This isn’t a rant against Google. Really, it isn’t. But it is an interesting customer service lesson for small businesses, taken from large businesses.

Customer Service FailMost people who are in business can see first hand the value of good customer service. For small businesses, especially those in hospitality, this is particularly true. In the hospitality business, good customer service can lead to good reviews on TripAdvisor or other services. It can also lead to instant gratification when you see the smiles on the faces of your guests/customers, hear the sincerity in their voices when they thank you for the time they’ve spent at your establishment, and promise to return. The results of bad customer service are often just as obvious.

On more than one innkeeper forum we regularly see innkeepers complain about the behavior of their guests. Sometimes they have good reason, but usually it is just because the guest’s schedule or priorities don’t match those of the innkeeper. Some of those innkeepers will tell how they responded. Others will share their own similar experiences, and tell how they fought back against the guest’s schedule/requirements/preferences Still others will simply offer advice on how to resist the guest’s request.

We realize that some of these stories are just that – fictionalized versions. It is important to remember, though, that this advice is being offered to others on how to deal with a perceived problem. Some will take it as advice they should follow.

[pullquote]Every interaction is a customer service interaction.[/pullquote] Sometimes innkeepers seem to have forgotten that every interaction with a guest is a customer service interaction.

If you’ve ever had to deal with Google about a problem, you’ve seen some of the worst examples of customer service, ever. Local search expert Mike Blumenthal recently described what he called not only Google’s worst customer service response ever (we’ve seen this from them in other areas, as well), but perhaps the worst customer service response ever. Period.

What does Google’s poor example have to do with innkeepers? A lot. While Google’s customer service failure may nominally be seen as a technical difficulty, it is really a result of core values – that Google’s priorities (technically superior search capability and automation) come at the price of accuracy and human ability to correct errors – service to their customers. The innkeeper who resists the guest’s request for flexibility is doing the same thing – placing their own schedule/convenience, etc., ahead of the guest’s customer experience.

Of course, we’re not suggesting that there are never circumstances where you decline a guest’s request. However, this is their holiday getaway, vacation, weekend getaway, etc., so making it a very pleasant one is part of the innkeeper’s job, and meeting all requests possible is also part of the job. Marketing consultant Jim Connolly pointed this out recently in a post called “When was the last time you Raised The Bar?“. Jim is talking about raising the bar in any business – stretching yourself, doing better.

Applying the customer service model to even a very large company is not only possible, it is successful. Look at the huge loyalty Apple has created. This is no accident. Event the Apple Stores, themselves, have created their own following. Again, no accident. Communications specialist Carmine Gallo, writing in Forbes, details the “secret sauce” that has made the Apple Store customers not only loyal, but fiercely loyal. It is a uniform practice of finding out what the customer really wants or needs, and providing a solution that will help.

It all boils down to putting the customer/guest first, like Apple, instead of after your own convenience, like Google.