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It isn't something I had given much thought to in the past. However, a recent experience made me give it considerable thought. I'd love to know what you think, and if you've ever experienced "service overload."
It started with the Bottle Shock James Beard Wine Dinner tickets we had to give away. Many of you submitted your entries, which included submitting "what food & wines you would serve, and who you would invite" to a Bottle Shock Party. I loved reading all the entries, but felt too close to the situation to make a decision -- after all, I have met some of you -- and I see your faces looking back at me from your profiles! (At least I should - if you are on the network - if not, what are you waiting for?) So, I narrowed it down to 11 finalists, then promptly sent them all to Corinne at 360 Degree Communications in LA to chose the winner. The lucky lady Corinne chose was Marilyn Chapman from Tarpon Springs, FL.
I had met Marilyn last August when she and her husband came out to our first industry insider event (Potluck and Bottle Shock Preview in Sonoma). Marilyn was thrilled to win, but realized that her husband's work schedule would not allow him to join her. Marilyn emailed me, and soon I was booking a ticket to LA to join Marilyn, as her guest, to the dinner!
It was going to be a quick trip for both us -- we'd meet at the airport Thursday at 1PM and both fly out at noon the next day. Since it was only one night, and we had no dinner ticket cost, we decided to splurge and stay at a lovely hotel in Beverly Hills so we wouldn't have to worry about taxis and transportation.
It was a rainy afternoon when we arrived at the hotel. We were greeted by a swarm of uniformed young men, all waiting to do our bidding. Now, I don't know about you, but I am just fine wheeling my own bag. Yes, certainly if I am loaded with suitcases or juggling more than one or two items, help is appreciated - and often needed. In this case, however I only had one small, light bag on wheels.
They were quite gracious though and did not insist when I declined help, and immediately opened the doors for us. What a lovely hotel, really quite charming. We were helped immediately by the front desk staff, who inquired about our travels and plans. The manager was called out to meet us and shake hands -- this were I started to feel uncomfortable. They were all lovely, but I was just checking in for the night, not marrying into the family! Their 'over to top' caring and solicitousness was just that - over the top.
Next, we were "escorted" to our room. Again, maybe it's just me, but really, I am capable of making it the second floor without an escort! We were then given a full 'tour' of the room and instructions on how to use items in the room. (Who hasn't operated a TV or thermostat?)
I am usually telling stories or poor -- or even inexcusable -- service, so this one caught me off guard. I can't actually fault them, they certainly did nothing wrong. However, the service was not only more than I needed -- it was more than I wanted, and even more important, it made me feel uncomfortable; and that couldn't have been their goal.
It made me think about the line between good, great, 'over the top' service; and if and when you cross that line and 'service' becomes a negative rather than a positive -- service overload. How do you know? And how do you teach your staff to read your customers so they know just how far to go, without going too far?
I'd love to hear your thoughts -- and if you've ever experienced service overload yourself, or if you've been guilty of providing it. Email me!
PS – The James Beard dinner was lovely, as were our tablemates – Bottle Shock producers Randy Miller and Jody Savin. Get your DVD today…
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Funny story really.
Reminds me of that old Twilight Zone episode where the lady hits the kid on the bike...and he takes her home to meet the family.
The one thing I simply cannot stand in a fine dining restaurant....when the server fills your water glass after EVERY SIP!!!
Category Management Group
I know what you mean. I like to be pampered, like what you experienced, on a long stay, but for something that is just over night. That is way too much.
Cujak's Wine Market, LLC
I have worked in hospitality for a long time including serving at dinners for a winery. We do service overload, but it's not our fault. What happens is the winery overbooks staff for the dinner. So really, there is not much to do but to stand around. The managers freak out because we aren't working so they say, "Go check their water!" "Go fluff their napkins!" Our poor guests are constantly interrupted while we do ridiculous things to look busy. I remember the same experience at Julia's Kitchen at Copia. Managers need to realize that sometimes there is nothing to do and that guests should not have to sacrifice their dining experience so that the servers and staff can look busy!
