Rule 1 of basic customer service: it’s about the customer, not you

I read a recent article written by a hotel receptionist (I’ve searched through my archives to try and find a link, with no success) that had me banging my head on the desk in frustration (metaphorically, of course). The author was scathing about the inventor of rolling luggage (suitcases with wheels), saying that they had single-handedly destroyed the income of bellhops. With the advent of bags on wheels, hotel customers are now more likely to say “It’s ok, I’ve got it” and take their own luggage up to their room, so depriving the bellhop of their tips. According to the article, whoever thought of these bags is now responsible for “families going hungry at Christmas”.

Emotional Blackmail

This to me epitomises a major failing across much of the hotel industry,  particularly in the US where so many people rely on the age-old practice of tipping to make a modest living. There is a mindset at play that suggests that customers have a responsibility, a moral duty even, to grease the palms of a whole army of people they come into contact with. The maid in the room deserves a few dollars (“I can’t understand those mean people who don’t think to leave a few dollars for the poor folks who make up their room” was a comment I read in a discussion on this topic); I’ve been advised that I should give the guy who drives my car to its parking space 10 yards away a dollar or two if I don’t want a long wait on my return (or even a scratch, according to some); and as for waiting staff, many folks argue that when you enter into a restaurant you as a customer enter into an unspoken contract with your waiter, and that by not tipping by the expected amount, you are breaching that contract. “If you can’t afford a tip that will be expected, don’t use the service”, says Stacey Julien from AARP.

No business sense

To much of the world this mindset makes no sense at all. Surely, when you walk into a hotel it’s not unreasonable to expect the management to have worked out what it costs to run their business: electricity, maintenance, marketing, wages. Yes, that last one. Paying everyone who works for you a fair wage. Once you have worked out these costs, then you factor them into what you charge the customer and hopefully there’s enough in there for you to make a profit too. Is it so hard?

Apparently it is. When a hotel in Chicago opened in 2010 and announced a no-tipping policy, others were quick to criticise. “Certain positions that have always lived off tips—like doormen, uniformed services staff—what would they do?” asked the president of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. Some people clearly feel that the focus of a hotel should be not on the guests’ experience, but on providing a whole army of people who play a cameo role in their stay with a living scraped together from cast-off coins and dollar bills.

No wonder hotel staff bemoan the rolling suitcase, even though it is obviously a good thing for travellers. Goodness knows what arguments will be made when self-parking cars eliminate the need for valet parking (if there was ever a need for it in the first place).

Basic customer service

Surely it’s blindingly obvious that when your business is about delighting your guests and providing them with a hassle-free, enjoyable experience, the last thing you do is drop them into a moral minefield; or worse still, put them into a situation where they are effectively blackmailed into paying upfront if they want their room to be cleaned properly/bag carried and not lost/car returned without an accidental scratch.

If you even start to put your guests’ satisfaction at the forefront of your business model, paying your staff a decent wage and adopting a no-tipping policy would appear to be a no-brainer.

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Freelance travel writer

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