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How can you apply enough of the right kind of attention up and down the hierarchy to ensure a seamless customer experience?

Last week I stayed at a major hotel chain in New Orleans for a few days. Everything seemed pretty standard for a business hotel in a touristy city. Almost all the staff members I interacted with were extremely pleasant, and the room looked quite fine on the surface. But as a trained observer, I can’t help looking at things deeply, so I noticed some unsettling details.

The beds were nicely made, as were the little-folded triangles on the ends of the toilet paper rolls. But on close inspection, the bulb in the makeup mirror was burned out, four of the snaps holding up the shower curtain were broken, and the bathroom vent was absolutely covered in furry grime. When I ordered a small supper from room service the first evening, I had to scrape a little schmutzy something out of the teacup and rinse it with hot water.

Are Guests Responsible for Their Own Satisfactory Experience?

I’m not a germaphobe, and in all my years as a road warrior, I’ve dealt with much, much worse conditions. So the next morning, when I reported the broken bulb and shower curtain to the front desk, I was explicit that I could live with these small imperfections, but they needed to be remedied for the next guest. The woman at the desk understood completely about the bulb and the curtain: To fix what’s broken makes sense to anyone. I didn’t mention the moldy vent or whatever was in my teacup because complaining about those things felt persnickety and fussy, even to me.

Still, my stay could have been a lot closer to perfect. I’m left with a big question: What’s the balance between being a helpful guest and having a satisfactory guest experience? It’s not my job to be a professional quality control monitor wherever I go (although I have to say I could certainly help improve a number of operations if their management wanted me to). And, really, how many people look up at the bathroom ceiling and notice a fuzzy vent? Obviously, not enough of us.

It’s understandable how the fuzzy vent and schmutzy teacup could be overlooked: Hotel housekeepers have many things to tidy in each room, and many rooms to cover. Room service delivery staff have time to grab the teacup, but not necessarily to look inside it. So who has the responsibility to notice the things that are not on the checklist but are important nonetheless?

Give the Devil His Due: Sweat the Details!

When several small things go wrong in a hotel, it makes you wonder about the establishment’s overall quality and cleanliness. Are those towels really fresh? Is that slightly dingy carpet too icky to walk on barefoot? Is it hygienic to drink from that water glass or use that coffeemaker?

In your own operation, what are the details a guest, a user, or a customer might notice — and worry about? What could trigger their considering a switch to another provider? What tools or levers for research, development, and deployment could you implement to prevent customer attrition?

Are you creating conditions under which customers have a stake in helping you improve? Do you at least provide feedback mechanisms that are written and designed with clear response devices and calls to action so customers can let you know what they need or where you’ve let things slip?

How can you inspire every employee to be alert to small but crucial details and their implications for your operation? Are attention to detail and the drive for quality customer experiences part of your mission and values? Do your executives talk about — and live — these values every day so that they become embedded in your cultural norms?