Small Lot Wine Tours
I was at a very well-known national rent-a-car agency in Denver a year ago. I was waiting in a very long line and had plenty of time to notice everything. At every single place at the counter each agent was clumsily reaching over the computer to shake hands with the next-up person in line. The line is long and they're shaking hands! I don't want to shake hands with a car rental agent and chit-chat! The only people that want to be friends with car rental agents are people with NO friends!
I want the car, I want the map, I want the agreement and the walk-around. I want to know how far down the road is the on-ramp. I don't want to tell them where I'm going (they do ask that). I don't want to tell them if I've been there before (they do ask that).
The truth is - they don't care where I'm going and they don't care if I've been there before. Corporate America has incorporated insincerity into their business model. They don't get that good personality, not fake interest, is appreciated. They don't get that a genuine good sense of humor goes a long way. They don't get that efficiency and fast problem solving makes all the difference in the world to us.
Out here in the west, Safeway started the obnoxious practice of having every single stock person ask if I was "finding everything ok today"? I must have answered that question 7 times in a shopping visit! Do they think I wouldn't ask them if I couldn't find something?!! That's over-kill, that makes me uncomfortable.
I'm thinking there's definitely some instances of different strokes for different folks. I'm with you in the way you felt after describing your experience. However, I know numerous people who would love that kind of attention, and even some who would expect it. For myself it doesn't provide value... For others, it makes them feel important... I might even call it old school but what do I know...
my 2 cents,
Certainly a definition of hospitality should include knowing your audience. Mariah Carey probably expects the kind of service you experienced, and perhaps she, or others like her, are the target audience for this hotel. I would liken it to the places where a guy in the men's room hands me a towel to dry my hands. I don't need it, but I get what's going on there.
With respect to the TV and the thermostat: I've been places where I wished they HAD told me how the damn things worked.
I, too, recently experienced over-solicitous behavior at The Mark in San Francisco. I love this old place and was attending a conference there. I pulled up to unload three boxes and could have taken a moment (no other cars around) and taken two and then one on my own. But the valet brought the huge brass wheely thing and oh, this and oh, that. At that moment I decided to park there (huge $$) and followed him inside.
I, too, appreciate help, but clearly he hung near me (while 5 people looked on) until I reached for my wallet. That is part of the drill in the hotel/motel environ, I am just glad I had some cash on me! Anywhere you go these days you have to be firm and be willing to say, "No, thank you" otherwise one can go broke with tipping (which I am not adverse to. I think you KNOW what I mean here).
PS At Safeway if you ask where the butter is they will drag themselves from whatever they are doing and fling themselves down the aisle to get you to that all-important product, even if you say, "You can simply tell me."
All the best!
Lin A. Lacombe
Your Strategic Partner in Communications
Public Relations and Marketing &
This is interesting to me to read this because - just this past October/November, I was in India and had this same experience at every better hotel we stayed in. I thought it was just India, trying so hard. I agree with you completely, I would not like this much hovering in the United States. I don't even like being escorted to another aisle in Safeway.
Keep up the good writing!
Margie, Oh my God, I know what you're talking about. And, yes, it does make you feel uncomfortable, especially if your not dishing up 20 dollar bills to all these people 'helping' you -at least that's what their behavior makes makes you think you should be doing. I thought I'd corroborate your story because I work in a high-end luxury hotel (I'M A WINE DIRECTOR) and I still feel the same way when I travel to places that do this. Thanks for letting it out of the bag. I'm going to share your point with our GM, to make sure we're not doing it.
Very interesting to read. I stayed at the Marriott Downtown LA for business very recently, and had exactly this type of experience with the personnel from A to Z.
Could this be a California thing?? Or are they not busy enough in this economy and therefore have more time to devote to customers?
An interesting piece, service is (I believe) an acquired skill. It is something that has to be taught and in your situation the management had not taught their staff very well. Having worked in the service industry for 25+ years I also feel there is a level of common sense that has to be applied to each situation. With all the poor customer service we experience any good service can seem overwhelming. Thanks for your view.
Lorraine Derhammer, New Mexico
I read your article and thought I would drop 2 cents in on the topic as I am connected to a resort.
I fully understand what you are saying. I hate having someone literally crawl into my clothes and be next to me all the time when I check in. I don’t need much attention, I am a low maintenance guy. I think it is stupid for someone to show me how to turn on, or to find lights, or how to make a phone call, and I am very sure I can find a bathroom if the urge takes me, so on one level I totally agree with you.
