Everybody’s Gotta Get the Message

February 23, 2010 at 1:26 am 1 comment

One of my clients called me in the other day to help deal with a potential problem. It’s one of those every-day, but-just-in-case situations and the goal is to keep things under wraps while we fix the problem. One of the tactics he wants from me is a script so every single person on that job can handle questions about the issue that might come their way. My client is very wise.

In my experience, you can organize and execute the best plans for handling anything from a crisis response to simply keeping one’s reputation polished, but if the message doesn’t get from top to bottom, those plans will fall apart.

I was thinking about this as I visited the Manhattan Club in New York City. Here we are, being wooed by this organization so they can take a sizeable chunk of money from us. Yet from the time we were booked until we were well into the process, their polished plans were tarnished by workers who just didn’t understand the message and their role in protecting the company’s reputation.

We were told to arrive at a hotel for a morning meeting, followed by an overnight stay. Those who booked us told us when and where to arrive and park. We parked as directed, but we had been given the wrong directions. That almost cost us an extra $20. Then the registration clerk arrogantly told us that rooms wouldn’t be ready until much later in the afternoon. Yes, we could leave our bags…for tidy sum. Things were not going well.

Next, we stood in the lobby of this customer-service focused club while two bellmen argued over who was supposed to be inside and who was supposed to be outside and who was working harder. Finally one grabbed our bags, slapped a ticket in my wife’s hand, and continued with his argument, clearly annoyed at having been interrupted.

We arrived at the sales desk. Clerks greeted us with terse instructions, followed by what I took to be sarcasm. OK, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. They probably saw the steam coming out of my ears and the blood pressure alarm over my head. They were probably trying to calm me down. Listening to me might have helped. Empathizing and trying to do something about the issues  might have helped. Making jokes just made it worse.

A sales person arrived and introduced herself.  She continued trying to calm me down, first by making light of the situation, and then by trying to tell me not to worry about it. Wrong. She started into her sales presentation, perhaps a little more nervous than usual. Much of her presentation seemed to be pleading with us to “keep an open mind.”  On top of everything else, being told to keep an open mind certainly made me wonder what we had gotten into.

Eventually, our sales person settled into her well-rehearsed routine and things started going more as one would expect in a high-end hospitality organization. And a little while later, a polished sales manager came over. He listened. He repeated back the questions, concerns and problems to assure us that he understood them. And then he started apologizing about the problems and fixing things. He addressed concerns. And he had hard, cold numbers, facts and data to present to us as he took us through the sales presentation again and, yes, closed the deal.

Once he got involved, the people who we worked with clearly understood how the Manhattan Club wanted to be perceived by its guests. It was impressive, but these people were arriving late in the game.

It’s interesting to think how much more impressive the experience would have been — and how much easier the sale might have been — if the messages of customer service had been understood by the people who booked our trip, greeted us at the door and took our luggage. Those were the first people we saw, and they almost drove us away.  And no matter how well everyone else did, our first contacts are the ones I’m still thinking about.

My client is right to make sure that everyone,  starting with those handling basic maintenance or meeting people at the door,  has the messages we want people to get. Those are the people our homeowners and their guests see everyday. They’re the ones who will make the most lasting impressions. It’s a point to keep in mind in every communications plan.

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Entry filed under: Public Relations Adventures at K. Hovnanian, reputation. Tags: , , , , , .

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1 Comment

  • 1. Wes Pedersen  |  March 4, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    I’ve been at hotels like that (the Pierre comes immediately to mind) and they do seem to work at alienating guests. Equally irriating are the professional organizations “hosting” you at an eager-to-offend
    hotel — the associations that preach member care but mislay your okayed credentials and treat you as though it were all your fault.
    I once had a snooty hotel guardian of the keys inform me that “We don’t make mistakes.”

    Wes Pedersen


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