Summer is just about over and many of us have enjoyed a break, whether it was a ‘staycation’ or ‘vacation’. I spent 10 days on the southwest coast of Cyprus where the weather was flawless and thankfully, not a lot else to do other than sit near a pool, catch up on my reading (with many still-unopened books), enjoy family time (one reason I keep pictures of my kids in my wallet is so I’m able to recognise them when I come home after extensive business trips away!), stroll along the beach at sunset and then order another drink!

However, that wasn’t the whole story as there was another activity that took up some of my time, albeit it was my choice, which was to do some ‘work by stealth’. So while the family thought I was relaxing in the ‘laps only’ pool I was actually on the ‘iThing’ checking emails and even sneaked-in two conference calls because I didn’t want to miss out on decisions being taken in my absence.

Then I noticed it what was happening around me! I wasn’t the only one doing it! I began to see that many people on holiday were sitting with earpieces on and speaking quietly into their gadget of choice and some even taking notes!! The ‘Always On’ work phenomenon had made it to the pool’s edge. Okay, I admit it willingly that I’m also easily bored so after page 56 of the slow-burn spy novel ‘Smiley’s People’ I wanted something else to do. So, I started looking at the holiday experience from a business perspective and being an ex-consultant it didn’t take long for me to start taking note of the ‘Current State’ situation.

Man in beach chair workingIt started out at the start of the vacation and right at the airport. Like most people we checked-in online and were able to pick seats, print off boarding passes and feel good about ‘being in control’! But the experience at the airport didn’t reward my efforts in the slightest for there was no line for ‘Online Check-In Baggage Drop’ (which is really the old style check-in under another banner, is it not?!) so over 150 people (who had all dutifully checked-in online and were all in mutual complaining mode about that fact!) were also lined up. A glance to my left showed that the regular ‘Check-in’ for the same airline had a queue of only 10 people?! What had happened here?! I thought the reward for doing all the check-in work would be a quicker exit away from this part of the process but no, if you don’t do anything yourself, your wait time is considerably shorter!! Somebody needs to ‘Process Map’ this right away and see where things went astray?!

The next stop on my consultant’s trip through the vacation is in the hotel we picked (although it appeared that all the major hotels along the strip of coast where we stayed were owned by the same umbrella organisation!). A couple of things got my attention here starting with a casual conversation with a young couple who were lounging next to me. Friendly conversation commenced and included the motivations for choosing ‘this hotel’. It turned out that the couple were actually booked into the hotel directly adjacent and liked the fact that their first choice was brand new and as this was the first summer season everything was likely to work and be shiny! Not the case as I was told the story of how during dinner service a glass of orange juice was ordered for one of the two children and she spat out the contents after the first gulp. The parents were animated in expressing their surprise and anger at the child for spitting something out so publicly and also announcing that it ‘tasted yucky and burned’.

For non-British people reading this, making a public display of any service issue was actually rumoured to be a justifiable cause for being imprisoned so it is just not ‘done’ in England! However, one of the parents tasted the drink and found that it consisted mostly of vodka! The server had picked up the wrong order and delivered a vodka and orange juice to the child without checking the order slip attached! While in other parts of the world this mistake alone would have resulted in litigation and the entire hotel being part of the punitive damages awarded to the child, in this case, the parents complained quietly and were moved to the sister hotel next door where they were informed service standards were established and they would be upgraded to a superior room!

My reading of this anecdote was that any service needs to focus on the small things and especially when being initially rolled-out with ‘real live paying customers’! How many times have you been put on ‘Hold’ by a major organisation and thought to yourself, ‘I wonder if anyone working in that service centre has ever listened to the grotesque music they are making me listen to?!’…’your call is important to us and while we can’t show our displeasure with you and your problem when you speak to us, mainly because we have to tell you our name, we can annoy you with some tinny music from the last century!’

Next up is the way a good feeling about selecting your vacation hotel can be undone with the ‘extra charges’ that just seem to pile up and begin to grate! I’ll start with my favourite extra charge of internet access! Internet access should be absolutely free when it is available in a hotel in the connected world today and it stands out for a bit like the hotel swimming pool charging extra if you want water in the pool! An easy ‘own-goal’ to fix but I suspect that the revenue generated is substantial. Other charges (some of which a conversation with reception resulted in them being dropped) included: bottled water in the room (although a sign recommended not drinking the tap water), gym access, placing luggage into storage and a late check-out fee (even though the holiday package return flight was at 11pm!).

The positive side is that the holiday did provide for some great relaxation and time to reflect while staring out at a beautiful Mediterranean sea! It just made me think that as more and more of us are travelling, in some cases to some pretty distant and exotic locations, there must be an approach to the annual holiday that doesn’t come with the unnecessary hassle factor?! I recently had a look at Trip Advisor where consensus rules and comments are taken seriously by the providers of the service. However, one troubling observation was that most respondents (usually management) to the customer’s gripes were similar in thanking the guest for the comments and the time taken to make them along with an almost duplicate apologetic line about ‘we are disappointed to hear your experience wasn’t a good one’. I think that ball is firmly in the provider’s court to ‘just fix it’! Then add comments stating that we have heard you and have improved the service. It reminds me of the tag-line utilised by Zappos…’Powered by Service’. How great is that (obviously if it lives up to the claim!).

Anyways, back to work!

TomorrowToday Global