I recently returned from a road trip with my family, and by road trip I mean, five days and 1,400 miles up and down the east coast, with in-laws and two young children in tow.
Yeah, it was exactly as it sounds.
Although the bubbling caldron of personalities and temperaments in the rental van was probably responsible for my sensitivity, I couldn't help but feel that we were having one poor customer service experience after another, at every restaurant, hotel, and service stop we made.
Generous portions of apathy served with a side of attitude.
Hotel reservations were the worse. Ordinarily during family road trips, we do not make reservations in advance, because we generally never know exactly when or where our travels will take us. We also enjoy the flexibility, freedom, and independence of not being tied to a schedule.
Ah, who am I kidding ... with two small children, we stay wherever (and whenever) they want.
Because of this, I spent a good amount of time calling to find hotels along our route. Usually, after being connected with a central booking call center and maneuvering through a complicated automated system, I would finally be connected to an actual individual who would proceed to read from a script in a monotone, unexcited and altogether uninterested tone.
One night, however, my reservation routine was thrown for a complete loop. Enter Hotel Tonight, a smartphone app that allows you to reserve hotels the same day of your arrival by pooling last minute bookings with popular hotels for discount prices. It is only available in larger metropolitan cities, so I didn't get the opportunity to utilize it until we reached Washington, DC. At the recommendation of a friend, I downloaded the app and gave it a shot. I had a question and quickly found a phone number to dial.
To my surprise, I was connected to a voice. It was human. It sounded nice.
The experience that followed with the Hotel Tonight representative, whom I shall call Ivy, was wonderful. Here is why she made the experience memorable:
She Was Unique
After a courteous greeting, and with my inquiry out of the way, Ivy asked me what brought me to DC. While not an uncommon or even unique question, after speaking with several other reservation agents who followed an unflinching and impersonal dialogue, the question caught me off guard. I joked about being on a road trip with in-laws and two small children. She joked about the condition of my sanity. We then had a good laugh at the entire situation.
It doesn't take much to be unique. In this case, it meant just breaking from the insincere and rehearsed script and offering a genuine effort to connect with the customer. It may not have been ground breaking, but it was different enough from the tens of other calls to make it memorable.
She Was Generous
At the conclusion of our call, with all issues resolved, Ivy chimed in again and asked if I had used my "new client credit." I had not used it and indeed was not even aware of it, as nothing on the app indicated it was available. She explained that first time users had a credit ($25 at the time) that could be applied to any reservation and that I should take advantage of it on this reservation. She proceeded to assist me in properly registering my account and finding the coupon code for check out.
Had she not provided this suggestion, I would never have known about the credit. For a small price to Hotel Tonight, Ivy made a significant impression on me.
She Was Bold
Upon completing my transaction and applying my credit on the smartphone app (not earning a commission, I presume), she asked me if I would kindly recommend Hotel Tonight to a friend. While some might think it crass to be so bold as to ask for a reference, I found it refreshing. I was happy to oblige, since clearly the call went well and we had developed a nice rapport. She also offered an additional credit for anyone I referred, which was completely unnecessary, as I had already become a fan.
Asking for the close is a staple of a good sales practice. These days, with social media making it insanely easy to spread good (and bad) reviews, asking for the referral is becoming a staple of a good customer service practice. Regardless, it is a refreshing break from being asked to take a survey at the end of the call.
While nothing ground breaking happened on my call with Hotel Tonight, the entire experience was pleasant and memorable. It probably didn't hurt that my expectations were set low by such poor customer service experiences prior to our interaction. Looking back, however, I believe other entrepreneurs and business owners could learn from this. Instead of plowing time, energy and money into scripting and training your customer service representatives, spend the resources finding the people who LOVE being one, then provide them the flexibility to make your company memorable.
One last piece of advice: allow a minimum one week re-acclimation period for customer service agents returning after a 5-day road trip with in-laws and small children. Any less is just asking for trouble!
What memorable customer service experiences have you had, and what made them memorable? Share your experiences below.