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Service at Indian hotels: from surreal to heavenly.

by Andrea on April 12, 2013

india (460x307)

I had just sat down to eat my breakfast when a member of the housekeeping team approached me.  He was getting very insistent, hissing through his teeth, standing in front of me with his broom and making little sweeping motions at my feet.  I had to move.

The fact that I was still eating my breakfast was irrelevant.  His job was sweeping the hotel, and I was in the way.  Customers aren’t part of his job.

Welcome to the rather surreal world of the Indian hotel.

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I’m sure Taj Hotels and the other luxury hotel groups aren’t like that.  But if you stay in cheap or mid-range Indian hotels as I am currently on a long trip you soon get used to the rather odd priorities.

Or rather not odd at all.  The sweeper’s priority is sweeping.  No one has talked to him about customer service because customers aren’t his job.  It’s the silo mentality but not really his fault, he just hasn’t been taught.

Customer service is everyone’s job – even the cleaners.  In fact, in my travels throughout the world, I often think you can recognise a well-run hotel by the way housekeeping staff react to customers in the corridor.  In the best hotels irrespective of price, you run into smiley people wishing you a lovely day.  And I have also come across a number of those in India too, so you definitely can’t tar everywhere with the same brush.

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Of course all hotels will say their staff are trained to regard the customer as their number one priority.  But keeping that in mind when you’re using a lot of outsourcing can be difficult.  How far down the chain do you go before you find the ‘that’s not my job’ reflex?  Does a hotel ever use ‘we outsource it’ as an excuse for not taking control of an issue?

It’s worth thinking about this – the little chinks in the supply chain are where many hotels slip up – the health club that feels out of sync with the hotel brand, for instance.  Even the quality of a nearby restaurant impacts your brand if the concierge recommends it.

The second “lesson” from my Indian hotel experience is more positive.

I’ve spent a couple of days with a Chinese friend who is on a diet.  Imagine the consternation of the Indian restaurant staff when she wanted to order “chowmein without chowmein”. However, they rose splendidly to the occasion.  “Come in the kitchen” she was instructed and shown all the vegetables that she could have (language being a bit of a problem here, as the chef didn’t speak English and certainly not Chinese), and all the condiments that could go into the sauce.  And the end result was splendid!

This reminds me of how some London hotels let you behind the scenes into their own kitchens – less literally, but the same idea.  People need to feel that the hotel is almost an extension of their home.  It’s a good thing that even the poshest London hotels have quietly thrown away their stuffy dress code and so on.  But I’ve never been treated as such an honoured guest as I have in some little family-run hotels here in India.

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I wonder how feasible it is for hotels and restaurants to manage that level of service?  Of course, it does cause a few problems with your costings and ordering levels – but how important are those compared with a happy customer?  How far should excellent customer service go?

Photo credits: Prabhu B Doss, Honza SoukupBig Dubya, Prince Roy.

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