they do not take you serious, but that with a smile

I don’t know how many times I have heard that before: When a customer complains listen to him and be polite. Send him signals of confirmation (committed social workers call that “active listening”) and tell your customers that you understand him and his cause. Most important: stay friendly. Probably I have already said this or something similar over a hundred times in my trainings and in principle that is absolutely right.

But ARRRRGGGGHHHH !!!!!!!! Something is missing!

But one piece at a time, what has happened: After we travelled for two weeks on business, attending congresses, meetings, acquisition talks and workshops in the United States, Katja and I wanted to finish this trip with a few days of vacation in Hawaii. And yes, we definitely looked forward to these days. It should have been the absolute highlight of this trip, a trip of a lifetime. And of course at that point we both agreed that we were really ready for a break and in desperate need for some recreation time plus: we actually had earned this holiday.

And so it proved. We checked into a fantastic hotel, the Sheraton Maui. Maui is one of the Hawaiian Islands, many say the most beautiful one. And this hotel was just a dream. Facing the sea, wonderful beach, great pool. If I would show photos now, I would have to put up with the accusation of being too cheesy.

We enjoyed our first evening, however this evening was followed by the first morning. And this morning should put a shadow over our relationship with this hotel. And so it came to breakfast …

Anyone who has travelled to America before knows this “Wait to be seated”. Well, now I associate with this request rather stupid memories and associations, but anyway.

As a German I would walk right into the restaurant and find a table (Yes I think I´m old enough to find a table of my own without harming someone or being a risk for society). But of course I know I am a tourist in a foreign country. And because that is the case, I am absolutely capable to play by their rules. Furthermore, I know that as a German I am nobody from whom you expect a good sense of humor. And I also learned that our tendency to efficiency lets some customer service agents overseas break out into a cold sweat.

Therefore, I tried to behave and do everything correctly. So I put on the most friendliest face, which I can manage before having my first coffee in the morning, and joined patiently the queue at reception.
In Germany and most other countries I know things are run a bit differently. You arrive at breakfast, murmur your room number to somebody (and I don’t want to discuss now, if it would be better to ask for your name instead of your room number at this occasion), find a seat and have your breakfast. Yes, this procedure is efficient, but honestly: I think it is not bad.
However, when in Rome do as the Romans do.

So I am in line at reception, trying to look friendly and then the disaster took its course. When we finally reached the end of the queue I heard: ‘Good Morning Mister Brandl. We have currently a waiting period of 30 minutes until your table is ready. You can wait in the area over there.’ – Boom, that was it! No, it has not left me speechless. Other guests in front of me had been notified about the waiting list as well. So I was a little stunned, but at least prepared and that is why my answer was a simple ‘No’.
Probably my opponent was not accustomed to such simple answers, as now it was her turn to stare at me somewhat stunned. After she recovered, she asked me what I meant by that. Mhmm what exactly could be unclear about ‘No’?
But I wanted to be constructive, so I explained my answer: “I am not prepared to accept a 30 minutes waiting time.” What? – Helpless amazement. Then it came the perfectly trained, customer orientated, ‘that is how you deescalate a conflict’ reaction. The lady put on a smile and said: ‘I call the manager’. “Yes, please” I said, looking friendly (as mentioned before, as far as I was able to before my coffee).

After a few more moments of perplexity she wanted me to step aside.
Now I was overwhelmed by my internal communications trainer. He told me that it is a stupid idea to leave the field before you have achieved what you wanted to achieve. So I stayed where I was and replied again with a simple “No”.
Very important at such a moment: Look friendly.

Firstly, that is what our counterpart is trying as well and secondly that is something they can’t handle. Screaming and freaking out, yes. Then you can call the security. Have yourself push aside to go into the corner and be angry, is fine too. Then the problem is for now out of the way. But if he remains where he is and still looks friendly – bummer!

So she called her manager who arrived. Friendly smiling she asked what the problem was and friendly smiling I replied. “I am not willing to accept a 30 minutes wait” She said she was sorry and that she understood me, but unfortunately currently there was a rush hour and a lot of people would want to have breakfast.

Well, now you could discuss how surprising this may be that people come around 9:00 am unexpectedly for breakfast and whether a hotel of this class should be prepared for such an extreme situation. But my confidence in this service team was dwindling. At the same time I remembered that I wanted to have breakfast in the next few days in the morning and, if possible, neither before 7:00 am nore after 12pm. Her smile grew increasingly strained.

Then it slipped out. I said: “We are here for 5 days, 5 times 30 minutes are 150 minutes. We are a couple, so multiplied by two are 300 minutes. 300 minutes are six hours. I am not willing to waste six hours of my vacation.”

Yes, I am embarrassed about this. Sorry!

Yes, I am German. I´m afraid I can’t deny it.

And as a typical German it crosses my mind in such moments, how to make processes more efficient. And really: some the tables were actually free!

However, she says: ‘But it is rush hour.’ I look friendly and say ‘yes’. She offers to personally see if a table is available – Now we getting closer!

One minute later she escorts us to a beautiful free table on the veranda. I am happy and thank her politely.

OK, I admit I did ask her what she will do to prevent that we have to wait again tomorrow. At least at this point freezes her smile and she says it’s rush hour.

I would like to apologize now for what came next. My communications trainer did already let off some steam, the structured, efficient German just jumped straight after him and now even the smartass came out and wanted to strike relentlessly: “Look: there is a free table, there is another one and there, there, there, all free tables. The only thing is: they are not cleared. Maybe the problem is not the rush hour, maybe it would help if you simply would schedule a bit more staff that cleans the tables in the morning? ”

She still pulled the corners of her mouth upwards and said, “I understand you and thank you for your feedback.”

Folks, this is not how it works! Accept the concern and being friendly – that’s good. However after that something substantial has to follow. Or imagine us on a plane. You in the back me in the front. And then comes a very friendly announcement from me: “Ladies and gentlemen, our engines are on fire. I can understand that you are concerned and would like to thank you in advance for your feedback. “And that was it. Seriously?

Something has to follow, what is going towards a solution. On the plane I have to tell you what we will do to solve the problem. Even better what we have already done.

In the hotel there are so many simple ways to resolve this matter: “You know what, I just reserve you for tomorrow a table. OK? And regarding the number of staff, I am happy to pass on your feedback”. It could be that simple. In addition a glass of prosecco on the table and mister Brandl would be happy.

But this would be properly too easy. They rather prefer to invest in some training in which folks learn some phrases by heart and train to smile no matter what.

And in the end you got customers who do not feel taken seriously and write negative customer reviews.

However, that was not all. How they then finally flattened me and why I therefore had a serious word with my friend and colleague Tim Gard, you will see in my next post.