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Permission to Say No?  Permission Denied.

Responding to Guest Requests

By Jim Hartigan
April 16, 2013

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Medallia Institute Customer Experience Certification Workshop.  The workshop is intended for Program Managers, Analysts, Researchers, Customer Experience Champions, and Brand managers and is focused on helping participants learn how to put feedback into action by embedding the voice of the customer into day-to-day operations and key organizational decisions in their organization.  I can highly recommend this workshop for its practical guidance designed to help unlock the potential of your customer experience program.  Oh, and I say this not just because our firm served as development partner in the creation of the workshop – but because the workshop really delivers an excellent hands-on learning experience for attendees just starting their customer experience management programs as well as those with mature programs already in place. 

During the workshop, I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with one of the subject matter experts, Blair McHaney.  Blair is the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Medallia, but what struck me was his nearly 40 years as an independent business owner where he has dedicated himself to building his business by making it organizationally and operationally aligned around the customer experience.  Blair has owned two Gold’s Gym’s, and his operations have year in and year out produced customer satisfaction scores in the top echelon of the brand.  Blair and I shared a number of customer experience stories during our time together, including the nuances of providing customer service, and we soon found our discussions regarding how to establish a service culture in an operating unit landed on a consistent theme.

I mentioned to Blair that while a hotel general manager with Embassy Suites in the mid 1990’s, I established a philosophy at the hotel whereby “the only person in the hotel permitted to say ‘no’ to a guest request is me – the general manager - and I won’t ever do so.”  As such, I implored my team to “find a way to say yes” to every guest request because if the guest escalated his/her request to the hotel general manager (me), there was a very high likelihood (100% chance in fact) that the request would be granted.  I shared with my staff that I wanted to support them in every way and as long as they found a way to say “yes” to guest requests, I could.  If they told a guest ‘no,’ they were disabling my ability to support them.  This approach resonated with Blair, who shared with me his similar philosophy was to give his team the following guideline:  Only ask permission to tell the customer “No” – you don’t have to ask permission to say “Yes.”  How perfect!

Whether you reserve the sole right to deny customer requests in your operation or require your team to only ask permission to say ‘no’ to your customers (while enjoying complete freedom and satisfaction from saying ‘yes’) the key is to make it easy to focus on the customer’s needs and empower your team to deliver against them.  Of course, this isn’t always easy.  There is a tremendous amount of training required to build the confidence necessary for team members to behave in an empowered way (including training on how to deal with customer complaints) and you must make sure your operational processes and procedures enable this type of empowerment as well.  The investment, however, is well worth the effort and the return in happier team members and more loyal customers drives lower turnover and higher profitability!

Until next time remember, Take Care of the Customer, Take Care of Each Other, and Take Care of Yourself!

Jim Hartigan, Chief Business Development Officer and Partner joined OrgWide Services, a Training/e-Learning, Communications, Surveys and Consulting firm in April 2010 after nearly 30 years experience in the hospitality industry, including the last 18 as a senior executive with Hilton Worldwide. Jim’s last position was that of Senior Vice President – Global Brand Services where he provided strategic leadership and business development and support to the $22B enterprise of 10 brands and more than 3,400 hotels in 80 countries around the world. His team was responsible for ensuring excellence in system product quality, customer satisfaction, market research, brand management, media planning, and sustainability.

Jim Hartigan
Chief Business Development Officer & Partner
OrgWide Services
165 N. Main Street, Suite 202
Collierville, TN 38017
office: 901.850.8190  Ext. 230
mobile: 901.628.6586
[email protected]

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