Unsolved Mysteries of Service, or 'The Case of the Big Fat Pink Pen'

By Roberta Nedry President & Founder, Hospitality Excellence, Inc. | June 06, 2010

During a visit to a high end spa, everything was high class. The staff was enthusiastic and the services were well presented and delivered. I was so pleased that I decided to buy some skincare products. They wrapped them in tissue paper and placed them gently in a lovely bag. They had thought of everything. They began to process my purchase and handed me the credit card slip to sign. In my hands, they placed a worn out fluorescent plastic pen with the end chewed off and suggested I use a pad to write on because "it was a cheap pen!" They had not thought of everything! After all my nice services and the perfumed lotion on my hands, I did not even want to touch this mutated writing utensil. I could not believe that with all the care placed into everything else, they had not thought about this final act and parting moment. Perhaps they did not notice but I sure did. For me, it was an unsolved mystery. How could so much effort go into so many areas? How could the entire staff, management and frontline personnel alike, overlook this small yet significant detail? It was as if I was listening to a lovely melody and then the record scratched.

Shopping at gourmet food markets is a hobby, even when I travel. Tourists and residents alike often seek out unusual grocery venues to get a taste of the culture and region they are visiting. Some hotels even have small markets within the property. While at one of my favorite markets in Ft. Lauderdale, the staff seemed more attentive than usual. When I walked in, almost everyone gave me a cheery greeting. As I placed a food order, they took great care and interest in giving me exactly what I wanted. While I was browsing, they introduced me to some new products and sale values that I might have missed. They were going through some changes and told me about them including some future tastings that might be of interest. They continually showed they valued my patronage and reinforced the message that they wanted me to feel comfortable. They wanted me to know them better and to come back.

As I began to check out, the gentleman ringing me up noticed one item did not seem to be labeled properly and asked if I would mind waiting an extra minute while he checked on the price, which was indeed less than the label listed. He even called the owner to ask if he could offer me a deeper discount based on my patronage and purchase. Then, as he gave me the credit card slip to sign, he presented me with the biggest, fattest, prettiest pink pen I had ever seen. It was at least 8 inches long and one inch around. It was well made and not cheap looking. It was smooth, easy and fun to hold. It was unusual and interesting and made signing my bill an experience unto itself. I absolutely loved this pen and asked where they got it. The gentleman checking me out simply noted that the owner thought it would be a nice touch and a memorable way for customers to end their purchase with flair. It was only a pen but it delighted and surprised me. From the moment I had entered this store until I signed the bill, each point of contact had been a pleasure. That big, fat, pink pen put me in such a great mood! Through their simple and genuine gestures, they brought an intuitive dimension and level of understanding to service delivery and they carried it all the way through. They made shopping an experience beyond just making a purchase. Service was no mystery to them.

Hoteliers must learn how to uncover the mysteries that may be perplexing to guests. Tracking and tracing actions and behaviors before they become an enigma is key to service excellence. Guests should not be the detectives who question the inexplicable scenes that develop. Hotel leaders and their employees should be focused on anything or anyone who defies or resists explanation. All points of contact should flow seamlessly into memorable guest experiences for each guest.

Human or worldly dilemmas are often part of any mystery. When staying at a major resort, I did have a dinner dilemma unfold as I went through the reservation process. We decided to go out to dinner at the last minute and called one of the most popular resort restaurants to see if we could get in right away. We were transferred to the general reservation line and found out we could get in in 30 minutes. I was thrilled, thanked the reservations agent, and began to rush off the phone to get ready. She said she needed more information from me before she could complete the reservation. She wanted to update my personal records since I was a frequent guest. She slowly began a series of questions regarding my mailing address, profile and preferences even though I had provided this information previously. She insisted that it was important and kept me on the phone. She then made a mistake and had to input everything all over. I was exasperated and actually ended up being late for my reservation. When I did show up, the restaurant said they had not received the reservation at all--probably, because she was on the phone with me and had not had time to get the reservation processed and over to them in time. The mystery for me was how this woman was trained to robotically go after the information she needed with no regard for the guest situation at hand. It was as if she was in a script bubble that would only allow her to do what she was told to do, not what was right for the guest or the timing of this situation. This mystery would have been easy to solve with proper training and understanding of the ebb and flow of service and that scripts don't always work for each guest situation.

Mysteries are things that are difficult to explain or understand. Mysteries may also be situations where a problem or puzzle must be solved. To make sure service mysteries are solved before Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew or Alfred Hitchcock show up, seek out the following clues to solve service mysteries BEFORE they take place:

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Coming up in November 2019...

Architecture & Design: Biophilic Design

The hospitality industry is constantly evolving to meet and exceed guest expectations. As a result, hotels are always on the lookout for new ways to improve the guest experience, and architecture and design is an essential part of this equation. Bold design is often the most effective way to make an exceptional first impression - an impression guests use to distinguish between brands. One design trend that is being embraced worldwide has become known as “Biophilic Design.” Biophilic design is based on the concept of biophilia, which is the theory that human beings have an innate tendency to seek out nature, natural elements, and natural forms. Biophilic design is more than hotels simply adding a surplus of plants; it involves incorporating specific design elements into a hotel in order to imbue it with a sense of wellness and well-being. Some of those elements include exposure to natural lighting; views of nature and rooms with a view; natural architectural patterns; salvaged or reclaimed woods of all types; reclaimed metals; sustainably sourced stone; living green walls and vertical gardens; and direct and indirect exposure to nature. Hotels that have incorporated biophilic design into their properties are reaping the benefits associated with this trend including reduced stress responses, better air quality, lower energy costs, and more positive guest reviews. Biophilic design has also been shown to improve guest moods and to satisfy consumer demand for environmental responsibility. Savvy hotel owners and managers are aware that nature-inspired elements enhance their guests' comfort and well-being, which is why this trend is becoming so prevalent. Biophilic design is just one topic in the fields of hotel architecture and design that will be examined in the November issue of the Hotel Business Review.