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Sunday, January 2, 2011

I'm (Accidentally) an Incompatible Customer.

Our family was in the unfortunate circumstance of traveling over New Year’s Eve. I say unfortunate because we while were staying in a normally reasonable downtown Sheraton, our accompanying two small children made for a poor fit between the hotel and our family as its customers.

Not surprisingly, hotel guests were active well into the night. The room next to us had a loud celebration going, but location wasn’t the issue - it was that way throughout the hotel.

My wife, who always has the needs of our children (and our own need for sleep) in mind, was not pleased with the noise, and thought that we should demand the hotel take action.

After about 2 minutes of frustration, we laughed at ourselves & our suspect plan. We didn’t call the front desk, knowing that there would (and should) be little responsiveness on the part of the hotel. This was a case where we were in the wrong.

It’s fairly well established that people stay up and celebrate on New Year’s Eve, and likely more so in the downtown hotels of any city. Given that we were looking for a quiet environment for small kids and a restful night for ourselves, our family was the incompatible customer in this scenario.

We made do through a relatively loud evening, yet my sympathies were with the hotel on this one. After all, New Year’s represents an extreme for their business in managing customer diversity.

Then, as I was checking out, I stood in line behind a bewildered, until-recently-celebrating young woman whose requests of the front desk included, “Can I get an extra key to my room?” and “Do you happen to have my shoes?” When I moved to the front of the line, the desk attendant shook her head and said to me, “Happens every year.”

That’s right. It does happen every year. Slowly, my sympathy for the hotel began to fade a little. The complete mea culpa turned on my part into some shared blame.

If the incompatibility issue happens every year, then the excuses become less acceptable. With a venue the size we were in, there were any number of things that could be done to minimize the incompatible customer groups. Block out a floor, or reserve corner rooms, for families. Since most reservations are booked online, modify the customer mix by charging more for families, or even refuse a reservation from a family guest. If you do accept the incompatible customer groups, warn at any of several points that their experience may not be ideal this time around.

Incompatible customer groups represent an issue faced by almost every service business. In this case, we were the incompatible customer type that created the service problem. All the same, not planning for a recurring service event places at least some of the blame back on the organization able to note that it “happens every year” but haven’t done anything to change.

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