A not-so-service-excellent experience

The purpose of sharing this story is to highlight just how easy it is for organisations to easily and quickly perform below expectations. Usually the core reasons for performing below customer expectations lie between a lack of balance between passionate staff and appropriate systems & processes to support those staff. Below is a story based on my perceived service experience. It is therefore biased because it only contains my side of the story. This is okay because that is how service works. All of us are trying to meet or exceed the expectations of our customers (or use a different word if the word ‘customer’ does not work for you) based on their perception of their experience with our organisations.

I am not going to reveal in this blog what I think the Village Cinema organisation and the specific staff members involved could have done to improve our service experience. Rather I am going to leave that open to your suggestions. Consider yourselves consultants and you have been brought in by Village Cinemas to review this case and to help them to understand whether or not there is anything that they could do to improve their service levels. The research on Employability Skill development recommends that leadership (which includes ‘systems thinking’ skills), problem solving, communication and enterprise skills incorporate the skills necessary to provide service excellence. In this context I’m going to tell you the story of our experience and then leave it open to you to practice the above-mentioned skills to make suggestions in the comments sections about what both Village Cinemas and the specific staff involved could have done to enhance our experience.

The story
My wife, Michelle and I finally had an opportunity to use some gifts that we had been given for our birthdays last year. As parents with four children we have not had a night away on our own since we began our family some nine years ago. Our youngest child has just turned two years old so we thought that he’d be old enough to have relatives look after him and our other three children while we went away overnight. The hotel is located in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs and is situated amongst a substantial shopping and cafe precinct. We had chosen this time to go away because it corresponded with our 13th wedding anniversary. Our gifts included an overnight hotel stay including breakfast and a late check out and Village Cinema Gold Class tickets. The hotel in which we were booked is literally 100 meters from the Village Cinema complex so we decided to take the opportunity to use both gifts at the same time.

After having had a very smooth check in process at the hotel in the early afternoon, Michelle and I decided to wander down to the cinema to see if we could book some seats at the cinema. We were aware that because the Gold Class seats were limited it was possible that there might not be any seats available that evening, so we were also prepared to book seats for the following day. Prior to leaving our hotel room we noticed that the expiry date stamped on the Gold Class tickets was 1 month and three days prior. We had not noticed this date before. We decided that we would immediately draw the attention of the staff to the date and offer to ‘pay the difference’ between the value of the tickets and any price increase that may have occurred since the tickets had been originally purchased. Our confidence was high that a simple solution could be found to this problem.

On arrival to the cinema there was no queue and we were able to immediately approach one of the two sales staff working at the booking counter. We quickly explained our situation including the fact that we were using gifts provided to us from the previous year and that we were celebrating our wedding anniversary, this being our first overnight stay on our own since we had started a family. We highlighted the date issue and asked if anything could be done to help us. The first sales clerk told us that she, “…didn’t think it would be a problem” but felt that she needed to refer us to her manager who was sitting beside her. We were ‘swapped’ with the customers that the manger was serving and we once again explained our story. As accurately as I can recall the following conversation took place. “G” represents when I was speaking, “M” when Michelle was speaking and “VC” when the manager representing Village Cinemas was speaking.

VC: “Yes, we automatically provide one months grace from the actual expiry date on the gift vouchers. Unfortunately you are three days over that grace period and they won’t let me authorise it. The only way for you to use the vouchers now is to call them (hands us a card with a 1300 number on it).”

M: “But we are here now and we’d like to solve the problem now. We are happy to pay the price difference if there has been a price rise since the vouchers were purchased”

VC: “Oh, the price isn’t the issue.”

M: “What is?”

VC: “They won’t let me approve it. As I said you’ll have to call them using the number on the card that I have provided you.”

G: “Who are “they”?”

VC: “Oh, our corporate office.”

G: “I don’t understand how it is that you refer to them as if you and them are separate. To me ‘you’ are both Village Cinemas and we’d prefer to be able to sort this out now. We don’t want to have to wait for the corporate office to sort this out because we might not be here by the time they sort it out. Surely this isn’t that hard. The vouchers have been paid for and we are happy to pay more if there has been a price increase. We don’t think that we are being unreasonable.”

VC: “I’m sorry. It’s the policy. There is nothing that I can do.”

M: “There is no-one else here that you could call for assistance?”

VC: “Yes, but they won’t say anything different to me.”

M: “Would you mind calling that person please.”

VC: (picking up the phone) “Ok.” Dials number and the call is answered as the manager says, “Hi! We don’t accept overdue vouchers do we.” (from our perspective this was said more as a statement than a question.) The manager proceeds with a couple of “Uh huh”s and hangs up the phone.

VC: “I’m sorry, as I said you have to call the 1300 number on the card.”

G: “Why do we have to call them? They are part of Village Cinemas like you are so I don’t understand why we have to call them. Do you mind calling for us?”

VC: “You have more of a chance to be successful with them than me.”

M: “So that’s it then?”

VC: “Yes.”

We left the counter highly disappointed with our experience. It seemed that there had been little effort to solve the problem. In fact from our perspective we had been the only ones who had offered a timely solution and that had been quickly pushed aside.

Reluctantly we decided to call the number on the card that we had been provided. The clerk who answered our call informed us that it was not possible to solve this problem over the phone and that the only way that the problem would be solved was by sending an email to an address that was also provided on the card (the phone number was literally 20 times the size of the email address) and that it would take a minimum of three days for a response to our email.

We both decided that we would skip the cinema and not let our poor experience with Village Cinemas ruin our overnight stay and decided to use our time doing a different activity and we went ten pin bowling (that proved to be a great time!).

You are now providing consulting advice to both Village Cinemas and the staff members involved. Your advice to Village Cinemas may include strategic advice regarding their systems and processes. Your advice to the specific staff members may include your suggestions regarding how they could have managed our experience so that Michelle and I didn’t walk away feeling like our experience could have and should have been better.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com