Customer experience is not just an American business effort. It’s a consumer-driven expectation worldwide. I was energized by the experience I had traveling to Alaska, and based on my experiences, I have high expectations of how to treat people and be treated. So, I was surprised at the experience of my recent trip to the DR.

Food comes first

In the hospitality business, food comes first. Some people travel only for the food experience they’ll have at their destination. There was more than one experience where the resort failed its guests. The first gone-wrong experience occurred on Christmas Eve, within hours of our arrival at the resort. We took an early morning flight to the DR, so arrived before check-in time and our room wasn’t ready. We were expecting that and enjoyed some time out by the pool. When we returned to the desk at check-in time, our room was ready, but we were informed that because it was Christmas Eve, all the restaurants at the resort were closed for dinner. When I calmly and politely said there must be somewhere to eat that evening, we were told the buffet was open.

Wondering to myself why they didn’t tell us that sooner, I said, calmly and politely, that the buffet sounded lovely and we’d like to dine there. Sorry, they said, it’s full. I suggested they should have told us all of this when we made the reservations several months ago, so we could have secured a table. That was met with a blank stare. Blank stares are not sufficient customer service. A resolution is. So, I inquired about a resolution. What could they do to assist us? I asked. They offered us a table at the buffet at 10:00pm. Wondering why they didn’t offer that first, I calmly and politely asked if room service was available. It was. Feeling on a roll, I asked if there were other food options available that evening. The Sports Bar was open we were told, and no reservations were required, which is how we ended up at the Sports Bar eating hamburgers and French fries while watching the NBA playoffs on Christmas Eve. As we were leaving the sports bar, we noticed the wine bar which was open next door. Yet another option they did not tell us about. To prevent a negative start that set the guests up for disappointment, it’s better to tell guests the options available first.

Tell a believable story

The second surprising experience was food-related – and truth-related, too. Having enjoyed our meal and service at the Wine Bar on Christmas, we wanted to try the Asian restaurant on the 26th. We were told all the restaurants are first-come, first serve, and if we arrived by 6:30pm we would get a table quickly. When we first arrived at the hostess desk at the Asian restaurant, we could see a number of available tables, but she told us it was a 20-30-minute wait. When we asked why we couldn’t get one of the free tables, she told us they were holding tables for people with reservations – yet we were told on several occasions they don’t take reservations. It did not surprise anyone in my party that the whole time we sat outside the restaurant, no one with reservations arrived. At the 30-minute mark we asked how much longer it would be. An hour she told us. We thought a round of prosecco was a better idea than engaging her in conversation. Why not another restaurant, you’re wondering? It was the same story – long waits and ambiguous excuses – at every restaurant. I know because I heard people complaining as they walked this way and that hoping to get seated somewhere for dinner. While we were enjoying our prosecco and the sunset, a young man from Switzerland traveling with his family, asked why the wait was so long. The hostess told him it was because there were only eight tables in the restaurant. Yet from where we were waiting, we could see at least 20 tables, many of them still available

One of my favorite pieces of business advice from a data expert is, “It doesn’t matter if the number is right or wrong, it has to make sense.” This same sage advice goes for the customer experience too. Tell a story that makes sense. Once you’ve told the story, bring out your caring, resolution-focused customer service. This was an all-inclusive resort; why not offer a glass of champagne, or have a few Asian snacks available, or offer to take our picture with the sunset in the background?

The 13% Rule

The realities of hiring, training and maintaining employees everywhere, including the DR, can be challenging. And I know that not every employee is 5-star, but the 13% rule applies worldwide, and should be the minimum standard for delivering the customer experience – from the front desk and restaurant staff to room service and maintenance. 13% of employees are great at their jobs. They take initiative and are dedicated to providing the customer with a good experience. If you don’t know who your 13% are, see who has a smile on their face, is engaging with your customers, and if there is a line waiting to engage with them. They are also the people earning the biggest tips, which feeds the happiness cycle. Those are the kinds of people you want to hire. Your 13% aren’t the only people you should be learning from.

Use Reviews as a Training Tool

We met several disgruntled guests at the pool, at the front desk and in the Sports Bar that first evening. As we were all sharing our experiences at the sports bar – and there were many beyond just the food – a young millennial looked up from his nachos and beer and asked the most disappointed guests if they had read any reviews. Apparently, all of the things people were complaining about were written up in the reviews. Several guests, who had been there for days, didn’t get the room type they had asked for, or the walk-in shower they requested for their older parents, or had their rooms cleaned or towels changed. The walk from the beach to the pool was too long. Many couldn’t get a clean beach towel because they had run out or had been out to eat when the restaurant ran out of food. When they went to complain, they were told there was no one who could help them, and nothing they could do. The same millennial listened to all the complaints with great interest, read us several one-star reviews, and the management’s response to each one. That surprised me – management had responded to each one – with an apology and a resolution. They clearly know how to treat guests. They know what their issues are. And they have a way to resolve them. This is key – listen to and learn from your customers’ experiences.

Follow Up

Your customer is your most important asset. They see your company and experience your products, services, and employees in ways that you cannot – and learning from them can transform your ability to deliver the best experience to every customer. Not every customer is disgruntled. There are many who have a good experience and would come back again. Look for those guests – they’re the ones smiling and engaging with other guests and staff. Greet them during their stay. Find out what is pleasing them – and incorporate that learning as well as learning from your one-star reviews.