First Impressions Count.

I was really looking forward to a rare weekend away with my husband this weekend but it soon became clear that we were booked in to a re-incarnation of Fawlty Towers!

I suppose that I should have smelt a rat when David’s friend came up to us in reception and said we were all sharing a room! Now I knew David had booked a double room for us and a single room for his friend, Terry, but I don’t know Terry very well so assumed he had a zany sense of humour. There were a number of people at the reception desk clearly trying to sort out problems so the receptionist was a little flustered. Our first impressions were therefore not good.

Things went from bad to worse when David gave our name and explained we had a double room booked. “I haven’t got a booking for you,” came the reply in a tone that suggested it was our fault. We were able to produce a confirmed booking receipt which showed that David had not only booked the two rooms but also paid for them. “Well we don’t have a room for you. You’ll have to stay at the Premier Inn” said the receptionist.

By this time my hackles had well and truly risen. We had booked the hotel because we were attending a Dinner Dance there and expected a late night fuelled by a glass or three of alcohol. We were to be in the company of my husband’s friends who I don’t know very well and, after a really busy week, I thought I might like to leave David in the bar with his mates and go to bed earlier than him. Besides my dress was hardly designed for cavorting round the Essex countryside on a bitterly cold January night. No, I did not want to stay at the Premier Inn.

It took the intervention of another member of staff and about half an hour before an acceptable compromise was reached but I already knew that this wasn’t going to be the weekend I had been looking forward to.

There are some lessons here for anyone running a business or working in Customer Service.

Lesson 1

Move complainants away from other customers especially at a reception desk. Apologise. If the problem is going to take time to sort out consider inviting the customers to sit somewhere else such as the lounge or bar.Offer a complimentary drink.  Solve the problem as quickly as possible but above all communicate with the customers so they know what is happening.

Lesson 2

Watch your tone of voice. It is never the customer’s mistake, (even when it is)! Anyone who has studied Transactional Analysis will recognise an element of the critical parent in the receptionist’s tone. A natural response to a critical parent is a rebellious child! The likely outcome is an argument which will get you nowhere fast.

Problems like these need handling from the adult ego state. Give the facts with an apology and a potential solution. ‘I’m really sorry, there appears to have been a mistake and I don’t have your booking. This is what I can offer you…’  We naturally respond to an adult as another adult which means a grown up conversation allowing us to work towards a solution to the problem. The problem is resolved more quickly without drawing it to the attention of onlookers.

Lesson 3

As soon as it becomes clear that there are going to be problems take steps to resolve them. Terry had highlighted that there was a problem with our booking much earlier in the day when he had checked in, why was a solution not ready for us when we arrived?

In fact the hotel did have rooms but there were maintenance problems with them such as broken key readers and lights that didn’t work. Customers could have been offered those rooms at a discount or have the alternative of staying at another local hotel. That way the customer could choose based on what mattered most to them. (Of course having maintenance attend to the problems in the first place would have been even better).

Lesson 4

Train staff. Teach them how to respond in difficult circumstances. Empower them to find solutions which are acceptable to the customer. Resolve a complaint to the satisfaction of the customer and over 90% of them will do business with you again. They’ll also tell their friends that you can be trusted to solve problems.

If you would like help with your customer service training call Glenda on 020 8991 2767 or email her at

Remember you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Our inclination is to edit out any information which conflicts with the first impression so get it wrong in the first few seconds and you’ll have to work exceptionally hard to recover the situation.

Have you had a similar experience? We’d love to hear your customer service stories, good or bad. Just click the comment button.


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