On another though I have to ask a question. Have you ever dealt with a wide range of customers in the hospitality industry? I am fairly sure that you have, given the article and the name of the ezine, but I didn’t want to make assumptions.
Service is given to the customer on the basis of the lowest common denominator. If one person stands up and screams they are unhappy, unfortunately more people listen to them, rather than 5 people who have something nice to say. The old adage. It takes 10 compliments to get you ahead, and one complaint to sink you. A lot of people come to resorts etc, literally to have someone kiss their ass. To feel powerful for a moment before they go back to their lives. They complain about the smallest things……like not being shown how to work a thermostat. Some people can’t find an elevator by themselves, let alone make two turns to a room. These things are demanded by the people that scream the loudest and set the precedent for the rest of the industry.
The little stupid things that people do in every day life that they complain about, and they demand extra for are multiplied by a large amount as soon as they are in a hotel/resort. This is unfortunately a symptom of our society, that the squeaky hinge gets the oil. The people that are nice, and don’t need this sort of over the top ridiculous attention, are once again, the ones that remain quiet.
When I get to a front desk I let them know jokingly, and humorously that I am not like the rest of their guests, that I can not only feed and bath myself now, but I can find my way to my room J
Chateau Élan Winery & Resorts
You must be too young to remember when every hotel gave the kind of service you got and thought was TOO MUCH. What kind of a woman are you to feel uncomfortable getting that kind of service. You are probably from the class of women libbers, who always objected when I opened the car door for them (as I have been doing for at least 70 years). I would get a rude comment, “I can open the door, Matt”.
Fortunately as I get older and my dates are a little older and have higher self-esteem than you seem to have, Margie, they thank me for being a gentlemen. It seems you don’t know of any gentleman who would be courtesy to you. No wonder you were “Uncomfortable when the porter took your bag to the room and made certain you knew how THEIR temperature control worked.”
Your attitude would preclude me from ever asking you for a date. And being single and enjoying the company of gracious women, I can say that. What you should do is check your self-esteem level. Must be so low that courtesy bothers you. Tough luck for you. You may get some more, but then you can just kick them in the balls and perhaps you will feel more comfortable.
MPBC, CBOA, CBC, BEC
The Business Appraisal Institute
You need to learn to say: NO! - thank you very much!
Karl S Mann
I agree 100% with your article about "over the top" service. The necessity to "read" clients is tantamount.
I always think when this happens to me, that someone is looking for a hefty tip. I find this does tend to happen in more mid smaller boutique hotels.....and I feel the same as you, I know how to operate the air conditioning and can find the mini bar. It turns me off.
When it happens it reminds me to talk about the careful balance of service at a next staff meeting of our restaurant staff. Welcome, accomodate, try to learn how much of you a customer really wants, but usually don't hover. I always use Nordstrom as our measure....the customer is always right....so figure out fast what they want....intimacy: leave them alone; foodie interaction: talk from menus and specials; accompanied child is everything to them: bring coloring and offer their dinner first, etc. I am always insulted that that hotel hasn't taught their staff to figure out who I am....to read me....thus end up always thinking they are just looking for a tip.
Watched Bottle Shock on the plane back from Croatia and Malta.....where I never found wine to want to bring home.....beer was good tho!
Nancy Gorshe, Owner/Manager
The DEPOT Restaurant
Historic Seaview, Washington
Here at Grateful Graphics we are a 1.5 person merchandising entity and until now, I had not considered service overload as an issue. Because we are in a narrow field, we sell Officially Licensed Grateful Dead merchandise, and we are a tiny company facing competitors much larger, I feel our one to one, grassroots, share intelligently approach does work.
So often I hear the phrases "It is so grate to deal with a real human" - "You guys are old school" - "I'm so glad I found you". For us, we provide expert service (we know our merchandise, the world of GD merchandising and we are stone cold Deadheads) with a gentle smile and unwavering spirit.
And here lies where I might service overload somebody - in sharing what we know of the Grateful Dead world, if we don't listen and respond accordingly, we could lose the customer, new friend, community member. At the heart of the Grateful Dead experience is community and we try to foster that here at GG, but if you don't create a give and take, learn and learn from approach with folks, you will turn them away without realizing it.
