Two wrongs never make a right

When does a service issue become an outright problem instead of just a temporary inconvenience? What is the “tipping point” that provokes a guest to write a comment on TripAdvisor or, worse, never return to your property? And, most importantly, once you find this threshold, how do you ensure things never reach this point?

The new-age verbiage for this process is “double deviation,” a term you’ve probably heard in passing, and yet, it’s one you should have in the back of your mind at all times. To draw upon my engineering background, customer complaints follow an initiation and propagation couplet. That is, a problem only becomes a problem when guests are not adequately compensated for the initial error, or when a second error occurs.

I will use a recent trip to Philadelphia as an example. My wife and I spent the weekend at a downtown luxury property. The first morning we chose to dine at the hotel’s uncrowded restaurant and were not impressed in the least. We waited a full 10 minutes for our simple order of bacon and eggs to be taken and another 20 for it to arrive — cold and with no apology forthcoming. Having a table near the kitchen, we could hear the staff chatting it up all throughout our half-hour hang-up. Unacceptable. We left without touching our food and complained to the front desk, then went off property for real food and activities.

Returning that evening, we found a rather contrite note and a fruit basket in our room. Apology accepted. In our minds, the issue was fully resolved by the positive response from the staff. We chalked this up as a technical fault. It did not impede our travels, and we are not above thinking that there may have been other extenuating circumstances outside of the staff’s control.

Then came the coup de grace. Housekeeping had cleaned the bathroom without leaving any towels. Not even a washcloth! A minor grievance, negligible even, but it set off a flood of bad memories from that morning. Once was okay, but twice was utterly deplorable, no matter what the compensation. Needless to say, we agreed to never stay there again. When asked about our trip to Philly, a foremost topic of discussion was always the horrible service at our hotel. This property not only lost a customer, but probably many other prospects as well.

Perfection is not required

No property is perfect all the time. Even the best of us have slip-ups. The challenge is to handle these situations in a capacity necessary to prevent a double deviation. I was willing to look past one hefty fault, especially given a sufficient admission of guilt. But two mistakes proved in my mind that the hotel just didn’t value us as customers.

Everyone has a slightly different comprehension of this double deviation. For guests like myself, the fact that the hotel made the effort to acknowledge an error was enough to quell my doubts. However, had it not granted reparation, then that action by itself would have counted as the second strike.

Others may not be so lenient. A more audacious guest may deem a letter of apology and an evening fruit tray as unsatisfactory, expecting compensation within the hour of the incident. Although I like to think these people are in the minority, nonetheless, it should be the responsibility of the front desk to coordinate an immediate response. 

The correct interpretation and anticipation of personal reactions to gaps in service is a critical tool to prevent double deviations and bolster your property’s reputation. Here are some questions to ask:

  • How are your line managers made aware of issues that arise out of direct contact with guests?
  • Are team members in direct contact with guests empowered to rectify situations immediately without their manager’s approval?
  • Are grievances and their effective resolutions documented and shared with the team for further learning?
  • Does your training program identify immediate problem-solving strategies?
  • Do you monitor TripAdvisor and other ratings services to identify unresolved issues as a lesson for improving services?

Immediate communication is the key

Double deviations are almost never a one-strike policy; guests will give you another chance to demonstrate your clemency. Whenever a guest complains, you should “red flag” that individual to ensure they cannot find reason for a second reprimand.

Immediacy is the critical factor here. The sooner you identify the issue, the sooner a resolution plan can be initiated. Take advantage of modern communication tools — phones, text messages and the Internet. Our experience indicates you have to address the problem the day of, and certainly at the latest before the guest leaves your hotel. Learning about such mistakes at or after checkout is simply too late, and your brand will suffer.