Marketing

Satisfaction guarantees are all well and good ⁠— but can you actually follow through?

Michel Hogan /

The sign on the counter said: ”If you’re not satisfied with your stay, let us know and we’ll make it right.”

I’m sure plenty of similar signs litter hotels worldwide. It’s a reassuring sign. A promise to fix things. Pity it was rubbish.

In the grand scheme of things, our problem was an inconvenience. Our room lacked a toilet and shower door, with empty hinges showing where it was supposed to hang.

Remembering the sign and the promise to ‘make it right’, we wandered down to reception. People were helpful and friendly, initially telling us: “No problem, we’ll move you to a new room this afternoon when people check out. Come back at 3pm.”

So far, so good. So 3pm arrives, and we go back to reception. A shift change meant new people behind the desk and explaining our problem again. And here is where the wheels fall off ⁠— because, it turned out an equivalent room wasn’t available. Instead, we got the option of moving to a noisier and less private location, so we decided to stay in the room we had. 

Of course, moving us to the same class of room wasn’t the only way to ‘make it right’. They could have fixed the room ⁠— workmen were everywhere doing other maintenance. Absent a fix, how about a discount? Maybe an upgrade to a better room. Even a free meal at one of the restaurants or sunset drinks on the beach.

What we got was a shrug.

And even when we checked out and reiterated the story when asked about our stay, we got the same shrug. No last try to ‘make it right’. 

I’m deliberately not naming the global hotel chain in question. Although some of you may have seen the sign during a stay. It’s clearly sent out from headquarters to their properties, not something the particular hotel made up. The hotel itself isn’t the issue. It’s the promise itself I’m more interested in.

It’s a pity it wasn’t accompanied by more thought about the promise itself. Or by empowering the people on the frontlines to do whatever was needed to keep it.

It’s simple. If you can’t do it, don’t say it.

I’m sure “if you’re not satisfied with your stay, let us know and we’ll make it right” feels like the right thing to say.

Feels all kinds of customer-centric good.

You matter most, we’ll do whatever you need. We’ll jump through hoops do cartwheels and stand on our heads to make sure you’re satisfied.

I can almost picture the high fives around the table when people came up with it. 

I’ve been in the room when these kinds of statements are written, and rarely does anyone stop and ask about the promise being made and how it will be kept.

Because when you don’t think about how promises will be kept, people on the frontlines are set up to fail. There are copious ways I can be unsatisfied (no toilet door, for example). And you might not be able to ‘make it right’, which will only compound my dissatisfaction when you can’t. 

I’m not saying don’t promise outstanding service, or to fix things. Promise whatever you want to. Just make sure if you’re not the one doing the promise-keeping, the people who are on the hook have the tools and authority so they can. 

See you in two weeks.

NOW READ: Satisfaction isn’t sufficient: Why businesses should focus on customer appreciation

NOW READ: How much is your customer-centric mantra costing you?

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Michel Hogan

Michel is an independent brand counsel advising organisations on the risk to their purpose and values of making promises they can’t keep — with a strong, resilient organisation and brand as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com or you can follow her on Twitter at @michelhogan.

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