Being Flexible

Sunday I experienced an interesting and aggravating guest encounter that it’s taken me till now to be able to write about without turning green and going on a rampage through Northern California until the Avengers can stop me.

A large part of being a manager in this business is deciding when an exception to a rule or policy should be made or when we need to hold hard and firm. We generally do this for one of two reasons, it benefits the business or it benefits the guest.In an ideal world those two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive. Sometimes they are diametrically opposed to one another though.

I’ve sarcastically said to my GM once that, “I just love saying no to guests.” Which couldn’t be further from the truth. OK, sometimes I do enjoy it, but usually because the guest through their own behavior made it easy to dislike them. But generally, I want to say yes to every guest request that is presented to me. I wouldn’t be in this business if I didn’t ultimately enjoy that aspect of the business.

So on Sunday when I got an email and voice mail from a guest driving herself in for a day at the spa saying that she wasn’t going to be able to make her 12:45 PM services because of a road closure on the way from Carmel, I was flexible. Sure we were within the 24 hour “no change or cancellation policy” but ultimately in that situation it was better for both the business and the guest for me to bend a bit and let her push the treatment for later in the day. Good for the guest because she wasn’t going to get charged for a service that she wasn’t going to be able to receive. Good for us because she was joining a large group of day guests and it could have soured all of their days and thus made the day much harder on my staff and probably would have resulted in a bad Yelp review from at least one of them. (Yeah, it’s our dirty little secret that we really do obsess over our online reviews, if only because we have so little control over them).

And here’s my biggest reason for wanting to bend, and not many people know this about the Spa industry, but cancellation policies are really hard to enforce. If a guest never actually gets on the table, or chair, or the mud tub or whatever, to receive their service and they dispute the cancellation charge with their credit card company, they’re more than likely going to win that particular dispute. Even if they have physically arrived at the spa, signed a credit card receipt for the service, gotten in a robe, and their treatment time has begun. If they dispute it, the spa will be hard pressed to win that dispute. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever experienced, because Hotel No-Show charges hold up through a dispute all the time. Merchants taking credit cards have something akin to a credit score rating, and the more disputed charges you have and loose, the worst your score. Now most consumers don’t know this. And I guess if this blog ever becomes possible I’ll have screwed that up royal. Note to self: remember to come back and redact this paragraph if you become a big famous blogger.

So, in this situation, being flexible and allowing the guest to move her service is really the best thing for everyone. Sure the massage therapist could end up loosing out on a service which is lost money in her pocket. But she’s also not going to get paid if the charge gets disputed and we lose the revenue. So I move the service, cross my fingers that we get some walk-ins in the next 4 hours to replace that time, and make the guest happy because she’ll have time to make her service.

The original therapist ended up re-booking that time slot. Win.

The guest arrived on time for the newly scheduled later service time, checked-in and paid for the service and joined her friends at the pool. Win

That same guest comes down, and at the exact time the service should be starting realizes that the dinner plans that her group made an hour ago is going to just barely bump up against her service time and suddenly she can’t take the service. Lose.

So now it comes down to an argument between this guest and another manager over her literal last second cancellation of a service that she’s already paid for. And she actually says “I don’t understand what the problem is because <HotelNerd> was so flexible with me before”

Actually, I believe what happened was I said in both an email and over the phone. “We are within the 24 hour cancellation policy, but I can make an exception for you as long as we reschedule the service for later in the day and you still take the service” Sure I was flexible, but it’s not like I was unconditionally flexible with her.

Ultimately, after much back and forth, which I wasn’t directly involved in, we let the guest walk away with a full refund. Not so much because we think she’ll dispute the charge and win. We make that gamble all the time and it pays off (90 days later). We let her walk away with a refund mostly because she’s causing a scene and disturbing our other guests.

I’m not saying that to encourage people to make a scene in a customer service situation in order to get their way. Cause it won’t always work, and really that’s just a horrible philosophy for life. Hell, depending on the scene you make it could result in being escorted from the establishment by the police.

So does it end there? Of course not! She was still unhappy that the entire thing took 20 minutes (she says 40 minutes, we say 20) to be resolved and for her to get her refund. So she emails me directly, the person who was so flexible with her before, and says the situation was my fault for not telling her all of our clocks run a number minutes behind (intentionally) in the spa. We do this so that a guest running late, like her, but on a smaller scale can arrive a few minutes late and still get their full service. And if we told people about it in advance it would entirely lose its effectiveness.

It’s insane, irrational, totally mind-boggling behavior like this that makes hospitality professionals not want to bend the rules ever. Sometimes we aren’t the ones who need to be flexible. Sometimes the guest needs to flex or at least just follow through on the commitments they’ve made to the business they’re patronizing. I know that the guest is coming to us and is offering their hard-earned money for our services. However, lots of people are involved in this equation, owners, staff, venders, and of course guests (all of them), and if the guest isn’t willing to meet us half way, we won’t always be around to provide the service that they’ve decided is valuable. There’s an entire subset of people out there always looking to get a discount or compensation for whatever reason, even if nothing tangible has actually gone wrong. Some of them are just cheap, and some of them I think feel like they’re “sticking it to the man” by shaving every penny they give us. In this economy the hospitality industry is getting blasted for cutting back on services and amenities, while in the same breath, many guests are looking for the absolute rock bottom best “deal” or sometimes I think “steal” they can get. And it’s just icky. This guest doesn’t entirely fall into that category, at least she didn’t take the full service and then demand a refund or a discount, but to get her refund and to still say she’s unhappy? What else does she want? Really?The whole thing just makes professionals in this business cynical, and not want to be flexible at all when there are legitimate reasons for it.

Well….this turned into more of a rant than I might have originally intended. It felt good to get it out there, aside from being the source of a couple of bitch sessions at work.

Oh yeah, and if you’re one of those guests that’s looking for the best “steel”. You might get away with it once or twice, but don’t be surprised when we notice the pattern and someone actually calls you one it. You won’t be the first guest we’ve informed that we don’t want their business. And don’t think that we don’t look upon you with a certain amount of ridicule and sometimes even pity.


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  1. #1 by Koi on May 3, 2011 - 6:37 PM

    Awesome put, I didn’t realize you had this problem in the spa industry vs the hotel world…. Us in the hotel world have it easy, you show, we charge you…. you don’t show, we charge you….

    When it get’s hard is the smokers…. though they sign the form, unless they initial the little box next to the smoking policy, their credit company will fight and fight to get the charge taken off.

    Still, awesome thread, can’t wait for more!

    • #2 by hotelnerd on May 3, 2011 - 6:43 PM

      I didn’t realize it either until my job involved managing both a hotel and spa front desk. Hotel front desk, reservations and spa reception are all one staff and one department for us! Keeps us hopping.

  2. #3 by Kali on May 3, 2011 - 8:09 PM

    Some people feel quite righteous in their self-indulgence when dealing with the service industry because 1. the customer is always right and 2. they are paying for it. And with these two nuggets, they justify behavior that wouldn’t be acceptable under any other circumstances. Justifying it to themselves because it is business doesn’t make it right, but you will never convince them they are wrong.

  3. #4 by catsonmybooks on May 6, 2011 - 3:14 PM

    You are a manager after my own heart. You were reasonable, flexible, courteous, and willing to listen. You’d make a great librarian.

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