Thanks for helping me see how important our give and take with folks is and how we can enhance that by listening and contributing to the dialogue...
John Bergan (J
Sales & Marketing Director
Margie: After reading your story I can understand being overwhelmed, yet I cannot be "too much GOOD/PROPER service". Being in the hospitality industry, customer service is an issue with me. What you rec'd was proper and maybe in your opinion, "over the top" service. However, this may be based on the reduction of service and client interaction we have endured here in the United States.
When I travel to Europe, Asia and the Middle East, such service you mention is the standard. In London, my hotel had a butler unpack my clothes and hand-press my evening attire and assist me with my bow-tie.
In Asia, specifically Hong Kong, the service is gracious yet unobtrusive. As an American, I too am taken back at such levels of service and assistance which is not widely known or appreciated in the United States.
The service you experienced would be akin to the finest hotels and restaurants of the 1950's in any city with a 5-star luxury hotel. We are traveling Americans have embraced the limited-service hotels for their cost-effectiveness, thus when we rec. over the top service, we are not comfortable and thus may react with hesitation. Just my thoughts and if you have not,you must visit the James Beard House in NYC.
VP Media Relations and Travel Industry Liaison at The Society.com
Owner at Concierge Services http://www.mtntravel.com/
"Margie, the answer is "No". There is no such thing as too much service. When service becomes a negative, this means that someone has not done the job right, hence it is not service anymore, but a nuisance (forgive the spelling). As a service professional, I think that these situations are often avoided by just asking the customer "Is there anything else we can do for you?". This is -or should be- the interactive part of guest contact. Do we simply do it our way, or do we interact with our guests and provide CUSTOMer service? On the other hand, you splurged in Beverly Hills. If I were working at a 5-star hotel, my bellmen would have been required to show you around the room for the basics. How often do guests complain or just call the front desk because they don't know how to use the thermostat (I am talking about my experience in Dutch 4 and 5* hotels). I had an experience once, where we were renovating a building and an entire floor was stripped. Yet, one of my guests stepped off the elevator onto the dark floor, having to step over the power hub that was in his way. Service is a tricky thing and can only be done correctly by sensitive, guest-oriented people. Select good people and keep monitoring how they provide "service". Above all, make all personnel in guest contact positions ask their guests what they want or need."
Rooms Care Manager at Courtyard by Marriott Paramaribo
I Don't think I've ever corresponded with you before, but have a sweet spot for your site, as it's where I found my current job as the director for the dineLA program created by the LA Convention and Visitors Bureau.
I read your account of your Beverly Hills stay with a wisp of sadness. I remember being fresh out of culinary school when my boyfriend and I were living in San Diego, living in low-income housing and working very low paying hospitality jobs. I used to go visit him at his work--the Loews Coronado Resort--and remember watching the flurry of activity from bell staff and valet as they worked to see to arriving guests' needs. But I mostly remember him coming home from work with only a few dollars in his pocket. As a employee whose livelihood depended almost entirely on gratuity from guests, it was crushing to see him work so hard and have nothing to show for it.
That said, I have been an independent (mostly single) business woman for a long time now and I know what it's like not wanting to dish out for services that you don't really need. It can really add up.
I think perhaps your experience was based more on a business trying to stay afloat during these tough times by DRILLING customer service into its employees heads. Word of Mouth is the only affordable marketing these days and, my guess is, they were simply trying a little too hard.
Of course, there certainly is a concept of "too much service". Whenever we pin down a mystery shopper/ auditor, we tend to bombard that individual with 'too much service" or whenever we have someone over from the 'Corporate Office' or a person known to MD/ CEO, again that individual receives "too much service" and that too at the expense of other guests who feel ignored, neglected, left out and humiliated in the process.
Chef Incharge- Culinary Training: Kitchen Executive Training Programme, The Leela Palace Kempinski Bangalore
The essential issue is what degree of service is desired by the customer? In most cases, exceeding service expectations is a welcome surprise, however, if an operation is truly service oriented, it MUST be customer-centric and able to modify its service delivery system to satisfy the customer in real-time. People travel for different reasons and an individual's multiple traveler personas may have different requirements during different trips - even to the same hotel or restaurant.
