BACK IN DECEMBER 2006, I was assisting middle management from a five-star hotel improve their problem solving skills. Twenty-eight trainees, from a variety of functions, sat before me – the first time in many months that so many staff from different functional teams had participated in the same training together.
I posed a question, “What problems do you face in your daily work?” Staff were placed in small groups and time was allotted for brainstorming.
When the time was up, the groups were asked to share their ‘problem stories’. Most were simple symptomatic problems, which involved random customer complaints. However one was alarming; literally. Two of the Front-of-House staff relayed a problem that had been occurring for over 6 months. On arrival, guests were asked to sign an arrival document, show their passport or ID card, and then were issued a radio frequency door card. This radio frequency door card was ‘stamped’ with the time, and was made ‘active’. The guest was then shown the direction to the lift.
Unfortunately, the time ‘stamp’ on the card was at least 10 minutes earlier than the time set on all doors in the hotel. Consequently, if a guest went directly to their room, it was likely that their door card would be invalid, because it was ‘too early’. For example, a guest’s door card might be stamped with ‘2 pm’, making it valid from ‘2 pm onwards’. The door of the hotel room, however, was a few minutes behind, and only recorded 1.50 pm at the time the guest tried to use the card. As a result a small alarm would alert the guest that the key card was invalid.
A few minutes after welcoming the guest, checking them in, and wishing them a comfortable stay, the Front-of-House staff would be confronted by the same guest, however, this time the guest would be angry.
Knowing that the problem was due to an inconsistent time on both the card and the door, the staff would apologise profusely, while pretend to ‘fix’ the card, and then hand the same card back. By the time the guest returned to their room, the time on the door would match or be later than the time on the card—problem solved! Right?
Incredibly this problem had continued for over 6 months with the only behaviour being that of saying “sorry” each time the Front-of-House was confronted with an angry customer. This passive behaviour was because no one had taken the responsibility to see the big picture, and look for a solution. I simply asked the group, “Is there anyone here who could assist in solving this problem?” The Maintenance Manager raised his hand.
“And what would need to be done to fix this problem,” I continued.
“I guess I’ll contact the security company that installed the system,” was the response.
Today, the hotel key cards open the doors every time, but the question must be asked, why did it take so long for this organisation to reach a solution? What happened to the culture of ‘telling’, ‘asking’, ‘listening’, and ‘knowing’?
A lack of TALKing will damage customer service, reduce efficiency, and ultimately cost you money. But once embedding in your company’s culture, can improve continuous improvement. “Sorry” doesn’t have that kind of power.