Some years ago, I was having lunch with a business associate at a fine restaurant. The food was superb, but when you pay eighty bucks for lunch for two people, you also expect great service. When the waitress brought our appetizers, I asked her to please give me some cracked pepper on my salad. Though she was pleasant, she responded with, “The cracked pepper is on the table.”
Being the peaceful, gentle soul I am, I let it go at that. But what I really felt like saying to her was, “What I meant was that I wanted you to put some cracked pepper on my salad. I don’t like to work for my food, especially when I’m paying $80 for it.”
About a month later, I checked into a fairly high-priced hotel in Los Angeles. Because I’m an ex-artillery guy, wherever I go I tend to set things up as though I were going to be there for an indefinite period of time. And when it comes to hotels, the first thing I do is call housekeeping and read off my standard list of requests.
One of those standards is two extra boxes of Kleenex. Being an efficiency aficionado, I always put one box on the nightstand next to my bed and another box on the desk. Why walk into the bathroom every time I want to blow my nose? Okay, so I’m strange. But so was Howard Hughes. (Hmmm … maybe not such a good example.)
No matter how much traveling you do, every trip brings with it one or more surprises that you’ve never had to deal with before. And so it was that when I called housekeeping and related my list of requests to the lady on the other end of the line. She nearly took my breath away when she snapped, “I can only give you one extra box of Kleenex.”
Out of morbid fascination, I asked her why. She explained that it was simply the hotel’s policy. She added, however, that after I used up the extra box of Kleenex, she would be happy to have another box delivered to my room to replace it. How kind of her. It was beginning to feel like a Saturday Night Live skit.
In truth, however, her absurd statements were a result of a contagious employee disease known as “Make Up the Policy as You Go Along.” Trust me, there is no hotel in the world with has a policy that states: “If a guest asks for two extra boxes of Kleenex, tell him he can only have one at a time.”
I didn’t want to make Ms. Housekeeper’s mental condition any more painful than it apparently was, so I simply said to her, “Not a problem. Just put your supervisor on the line and I’ll place the order with her.” Remarkably, she immediately opted to change her One-Extra-Box-of-Kleenex-Per-Guest policy and leave her supervisor out of our fascinating discussion.
“Offering” to speak with a supervisor about some petty issue is something that is very easy to do and that produces quick results. Just make certain that in your business, a customer never finds that to be necessary. I seem to have a vague memory of an old business rule about the customer always being right … oh, and another one about going the extra mile.
Kind of remarkable how so many of the old maxims never go out of style.