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We are two working mothers — Lauren Rose, the director of business development for Name Bubbles, and Betsy DeMars, the assistant managing editor at The Saratogian. Try as we may to be really good at both, balancing motherhood and career can get pretty messy. As professionals, work schedules and mommy schedules often collide. So, we plow through, hoping at the end of the day, our kids — Lauren's 5-year-old son and Betsy's 11-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter — know how much we love them.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Undercover Customers

During my recent trip to Atlanta, my sister and I noticed something. All in all we had a super time during our visit, but what we didn't have a lot of was superior - or even good - customer service. Sure the staff at the Ritz made the grade, in particular the valet who brought us each a bottle of water while we waiting for the shuttle (the Ritz version of shuttle means navy blue Mercedes). And the cab driver from India who not only drove us to his favorite Indian Restaurant in the city, but also walked us into the restaurant and asked the manager to "take good care of his friends". Both examples of stellar service.

A little side note: My sister has the unique ability to hone in on a designer item and score it for less. It's a gift. Whether a designer purse at T J Maxx, a killer pair of boots at Marshalls or a room at the Ritz, my sister means business. Each of us had stayed at the Ritz for business travel (she's at the Chicago Ritz now), but this was the first time we'd stayed at the Ritz without a corporate card backing us up.

Although the Ritz is well-known for attention to detail and expectional service, we're still laughing at the fact that although Guest Services changed out our non-functioning high tech alarm/iPod player, the defective one remained in our room for the entire visit. It quickly became useful as a door stop when we noticed that the bathroom door wouldn't stay closed OR open. Hard to explain, unless you were sharing a room with an alarm-clock-door-stop. But alarm clock aside, the folks at the Ritz were down right peachy.

I can't say the same about the day spa we visited. We remembered this particular day spa fondly from years prior because it was our favorite when we lived in Atlanta in the 90s. The reason it was our favorite had more to do with the little things like well-trained therapists, casual conversation, relaxing scents, and great products. It was just an overall pleasant experience. This particular visit, though, got off to a bumpy start. The staff seemed a tad detached and unfriendly and the atmosphere lacked the enchantment of days gone by. What was it exactly? I put it out of my mind while waiting for our therapists to emerge and escort us to the healing sanctuary we remembered. We were in serious need of some pampering, and I wasn't about to let a little annoyance get the best of me.

For the record, I personally have never met a facial I didn't like - and my facial was great. To be perfectly honest, I'm so starved for pampering of the spa-sort, that I could have just napped there and felt pretty darn good. But my sister was the birthday girl and I envisioned her emerging from her spa treatment an hour later announcing "That was the best facial E-V-E-R!"

When I came squinting back into the waiting room light an hour later, my sister had been finished with her (identical) service for ten minutes already. "Really?", I said. We both looked radiant, but I could tell something had turned her off so I asked. Her therapist seemed rushed, she said. In an effort to get outta dodge and move on to our next adventure, I stepped up to the counter to pay and very politely the manager if she could assist us in getting a cab. She turned to me and very unapologetically said "I really don't have time". "What?", I said, looking puzzled. "Sorry" she said with a shrug. Not even a phone book or the name of a cab company? What the heck happened to raving service, I thought.

Not about to ruin our afternoon, we headed out the door to hail a cab or get busy searching cab companies on our phones. Ten minutes in the blazing Georgia sun with freshly scrubbed faces and no sunscreen was - let's just say - not ideal. We spotted a cab who already had a fare, but who's car had a phone number on it. Within five minutes, the company had sent a car with a cheerful driver to shuttle us back to the hotel. Back in our room we laughed it off and got on with my sister's birthday celebration, but we found ourselves discussing the indifference we felt from the spa staff at dinner again that evening.

What happened in the last decade? In this case, we learned that the little company we loved went franchise on us. Not a bad thing, in theory. From a business standpoint, we get why the owners would pursue this path. So the business model changed, still no reason for lack-luster service. Right? Is good service just a thing of the past?

In our jobs, me as an advertising director with a staff of 13 serving nearly a thousand clients and my sister, a VP of product innovation working with some of the nation's largest corporations, we are customer-centric or customer-focused. In other words, we give a crap. We were brought up at a time and in a generation that was born and raised to care, I suppose.

The next time you even think about giving shoddy service sans a smile, remember this: there are undercover customers in your midst. One of them might even write about it.

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