This does not make it an easy task for the service provider. Appropriate service levels are fundamentally a permission based and highly personal decision. I may or may not want to have a deep ongoing relationship with the establishment. I do want to be recognized as an individual, understand that my business is valued and that a repeat purchase experience is welcomed.
The secret is 1) Empowering employees to listen to the customer and discern the appropriate level of service desired, 2) Based on the employee's experience, determine the available services that may be needed, and 3) Exceeding the guest service expectation by sincerely providing/offering incremental services. If every guest contact employee does that during the course of a hotel stay, the guest will be blown away. That even means eye contact, a polite greeting and a smile from an employee passing in the hall. My personal peeves? a) Checking into a hotel and receiving a follow-up phone call a few minutes after checking in to ask if the room is alright.
So far, previous commenter Robert, is spot on. The key to great service is improvisation and adaptation...reading people and engaging accordingly. It is not perfect execution of rote tasks or scripts, which is what you encountered.
Often, those who deviate...those who do the unexpected...are the service winners...the ones we hear and read about.
Owner, Memorable Solutions and Hospitality Consultant
It's all about "READING YOUR GUEST" - something which hotels generally forget to teach when doing service training. Staff need to start treating guests as individuals and be able to instinctively give them the service that they want by learning through observation.
Just a comment to the post from Robert about Front Desk calling to see if the room is ok. In one of my hotels, which had a high % of guests arriving late at night and departing early morning (close to an airport) - I had a program where Room Service would call and offer guests a complimentary herbal tea e.g. "Good Evening, Mr. Bob, this is Tim from Room Service calling - We'd like to send you a complimentary herbal tea to help you get settled in this evening...we have mint, camomile or jasmine. To go along with that, would you like to order a sandwich or a light snack as well?"
Pre 10:30pm, Room Service would do the call and after that Front Desk would make the offer.
This had two consequences, 1) We trained the Room Service (when they delivered the tea) to ask newly checked in guests if everything was ok with their room and if there was and issue, to be proactive in solving it. 2) Our Room Service business after 10pm went up by over 65%.
If i remember correctly, over 99% of guests who were offered the tea took us up on it. Cost to us : negligable.
A room can't always be in a perfect condition all the time, every time. Ever had a light bulb go out on you just as you turn it on? It gives us an opportunity to make things right before it becomes an issue.
Managing Consultant - APAC Hospitality Practice
Paul makes a great point - a creative method of providing an unexpected and a service with perceived value at a negligible cost. Plus the added benefit of verifying everything is fine in the room. Great idea - everybody wins.
For the record, I would be very pleased with Paul's described execution of the herbal tea offer and would happily take them up on it.
Again, the trick is figuring out the right level of service and appropriate method of service delivery - while treating the guest as an individual. There is no secret formula - definitely more of an art than a science, so creativity counts.
Great email! I think that’s a fantastic topic to broach. I used to work at a local 5 Star Diamond Resort. We also gave room tours to each guest, it was meant to be an extra special touch, but, like you, it felt awkward. People know how to use a bed, and a remote for goodness sakes!
In the wine industry, I don’t think it is possible to over-deliver on customer service. Teaching people about wine, pairing it with cheeses, carrying their purchases to the car, offering other wineries to visit is all part of the normal service.
I’ve gone tasting hundreds upon hundreds of times, and have never felt that I received over-the-top customer service.
Have you ever experienced this in a tasting room?
Wine Club & Marketing Manager
Donati Family Vineyard
The challenge is to realize that no two individuals are the same. What might be perceived as exceptional service by one person can be seen as obtrusive by another. Staff must be trained to look for cues and deliver the service depending on the needs and expectations of the guest. But this is easier said than done especially when service delivery procedures and standards are fixed and not flexible.
Resort Manager at Sterling Holiday Resorts (I) Ltd
Quite true. As taught in our course too, we need to be quick without being hasty and courteous and helpful without being intrusive. To add on on Parag's view we have certain "vv..vip" (no limit to v's here) guest category too ( govt officials, politicians and well connected) who like to be treated as exception to anything normal to the extent of creating chaos and fellow guests feeling totally neglected. I am sure every professional must have at least one such experience where he must have cursed ownself for being in this line.
