Often, a little empathy is enough for an apology.
Some time ago I participated in a press trip to New York, to try out the new business class of a well-known airline company. The intense two-day schedule included the flight there and back, plus a presentation of the new aircraft cabins. We were accommodated in a hotel of a French chain for business travellers, two steps away from Times Square: a classical reception and quite a decent room with a spectacular view of the Big Apple’s skyline.
So far so good. The problem came up on the following morning, when I opened my eyes to find out, to my dismay, that it was a quarter past seven. The night before I had requested the wake-up call at a quarter to seven. I had just enough time to dress up quickly, pick up and toss into my bag a couple of things that lay scattered in the room, and rush to the lobby for the checkout, hoping to still have five minutes available for a cup of tea (I hate American coffee) and a croissant. I did not, however, resist the temptation to point out my small issue to the front desk. This is when the unexpected took place: instead of expressing a simple apology and some sign of human empathy, the person in front of me picked up the phone and called his colleague who was on shift the previous night, to find out who had made the mistake. After which, without a sign of contrition (a simple “I’m sorry” would have sufficed), he informed me that the hitch had been caused by their IT system.
Now, I certainly did not expect anybody to wear sackcloth and ashes over such a minor snag. But I was definitely not interested either in being made to waste more time to ascertain the IT system’s fault. And if, on the contrary, the mistake had been made by the receptionist on shift, what would they have done? Would they have exposed him to public ridicule? This, too, would not have benefited me a great deal; on the opposite, it could only have been embarrassing.
In this issue of Job in Tourism, we are publishing and interesting article by Patrick Landman specifically dealing with complaints management. In these cases, he writes among other things, ‘it is often helpful to state that you would also be upset if something similar had happened to you; underscoring a complaint is indeed one of the golden rules for effective complaints management’. Some hotels (and we are talking about a 3-star, not a super luxury hotel) even get to the point of placing a gift pack in your room. But this is really doing a lot. Often, though, just a little bit of empathy is enough to make the difference.
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