Sunday, October 12, 2008

"I Can't" Should Be Erased From Your Vocabulary

I just got back from a trip to Seattle and I'm in the lobby of the hotel waiting for a ride and I get to listen to this conversation between a customer and the desk person. It is a conversation that I have heard in many variations many times at many different businesses. I have even participated in such conversations in my past. One phrase is stated again and again: "I can't. . ." "I can't do that." "I can only do this, but I can't do that." "Our policy is. . ." This is killing your business, one customer at a time.

In this particular conversation, it involved a man from Korea who spoke fairly good English who was staying at an Extended Stay hotel. He had paid for a period of time with Traveller's Checks and then his trip was cut short because he completed his work in less time than expected, so he wanted a refund of what was owed. He wanted the refund in cash. The clerk said they could not refund any cash, but only refund on a credit card. They went back and forth a bit with the customer not understanding this. Finally, she looks at the ledger and sees that he had paid with Traveller's Checks and then she says that they can only refund $75 in cash and the rest would be a check and they would have to mail it to Korea.

She had said to the customer that she could refund on a credit card, so he hands her a credit card. Now, she says that she can't refund on the credit card because he didn't pay with a credit card. Of course, she also can't issue a refund in Traveller's Checks or this conversation would have lasted a much shorter time.

Now, she gets a relative on the phone who speaks Korean. This goes on back and forth for another 10-15 minutes. Still, the "I can't" is all you can hear. The hotel owes the customer $215 dollars. They "can" now refund $75 in cash, so then they must issue a check for $140 and send it to Korea. Then she thinks that since he is staying one more night that she can refund $75 in cash today and $75 in cash tomorrow and then a check for $65 sent to Korea.

I'm just sitting there listening to this silliness and thinking, "I wonder if they have a clue or even care that this customer is probably done with this hotel chain?" I know that I would have no desire to return and after hearing this exchange, and I will not be returning. Now there are two customers gone.

Finally in frustration, the customer gave the clerk his address in Korea for them to mail the check.

The question for you is what could they have done to not only keep this customer, but to enhance the experience of the stay and the hotel? I'll give you some of my thoughts of what they could do.

1. Disown the word "can't." Stop saying "no" to customers. Find ways to say "yes." Maybe it is a reasonable alternative, but starting with the word "can't" is not the way to get there.

2. Rules have to be flexible. I understand policies. They have a purpose, but in this case, following the policy exactly will create an unhappy customer. Rules are not made to do this. The flexibility here would have been to refund the money in cash. If they didn't have sufficient cash, they should go to the bank and get it. Worst case--and I mean worst case--give the customer a check and take them to the bank and let them get it cashed. Simple. You have his money, you need to give some of it back. He lives in Korea, not Seattle. Sending it to him in a check in Korea is ridiculous.

3. Unhappy customers tell others. I cannot imagine this customer coming back to this hotel, or even this chain. There are other places to stay. He will tell his friends and business associates about this experience and how stupid it was. I am not going back either and I am telling you as well. That is called Word of Mouth advertising. It can be the best or the worst and it can kill a business no matter how many dollars they spend on advertising. Just do it enough and you're done. What could they do? They could have done this simple thing without even hardly a second thought.

What was really saved here by having this policy? If they can refund $75 per day, they can refund $215. It's not even a matter of can or cannot, it is a matter of will or will not. Rules do not make choices for us, they are meant to make things flow smoothly and efficiently. In this case, the rules are running the business and running it poorly. A better choice makes sense and common sense is a good rule. You might ask yourself, "if this were me on the other side of the counter, how would I be feeling about this?"

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