Comment: Customer service in the age of social media

Empower people to carry out better customer service, or face the customers' wrath

Martin Kubler is the founder of Iconsulthotels and the CEO of sps:affinity.
Martin Kubler is the founder of Iconsulthotels and the CEO of sps:affinity.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll have heard of Joshi, the stuffed giraffe. Yes, the one that was left behind by a kid at the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island in Florida and which was epically reunited with its owner after experiencing a number of #RCmemories courtesy of the hotel’s quick thinking, creative, and social media savvy staff.

If you have lived under a rock, just google “Joshie the Giraffe” and you’ll see why, even five years after the event, the stuffed toy is still being talked about excessively online and during social media and customer service events.

If you’re a parent, you know that stuffed toys are no laughing matter. My seven-year-old spends his days strenuously practicing becoming a teenager, but mess with his stuffed rabbit and he turns into, well, a seven-year-old going on four. Leaving a stuffed toy behind somewhere is then a certain rite of passage. I still remember leaving my teddy bear behind at Ikea when I was little. It was traumatic. Unlike Joshie’s lucky owner, I was never reunited with it. I like to think it’s still out there somewhere, wherever left behind teddy bears go. It’s worse when travelling, of course. Take the wife, for example: When she was little, she lost her favourite stuffed toy in the middle of the Allenby Bridge. This was a time when you had better not drop anything on the middle of that bridge. Not that there’s ever a good time for that, of course. The story how she was reunited with it would have made awesome social media content — alas, it took place before Mark Zuckerberg was even born. This summer, it was my son’s turn. Not on the Allenby Bridge, of course — we live and learn after all, but at an airport hotel in Madrid. Not some random shack in the airport’s neighbourhood, but one of the big names you’ll be familiar with and have probably stayed in at least once somewhere around the world. So yes, the rabbit got an extended stay and the catastrophe wasn’t discovered until after arrival on the Spanish coast.

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Easy enough, right? We’re hoteliers. They’re hoteliers. How difficult can it be? Send an email, make a call, they pop it into an envelope and have it couriered a couple of hundred clicks through the country. Insist on the courier, because the Spanish post isn’t exactly a beacon of reliability. If they’re really good, they could even attempt a “Joshie 2.0” — after all, it’s been five years since the original story. Or not. Or, they could simply not care. It’s not like we live in an age of social media, where stories are created in seconds and travel faster than you can say “Rabbit Stew”. 

We called. We emailed. The answer remained the same: if you want the rabbit returned to you, you need to call a courier and have them pick it up from the hotel. 

See here now, one of the world’s largest hotel companies engages in rabbit kidnapping. Ay dios mio, Rabbitnapping! We assured the hotel we would gladly pay for the courier, if they would only be so kind and call one on their end and have the rabbit returned. An airport hotel! How many pieces of lost property must they deal with daily? A child’s stuffed rabbit! Have you no heart? Apparently not, for the lady was not for turning. 

At the time of writing this, the saga is still unfolding. It’s not so easy to organise a courier in a country you don’t speak the language of, to pick up a consignment in one place and have it brought to another place. The son, in the meantime, is rabbit-less, and the parents among you will know what that means. The airport hotel has ruined a good part of what was supposed to be a restful summer vacation. Madre mia!

Now, you might say that the airport hotel in question isn’t a Ritz-Carlton, which is true, but that’s not what this is about. What this is about is, that you shouldn’t be stupid. Bottom line. The sad thing is that we all know exactly why and how this happened: Policies and procedures. “I’m sorry, madam, but without filling in the lost property form in triplicate, spinning in a circle, and barking like a dog, then pressing the hashkey 77 times, we’re unable to return the item to you. Oh, and it also says here that if you’ve been stupid enough to leave it behind, you should not only pay for having it shipped back to you, but actually do our job and arrange for the item to be picked up here, because, you know, we have a hotel to run.”

The lesson: You can spend as much money and time on your hotel’s social media activities, but if you don’t empower your people to think for themselves and outside the P&P folder, you might as well flush it down the drain.

Whatever you do: Keep it social!

About the Author: Martin Kubler is the founder of Iconsulthotels and the CEO of sps:affinity. Iconsulthotels is now sps:hotels — a leading hotel management consultancy that provides its clients forward-looking business strategies, keeping them ahead of the market. Email: hello@spsaffinity.com.

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