Here’s a tip about customer service…

January 7, 2009

n742390522_5153495_5609Last December, I was whisked off to the Caribbean for a week-long birthday vacation. Truly – there was no better way to celebrate my birthday than sipping a Corona on a pristine white beach off the coast of Mexico, while listening to waves crash.

There was, however (and there always is a ‘but’), one small detail that put a damper on things: all the extra hidden costs!

We signed up for a promotion that touted this great deal: for the bargain price of $800 USD, two people could stay in Florida for two nights, take a four-day cruise to Mexico and then spend one more night in Florida. The only catch was that we had to get ourselves there and listen to a time share presentation. “No sweat,” we thought, and off we went.

First came the ‘extra tax’ for our hotel room. This was $11 per night for the use of the pool, the safe and room service. While this nominal amount isn’t enough to complain about, it’s just enough to add up. Then came the car rental. We had a ‘free’ car rental but we had to cover all the additional insurance, plus $100 to park it for 5 days while we were on the boat. I repeated this back to the clerk: “Let me get this straight. You want us to pay you $250 USD to NOT use a car?”

And finally, when it came time to settle our cruise ‘account’, we discovered an additional $80 USD charge in gratuities. “You’re forcing me to pay a ‘gratuity’? Last time I checked, tips are given because you’re choosing to recognize somebody’s excellent service.” Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that I don’t want to tip. I just don’t want to be forced to pay for bad service. When gratuities are mandatory, it takes away the incentive for people to go ‘above and beyond’ in order to obtain the bonus. On top of that – why not tell me at the beginning of the trip? Why do I have to find this out at the END?

Despite these small annoyances, we managed to have a great time and came back rested. Over lunch at the office a few days later, this idea of gratuities and tipping came up in conversation and sparked a huge debate: Should tipping be mandatory (as it has now become the social norm)? How much is expected – 15% or 20%? And if you don’t tip, does it really send a message of bad customer service? While various views were bandied about, two things were clear: good customer service should be rewarded, and bad customer service should be communicated.

But how many times have you walked into a restaurant, experienced bad service and still given a tip for fear of appearing to be cheap? The truth is, there is still far too much bad customer service and people are not sending companies and businesses the message clearly enough.

By sending a clear message ie. not tipping if the customer service was lousy, we give businesses a chance to improve. Because the flip-side is that as a business owner, how do you know you’re not doing well if customers won’t tell you? If you’re a smart manager, you’ll take each and every piece of customer feedback to heart. Only then can you improve your processes and your offering.

So here’s a tip about customer service: as customers, it’s our duty to communicate to organizations how they’re doing, what we like and what they could improve. And to businesses: not getting a tip doesn’t always mean someone’s cheap. Maybe it means that you need to look at how you can improve your product. And a business that listens to customers almost always scores high marks.