What Time Was the Knock at the Door?

So often we assume the worst and expect delivery and arrival times to be late. We're so convinced that we'll be disappointed that we fail to give proper credit when a promise is kept and a delivery goes as planned. Give a little bit of credit and allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised!

Most hotel guests neither notice nor appreciate the efficiency with which hotels must function in order to meet guest needs. On occasion, though, some guests have an opportunity both to notice and to appreciate. Guests such as me, for example.

I was staying at a hotel that was hosting a conference at which I was scheduled to give two presentations, the first ending at 12:00 and the second beginning at 1:30. I was hoping to go back to my room after my first session to pack up and check out before my second session. But check out time was 12:00. So, first thing in the morning, I called the front desk to ask if I might defer checkout till 1:00.

Usually, they just say yes. Not this time, though. This time, the front desk fellow said that staying till 1:00 would be impossible. “But,” he said, ”you can keep the room for an additional 30 minutes, provided you leave promptly at 12:30.” Then he did something really important: He offered an explanation: “We’re expecting a large number of arrivals this afternoon, and we need to get the rooms ready for them.”

That seemed reasonable. Still, my skeptical side surfaced and I asked him, “Are you saying that on the dot of 12:30, someone from housekeeping will knock on my door, ready to clean the room?” “That’s right,” he told me.

Yeah, right!

When my morning session ended, I dashed up to my room and finished packing. It was 12:20, so I had 10 minutes till I had to vacate the room. Or would I actually have 20 minutes? Or maybe even 30 or more? I settled into an arm chair to wait.

What time do you think the knock came?

Well, 12:30 came and went. But it didn’t get far. Not 15 seconds later, there was a knock at the door. It was a housekeeper, checking to see if the room had been vacated so she could begin cleaning it.

Since my afternoon session was on the psychology of customer satisfaction, I couldn’t resist describing my mandated 12:30 check out time and asking the audience what time they thought the housekeeper arrived. Most people guessed between 12:45 and 1:00. Several guessed between 1:00 and 1:15. A few guessed even later. No one guessed 12:30, or even 15 seconds after 12:30.

So here’s the thing: Why were we all so sure that actual service delivery wouldn’t match the promised service delivery? An obvious explanation is that it’s because service delivery so often falls short. But the reality is that in most of our everyday transactions, service is delivered exactly as it’s supposed to be. Nevertheless, we tend to be much better at noticing – and remembering – the things that go wrong. And those things shape our service expectations.

I’ve made a commitment to try to be more appreciative of all the times that service in hotels and everywhere else is delivered exactly as it’s supposed to be, so that when it falls short, I’ll remember that it’s the exception. I can’t say I’ve mastered this yet. One service snafu is sometimes enough to wipe out my memory store of positive experiences. But I keep trying..

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