Manager Operations at Reliance Retail
What a fantastic blog article and reminder to all of us in the hospitality industry.
We recently had an innkeeper on our forum (www.Innspiring.com) coin the term helicopter-hovering. We all know this too well, as your article described.
I posted a link to your article on that forum, I hope you don't mind. Please join us there as I am sure there will be plenty of feedback and questions. Best, Shellie
Flexibility, empathy, and personalized service are key. Also, I have to add that I shop at Safeway and I finally told perky person #4 that, yes I AM FINDING EVERYTHING OK! LEAVE ME ALONE!
Great Topic and your readers gave some great feedback. I have been in convenience retail which to me should sometimes be called "inconvenience retail" but I digress. There should never be anything that would be called "too much service!" Several of your readers mentioned personal responsibility to voice your own personal preferences and know that it is ok to look a bellman square in the eye and say "All I have is this briefcase and this a roll-aboard bag that I have managed to get here to LA, all by myself from New York and while I appreciate your offer of help, I really need to feel that sense of total accomplishment!" Now if you say it with a smile and with a joking lilt to your voice, everything will be OK. He did his job & you did yours!
If you say it like Paris Hilton or Ivana Trump might, with your nose in the air and not a bit of humor infused, my sense is you will be nailed as a bitch. I always try to use a very natural, calm, approach that sets my expectations right up front.
I heard it best lately that it all comes down to hiring the right people and then setting the example for them during their training period. I think it was referred to as "You can't send a Duck to Eagle School! Meaning simply, that trying to teach good customer service to someone who is normally shy, withdrawn, of just plain full of themselves ,is an example of what is meant by a Duck! I see so many people in the service business that you know immediately, should never have been hired for close interaction with others, heck, they don't even like themselves!
Anyway, great topic, it all comes down to picking people whose skills and personalities are aligned with the job employers need done. Unfortunately, a lot of service providers that depend on gratuities for the bulk of their pay, believe that doing exactly what management tells them to do with every customer, no matter what feedback they get from the customer, entitles them to a large gratuity.
Which brings me to My Service Pet Peeve:
Having management print those “reminders” on the bill for dinner that shows 15%, 18%, & 20% pre-calculated amounts - One restaurant had them calculated based on food amount including the tax charged! WOW, That is a new one. Tipping the server cause my legislators put sales tax on my food!!
I am so sorry to hear that you felt put upon by courtesy.
While many of the comentors on your letter have commented about hovering staff and individuals over eager to please, it does not sound like that is what you suffered from.
Now you do describe a swarm of uniformed young men and maybe that was over the top, but their offer to take your bag was common courtesy.
It is unimportant whether you are capable of carrying or rolling your bag or not. The hotel staff (In a hotel such as this) are to treat all who walk in the door as Ladies and Gentlemen respectively. Whether they are or not. Men who walk up are offered the same service as a Lady. Your polite refusal of this courtesy, was well handled I beleive and as you said they graciosly allowed you to do so.
The conversation that took place at the front desk was cordial and appropriate. In addition obviously something in your conversation lead those attending to your needs to beleive that it would be appropreite to introduce you to the Manager.
In such situations it is up to us to show the same courtesy to those attending our needs as Ladies and Gentlemen. Thus you patiently and cordialy conversed with the Manager even though you were not sure why.
As a courtesy especially to a "Lady" an escort was provided to your room. This is a critical point of etiqutte. The same service is provided to Gentlemen as well. This is also a courtesy that can be turned down graciously.
The full tour as you called it is not a tour but a showing of the room and it's features for your approval. If you find something amiss you can point it out and they can either find better accomadations or immediatly take action to rectify it.
The instruction given on what most of us would consider rudimentory was again a point of courtesy. One never assumes that something is known; if the information is not needed or wanted you politley thank the individual letting him/her know the information is not necessary.
Now remember the staff make a living at providing such services and if we accept such service it is appropriate to provide a gratuity for that service. How much is based on the level of service provided. This is not required, however it is a point of courtesy.
A rule of thumb if you are uncomfortable with such services, or you beleive that the bell hop is only in it for the tip then politly decline the service.
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