Before the travel slowdown, I read a post in a Facebook travel group that made me think about what we expect an experience to be like when we travel. Paraphrasing the post, the author felt that we’ve come to a place where every customer thinks they deserve special treatment. But when everyone asks for special treatment, it waters down the “specialness” of the extras, and staff and management will just stop listening to requests.
For example, I’ve seen where it’s a regular behavior for travelers to write a hotel in advance to ask for some sort of special something or other. Maybe an upgraded room, early/ late check out, club access or some kind of birthday/anniversary/engagement gift. Afterwards, they’ll post online about all the great things this particular hotel gave them and advise other people to follow the same plan. The crazy thing is, people get mad when a hotel doesn’t honor their requests. “How dare the hotel not give me the upgrade I asked for, when they gave it to that other person? This hotel is HORRIBLE. One Star!”
Instead of focusing on the requests, I started to think about why we think it’s OK to constantly ask for special treatment. When did we become a bunch of entitled whiners and complainers when we don’t get what we think we deserve?
While the complaints slowed down when people stopped traveling, they’re now back with a renewed vigor. Besides people complaining about not receiving what they expected, they’re now complaining if things weren’t like they were the last time. You know, last time before a global pandemic changed the world.
Did Customers Change?
Oh, you bet we did.
It’s no secret that we’ve turned into a huge group of entitled idiots. Everything is owed to us and we have the right and duty to complain (loudly) when things don’t go our way.
We now think that everything going perfectly is the baseline. Things need to be ready early and better than expected. Any deviation from this optimal experience is a reason to complain. For example:
What if there’s a line at the check-in desk and a room won’t be ready until the usual arrival time when you requested an upgrade and early check in? What compensation do you deserve for the inconvenience when you made plans for this afternoon based on getting a room early? (This was an actual conversation we saw at reception on one trip. The hotel did find a room for the guest but it wasn’t an upgrade and that wasn’t good enough.) SMH
We’ve learned that every experience can be made more special. There’s always a better room, a better seat, an upgraded car, a juicier steak that’s better than what you’re getting. Something “more” that will make your experience better.
It’s not true. None of these things will make your experience better. They’ll make you think it’s better because you’re getting more than you paid for. You perceive a greater value for your money spent. It’s a trick that always almost works because everyone loves a deal.
Companies Trained Us To Act This Way
Remember when it was a novel idea when Burger King told customers they could “Have it your way!”
Who knew that special requests went back that far? I liked that jingle but didn’t think at the time that customizing a Whopper could lead us to where we are today.
My first introduction to a company regularly delivering special treatment was when we visited Walt Disney World. Cast members were always trying to “exceed expectations” of guests. This left customers (guests) with a feeling they had a special experience because one employee did something just for them. It worked. It worked really well.
The “Disney Way” of providing service became a standard other companies strove to meet. The Disney Company started to hold seminars for executives to learn the basics of this principle and they still help companies, like Spirit Airlines, who are looking to improve their service levels.
There’s a trap you can fall into when implementing this customer service principle if you only focus on the result and not the process. The point is getting employees to try and find where they can help make a guest experience better. It’s not about the percent of customers who say their experience was excellent, because not every experience is special. Some of them are perfectly fine, nice, good and exactly what’d you expect. There’s nothing wrong with that. Companies have become so obsessed about everything being “best” that they try to force adjectives onto experiences that don’t deserve them and make you feel that you missed out if you didn’t end up thinking of fluffy unicorns.
Every experience is not wonderful. Every meal does not taste amazing. Every hotel stay is not fabulous. Every show is not life-changing. Lastly, I should not have to give a 10 on every survey without getting asked why I didn’t give a perfect score. Not being perfect isn’t a flaw. But that’s not how companies see things. Anything less than a perfect score means something needs to be improved.
If I want an amazing steak, I’ll get dressed up and drive the 90 minutes to Bern’s Steak House in Tampa. Some nights I just want a steak and I can go to Outback Steakhouse around the corner from my house dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. The meal isn’t ever exceptional, but I’m not expecting it to be. Requiring staff members to ask me if my steak is delicious is stupid. Do they think making me lie and say yes will make be believe the steak actually was amazing? I’ll go back because it’s close and the steak is good, exactly like I’m expecting it to be. Just don’t want me to call it incredible.
By insisting every single interaction must be amazing, you train people to think their expectations must be exceeded every time. That’s impossible because once you’ve experienced something once, that’s what you’ll anticipate the next time. The experience would need to be even better for you to be impressed any more.
The Survey Culture And Reviews
The last part of the puzzle is the use of surveys to measure customer satisfaction and the use of social media and review sites. Companies love to show their wonderful reviews on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp!.
Companies are also terrified of bad reviews on social media. Posting a complaint on Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor will often get an immediate response from a company representative, faster than email, a phone call or even complaining in person.
I’m all for letting a company know when they’ve fallen short of the mark but some are taking it too far. Since companies are so quick to respond and resolve online complaints, people are now complaining about any real (or perceived) problem, hoping to get some type of compensation.
This has created a positive feedback cycle of complaint-reimbursement. The companies created this problem for themselves when they put such an emphasis on these reviews as a marketing tool.
What do we do?
I’m still gonna complain when I feel something is going wrong but I’ll make sure to follow my rules of how to be a better customer when I travel. When making requests, I’ll save them for things that are necessary and reasonable like when I wanted to stay in the historic building when we stayed at the Casa Marina in Key West. If it’s you’re 10th anniversary and you’re returning to the hotel from your honeymoon, there’s nothing wrong with letting the hotel know. They might throw a bottle of sparkling wine your way. Just don’t do this for every stay, when you’re not even married.
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