23rd March 2009

Last week I encountered the two extremes of customer service – exemplary to diabolical. It was interesting that three examples of service to the highest level were from private companies and that of the lowest level was from a monopoly.

How to get it right – Lesson 1: I stayed in London at the Chesterfield Hotel which is part of a small chain (Red Carnation). I was first alerted to them via the Tripadvisor website which I have used for many years in deciding where to stay in the world (millions of reviewers cannot be wrong) and have never been disappointed. The hotel is a model of how to treat its customers well and ensure loyalty and recommendation. It is the little things such as a pre-stay questionnaire to determine your needs and preferences which will make your stay more enjoyable e.g. duvet or sheets. The hotel exuded service at every juncture. From the chambermaids who always had a cheery smile and the highest of standards to the front desk who remembered your name, from the restaurant who would accommodate any request ( I overheard an American family order their breakfast and apart from being amazed at what they wanted I was impressed as the hotel delivered without raising an eyebrow!) to the slick service at the bar. Congratulations to a group who deserve to thrive.

How to get it right – Lesson 2: Have afternoon tea at The Lanesborough. Perfection. Enough said!

How to get it right – Lesson 3: For a special occasion we had dinner at Le Gavroche. As you would expect the food was of the highest order and presented with elan. Once again though that was probably to be expected at a 2 star Michelin restaurant but the service stands out. The waiting staff are trained to the highest standards but performed with a smile and refreshing mixture of professionalism and friendliness which sets them apart from the often stuffy and detached service seen in other top restaurants. A team at the top of their game led by Michel Roux who was there on the night and took time to visit every table.

How to get it wrong – National Express East Anglia step forward as a company who do not care about their paying passengers. I could go on for pages with a diatribe of their shortcomings but to mention a few; Filthy train, overcrowded (just how safe is it for trains to be packed with standing customers?), no catering, no conductor, no policing of some passenger behaviour which was appalling and whilst not the fault of National Express, if they had a conductor going down the train it may have helped curb some excess. I have always found the service on this line to be bad ever since Anglia Railways lost the franchise. I know that National Express will take no notice of mere fare paying customers as they could not care less about us or they would change the way that they do business. It just goes to show that competition (especially in a recession) raises standards and monopolies lower them.

Good luck to Red Carnation, The Lanesborough and Le Gavroche – you deserve to succeed. National Express I hope that when the day of reckoning comes that you are held to account for your greed and failings.

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