The Big Three

InTouch - Newsletter - #77

Welcome to the seventy-seventh edition of “In-Touch”. As always, I would love to continue the conversation so please let me know what you think.

Story of the Week: "The Big Three"

"First impressions last, and you do not get a second chance to make a first impression. We need to make sure three people in Dubai are always ready to start the tourist's journey in the right way: the immigration and customs officers at the port of entry, the taxi driver and the hotel receptionist."

These are the words of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, Vice President, Prime Minister and Defence Minister of the United Arab Emirates, as reported by Dr. Yasar Jarrar, PhD in his book “The Sheikh CEO”.

Sheikh Mohammed’s words hit home recently when my wife and I were staying at a well-known hotel – not in Dubai but in the heart of London – and again during a ride in a black cab.

Our enthusiasm about the hotel was slightly dampened when the double bed that we had booked appeared to be smaller than expected. On approaching the hotel’s Reception Manager for assistance, we were met with a disappointing response. Not only was her body language negative – to say the least – but it was accompanied by verbal negatives too: "There is nothing I can do for you. We are fully booked. And if you go online to check the international standards for a double bed booking, you’ll find that it’s exactly the size of the one in your room," she told us brusquely.

On this point, she was correct – we had mistakenly expected a much larger king-size bed – but she could have softened the blow, particularly by showing some empathy, offering a genuine smile and noting down our room number in case of a cancellation of a room with a larger bed. Instead, she told us to check with reception two days later to see if such a room had become available — something that she could easily have done herself. She could also have offered to upgrade us for a fee but she insisted that the hotel was fully booked, even though vacancies were still available there online.

This was not our first stay at this hotel (which is why I chose it again) but in the past its staff had always exuded warmth and understanding, even in situations where they couldn’t offer an immediate fix. This time around, the experience fell short of our expectations.

Our disappointment did not only stem from the hotel experience. After our conversation with the Reception Manager, we left and hailed a black cab. Knowing where we wanted to go, I asked the driver to head for Lancaster Gate while I checked the exact address. I then told him “18, Leinster Terrace, please.” He gave no indication of having heard me, so I repeated it, again receiving no reply. I then tapped gently on the dividing screen and repeated the address, which finally led to an abrupt "I heard you!” This was not an example of what we had always seen as traditional British politeness!

Going back to Sheikh Mohammed’s words, we had now been disappointed by a taxi driver and a hotel receptionist, but while our experience at our point of entry (in this case Stansted Airport) was seamless, it was devoid of any human interaction: machines at immigration scanned our passports, granting us entry into the country – very efficient but lacking the personal touch that can make such a difference, especially to first-time visitors.

Initial impressions can make or break a trip to another country or even another city. Reflecting on Sheikh Mohammed’s views on giving visitors a positive experience, I saw for myself how his “three people” who should be “always ready to start the tourist's journey in the right way” at the airport, in the taxi and at the hotel were, this time around, inadequate in London. Maybe we were simply unlucky this time, having enjoyed many successful stays there, but positive interactions will always shape visitors’ experiences and impressions for the better.

Words of Wisdom

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” Jeff Bezos

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

A Question to Ponder, dear friend.

“Has a good (or bad) first impression ever exerted an overall positive (or negative) effect on your stay in another country or city?”