one task should have been to do a room check. She needed to get an accurate list of which rooms were occupied and which were not.
- She needed to find a vacant room for her guests.
- She risked checking more people into occupied rooms without that list.
- She need to know whether the hotel was truly sold out or had vacant rooms.
It's imperative that you get a grip on the most important thing when service hits the fan. It doesn't do any good to panic and spin your wheels.
Here are a few more examples:
In a retail store with a huge line, the most important thing might be taking a moment to organize a line so people aren't crowding the registers. You can even use a few secret tricks to make the line feel shorter.
A contact center facing a huge spike in contacts due to a service outage might update it's hold message, automated email responses, website, and social media accounts to advise customers about the delay. This will give customers information they need and possibly prevent a lot of phone calls.
I was once dining at a restaurant when the power went out. The most important thing at that moment was safety. The staff cleverly deployed extra candles throughout the restaurant and made sure all of the walkways were clear. Servers escorted guests to the restrooms and supplied them with flashlights.
Lines get long. Emergencies happen. You need to get a grip or it will get worse.
Step 2: Conduct An After-Action Review
It's amazing how many companies deal with the same issues over and over again, but don't learn from them.
This wasn't the first time that bad weather had shut down the interstate and unexpectedly filled up the hotel. It would likely happen again.
So, what could the hotel learn from this experience so they could be better prepared the next time?
For example, they needed a procedure for manually keeping track of rooms when their reservation system went down. (This isn't difficult in a 36-room hotel.) The employee could have remained cool, calm, and collected if she had a good handle on the operations.
Think about other situations where a problem is likely to happen again.
A contact center might get a huge spike in calls when marketing launches a new promotion without telling anyone. It's annoying to the contact center manager that nobody in marketing bothered to give her a heads-up. But, it's foolish to expect anything different the next time around unless the contact center manager has a better plan.
Here's how you should conduct your after-action-review.
- Define the problem. (Ex: checking guests into occupied rooms)
- Identify the root cause of the problem.
- Determine what you can do to fix it.
Step 3: Be Proactive
You can save a lot of grief by being proactive at the first sign of trouble.
The challenge is recognizing that first sign. At the hotel, it wasn't the computer system going down, the sudden flood of reservations, or the road closures.
It was the weather forecast.
They knew about the potential storm days in advance. They should have started making preparations for the possibility that they'd suddenly sell out, lose power, or worse. This might include proactively confirming reservations, testing emergency procedures, and scheduling extra staff.
Think about things that you can do to be proactive.
- Identify a signal that trouble may lie ahead.
- Create a procedure to handle it.
- Test the procedure to make sure it works.
Assessing The Cost
That storm cost the hotel more than a few angry guests. The beauty of tying customer service to operations is you can attach real dollars to the situation.
Here were some real impacts that could be measured:
- Service Discounts. Many rooms had to be discounted due to customer service issues.
- Lost Revenue. The hotel may have had vacant rooms that could have been sold to guests.
- Repeat Business. The hotel risked losing repeat guests due to the service failures.
This post is the second in an ongoing series on the connection between customer service and operations. You can read the first post to get caught up. You can subscribe to this blog via email so you don't miss an installment.
Next week, I'll take a more in-depth look at how poor customer service can cost your company real money.