No matter how much business travel I do, I can never get over the fact that it feels like I am constantly surrounded by people. I remember someone once telling me that they appreciated business travel once they became a parent because it gave them a bit of a reprieve from the daily chaos, and they could relax in their own space.
I have never found this to be true. From the airport where the first thing you do is dismantle half your clothing (let’s not even mention summer time when you take off your sandals and have to stand in your bare feet), to being crammed into an airplane with over 100 other passengers, to getting in one of those beat up cabs, to the hotel where I’m usually connecting to my computer, downloading my e-mails, and starting in on whatever work couldn’t be completed while in travel. Even when I’m alone in my hotel room, I’m surrounded by things that need to be done, incoming e-mails, and requests.
This morning was a good example. I got down to the hotel lobby and was greeted by Mr. Over Achieving hotel manager who I suspected was being observed by some corporate big wig. No joke, his demeanor was over the top. As I approached the counter behind him to pay for the movie I rented last night (if you are in a melodramatic mood, I highly recommend My Sister’s Keeper, BTW), he stepped in front of me:
“Good morning! Can I help you ma’am”
“No, thanks, just settling my bill”
“Is there an issue with it? Can I help you?”
“No, I just need to pay for an incidental”
I finally managed to step around him (which was no easy task), and get to the counter. After dealing with yet another over-enthusiastic, yet helpful and efficient, front-desk manager, I was finally done. Or so I thought. He steps in front of me again:
“Do you need help with your bags?”
“Uh, no” (Seriously, please stop talking to me)
“How about some free Starbucks coffee, there is some in the gift shop. It’s free. You look like you could use a good start to your day” (Uh, is this an insult? Do I look that worn out? And who the heck are you to judge what I need?)
At this point, I just wanted to run screaming from the building. Enough already, he was not only invading my personal space, but kept adjusting his stance so I couldn’t get by! I saw my colleague on the other side of the lobby (finally, reprieve) and headed over. Leaving my bags next to him, I mentioned that I was going over to get a sip of the lemon-infused ice water that was in the lobby. I was very much looking forward to a refreshing sip of that water – maybe a moment to myself. Not a chance. Overbearing manager jumps in front of me again:
“Ma’am, can I offer you a complimentary bottle of water”
Sure, of course. I was really looking forward to the lemon-infused cold water, but here’s Mr Overachiever standing there again, forcing a warm bottle of Poland Spring on me. I think I actually rolled my eyes at him as I said no thanks. Yes, I really rolled my eyes.
I can appreciate good customer service and I think a lot of companies fall short of delivering on an acceptable customer experience. But good customer service should not be smothering – it’s about knowing your customer, delivering on their needs, and knowing when to back off.
And giving them the space they so desperately are seeking…