We all talk about the importance of “hiring the right people.” I am 100% convinced that you cannot drive your business based on policy and procedures. While those seem important, most circumstances with members require guidelines and an ability to operate in the gray. Strict policies may be in place to create a sense of order and to safeguard the operators against unruly members. However, not all member circumstances fall into the black or white realm. Most require a fair amount of judgment and common sense. The rule of thumb I espouse is simply… “How would you want to be treated if it were you in the same situation?” The answer to that question is usually the exact answer the organization would wish you or your team to deliver. You may have hired the “right” person on paper but come to find they lack the color spectrum creativity needed to avoid black and white attrition.
Let me tell you a short story about my recent trip to Mexico in which the lack of gray insight left my wife and I a little blue. Excuse the bad pun!
My wife and I chose a resort spa in the Riviera Maya, about 45 miles from Cancun, Mexico. It was a very nice all-inclusive resort. The accommodations were impeccable – Full Service. The room had a beautiful balcony with a view of the Caribbean Ocean – complete with hammock on the balcony and a huge whirlpool in the bedroom. We enjoy tennis and the resort had three tennis courts that were always available. The food was very good and the service, for the most part, was more than one would expect at an all-inclusive resort. Unfortunately, for this resort and its hopes of our future recommendations or return trips to its sister properties, they made a few too many black and white errors. To be labeled B/W going forward.
B/W error #1 – The first of these not so stellar events was at dinner during our first night at the Mexican Restaurant. The resort had seven restaurants and we felt being in Mexico warranted the real deal on our first evening – I requested flour tortillas instead of the traditional corn tortillas… the answer was “No, we don’t have flour tortillas.” Being the nudge that I am, I asked a second time and low and behold, the waiter WOWED me with flour tortillas! I was very happy at the responsiveness and the tortillas! I did however wonder why it took two requests to achieve my satisfaction. Why say no? What a waste of energy and a sure disappointment to the patron less insistent than myself.
B/W error #2 – The next evening after dinner a similar event occurred, I had requested something from room service and was told they didn’t have what we had requested. It was a very common item in the hotel – ice cream! I requested a second time and low and behold, the request was met and the ice cream delivered. At this point I was convinced the hotel had a “policy” that if a guest requested something out of the norm, the answer was to be NO and if the guest requested it a second time and it was reasonable to go ahead and accommodate the guest.
So far I was still very happy with the service, especially since I had “broken the code.” No second request would be unmet and we were still happy with the service we had received. But here is where B/W policy can get tricky and turn into a downward negative spiral.
B/W error #3 – Now after four days, I encouraged my wife to take some spa time. We scheduled her an eighty-minute massage, an eighty minute chocolate wrap and a twenty-five minute facial. So with over three hours of services, I expected her to be treated like royalty or at least an indulgent patron spending a ton of money on relaxation. The services were amazing, but my lovely wife dropped her robe into the large hamper drop (not unlike those at some of our clubs that are built into the countertops) and she was chastised for not returning it. The attendant pointed to a sign that read “Return Your Robes Here” as if she was a complete moron. She then insisted that my wife dig through the hamper and retrieve her robe or it would be billed to our room. My wife agreed (more gracious than I might have been) and retrieved her robe; luckily it was very close to the top and didn’t require sifting through a multitude of dirty towels. My wife felt the worse part wasn’t digging through the hamper but the smirk and perceived enjoyment the attendant took in not accommodating the guest – on what I believe to be frequent error on the part of the patrons. It is hard to enforce B/W when you have a language barrier on top of everything else that plays into human interaction. My wife didn’t understand the initial instructions and didn’t see the sign, but the spa staff member wasn’t trained or allowed to “see” that. Even worse the company hadn’t yet spotted her contempt.
B/W error #4 – The next “event” occurred at lunch on a subsequent day. We went into one of the poolside restaurants after swimming and lounging by the pool. The hostess greeted us and escorted us to a table, whereby she sat us and after seating us, noticed our swimsuits were wet. She then instructed us to stand up. She then started to make a fuss about how my wife’s seat was wet and that she shouldn’t have sat there. She then commanded that we had to eat at the patio tables and made an event out of the fact that we had wet the “indoor” seats in the poolside restaurant. We graciously went and sat on the patio, but the whole event was a bit absurd. Not only did she make us feel like we had committed a major felony, she then drug the wettest of the chairs out on the patio next to us to dry out. Normally, I would have felt bad about our overt inconsideration, but this was such a ridiculous event that I could only wonder why she was making such a big production over a damp chair at a poolside restaurant. Not to mention there were a plethora of other indoor chairs as the restaurant was only 20% full. They could have easily allowed the 2 wet cushioned chairs to dry later, allowing the mistake to be entirely transparent to us. The primary issue I had was the righteousness in her demeanor about the wet seat cushion after she sat us in the first place. Let me reiterate—she sat us there in the first place.
B/W error #5 – The next event occurred at the Mexican Restaurant I mentioned on the first night. We decided to end on an authentic note so Mexican food it was again! This particular restaurant was in the South Tower. We were staying in the North Tower, a considerable walk across the resort. Upon arriving the hostess proclaimed that the restaurant had a dress code and that I would not be allowed in with shorts. I protested that I was told that the only restaurant with such a restriction was the Italian restaurant and that I had dined on our first night at this restaurant wearing shorts. She adamantly told me that I could not enter. I employed my second request strategy and was countered – we went back and forth. She seemed to enjoy saying NO and was not budging. I sought out the manager on duty and explained the situation. He too wouldn’t budge, but acknowledged that 4 days prior they changed the dress code and he stated that all of the guests were notified via voicemail (We were not). He graciously agreed to drive us in a resort golf cart to the other side of the property where our room was so that I could change. I was ecstatic that he recovered. Then he stopped short with these words… “And then you can take the bus back to this side after changing.” He was so close to salvaging the situation and he blew it. Not only was the restaurant wrong in my opinion for not making an exception to a last minute change in policy, but also the manager missed his opportunity to make a bad situation right by waiting for me to change and driving us back. He needed only to wait two minutes to entirely erase a bad experience.
With the countless interactions we had over the eight days, these last three tainted our experience with this resort. Did we enjoy ourselves – YES! Do we regret going there – NO! Would we recommend this place – not really. Would we go back – no. The moral of the story is that countless wonderful deeds can be undone by the lack of empathy, consideration, and gray interpretation of policy. It’s not the “rules” that cause disdain – it’s the delivery of the message. No one should ever be made to feel wrong even when they are not right. When our members are not right, they should never leave the encounter feeling wrong.
I have experienced a great number of clubs that set up their program and then “hope for the best.” They hope everything goes the right way… they hope nothing goes wrong and when it does, sometimes they recover nicely and sometimes the member’s misery is exacerbated. Usually it is depending on which staff member interacts with the situation. In a new world of flat-lined memberships and competition just blocks away maybe we should put more effort in the interpersonal training of the staff than worrying about the next piece of equipment or if we have the hippest program running. Because in the long run, I would much rather find a home where I was respected, where exceptions were allowed, and mishaps were creatively accommodated for in my favor. Perhaps our retention secrets lie in the beauty of gray.