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Good Customer Service Overdone and Underdone

Most companies try hard to communicate well with customers. I had a recent experience of a business trying hard–and yet not hard enough–to communicate with me in email.

Here is the story: I had a reservation at a nice hotel, and I wanted to schedule a massage in the hotel spa. I emailed the reservation desk, as directed on the hotel website. I requested a massage and gave my preferred date and time for the service. I sent my email at 2:06 p.m.

At 2:07 p.m. I received a response. That was fast! However, it was only an email telling me I would get a response promptly. The 375-word email included information about the wonders of staying at the hotel, where I already had a reservation.

At 2:23 p.m. I received a reply letting me know that a massage time slot was available one hour later than I had requested. It stated, "If you would like to reserve the spa treatment, please contact our reservations department." It was signed by Reservations, Spa and Hotel.

At 2:28 I replied, saying that yes, I would like to have a massage at the time offered. I asked, "Do I need to do anything besides sending you this email?" It would have been efficient to get instructions in the recent email from Reservations, but I did not mind asking.

At 2:28, immediately after I sent my reply, I got the 375-word email letting me know I would soon get a reply.

At 2:29 I got a message from a real person whom I will call Melissa. Melissa said she would be happy to reserve a massage for me. She just needed my room confirmation number or my credit card. She was very polite.

At 2:34 I replied with my reservation number.

At 2:34 I got the 375-word email letting me know I would soon get a reply.

At 2:38 I got email confirmation from Melissa that my massage was scheduled.

Did I need all those messages from the hotel? No! However, it would have been helpful to get instructions or reminders from the spa. For example, if Melissa had suggested I bring a swimsuit, I would have been able to enjoy the spa pools while I was there. I had not thought about that.

I would describe this email exchange as customer service overdone and underdone. What is your view?

For tips on writing to customers, please read my current issue of Better Writing at Work. You may subscribe here.

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

3 comments on “Good Customer Service Overdone and Underdone”

  • Another great observation, Lynn!

    I’m in Information Technology (IT), and you have illustrated what I consider a real IT failure in solving a business problem.

    The hotel understandably seeks to respond quickly to inquiries. So the hotel’s IT team (or IT contractor, whatever the case) comes up with an auto-reply plan. However, IT overlooked a key question: Is the auto-reply message going to a POTENTIAL customer, or an EXISTING customer? IT’s failure to identify their audience leaves the hotel looking clueless.

    That’s right, it’s the hotel’s reputation that suffers from IT’s failure of imagination. After all, Lynn, your post talked about emails from “the hotel”–no one blames the geeks in the basement who developed the shortsighted auto-reply messages.

  • Thanks for pointing out that IT is responsible. But doesn’t someone analyze the customer experience and then ask IT for a solution? Perhaps not.

    And how about the hotel staff? Shouldn’t they be able to turn off the auto-reply when they can respond within 5 minutes? It’s just silly to keep getting the same auto-response. To me, that unnecessary response communicates a lack of sophistication. The lack is not so obvious in the questionably sincere “Your call is important to us” voicemail message. Perhaps the voicemail seems less intrusive because it’s only a few words–not hundreds of words.

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