Meeting the expectations of our clients and service users is so important, but what happens when you know you can’t, and have to manage their expectations to a new reality?
I write this on a Sunday afternoon flight returning from a weeks holiday in Lanzarote. We had booked it almost a year earlier, an all inclusive week in a 2 bedroom apartment in a 4 star hotel, complete with gym, spa etc as well as the usual facilities. As time drew closer, the 5 of us were really looking forward to it – ready for a break.
It was 9 days before leaving, while driving back from the Friday session of the Global Leadership Summit, that I had the call. It was my wife. She had just spoken to our travel agent who rang her to say that we would not be able to go to that hotel due to a safety issue with broken and loose tiles in the swimming pool causing some injuries. A quick look at Trip Advisor showed the problem had been in existence since at least August and now, due to inaction, Thomas Cook were no longer taking guests there.
We were, of course, offered an alternative. This is where our expectations had to considerably change. Due to it being half term and really busy, there was only one alternative they could offer us. It was in a 3 star hotel, but they only had one bedroom apartments – of which we would have two – plus an appropriate refund. With one of the girls being fostered, there were restrictions  – she could only share a room with our 12 year old daughter, and we knew it would only be acceptable for my wife to share their apartment, leaving me to share the other with our 20 year old. But how far apart would we be? We took the weekend to think it over – we either went with it or cancelled and had a full refund. Our agent had contacted the hotel who had confirmed that they would give us 2 ground floor apartments next door to each other, and we agreed to this option – with the 44% refund offered.
The next problem was the flights. We usually try to prebook seats, but couldn’t as we had booked with Thomas Cook but the flight was with Thomson. They booked 2 seats near the front of the plane in row 4 due to our 20 year old’s health problems, but the rest of us had to take pot luck at the airport – get there as close to 3 get hours before we were told. So we left Cardiff for Bristol in time to get there at 3am when check in opened! We were told the nearest we could be altogether (with a 12 and an 8 year old) was row 30 –  well impressed! Thankfully the cabin manager moved us up to row 2! So we arrive for a week in the sun and are taken to the hotel and, as promised, are given two ground floor apartments next door to each other, head to the pool and enjoy an afternoon of sun.
When it came to sleeping, we already knew my wife would be on a settee. The 20 year old decided she would rather stay with her mum and would sleep on the pull out bed from under the settee. Not wanting to leave them all and go off on my own next door, I decided to move the cushion from next doors settee into the other room. So the 3 of us spent the week sleeping on the settee and the floor, getting very little sleep. The food was okay, typical food away, but quite samey as the week went on and not always much taste.
After a poor couple of days weather-wise,  we had 4 lovely days to end the holiday, and the kids enjoyed spending their time around the pool – and there wasn’t much else to do there, though we did find a little park tucked away with a couple of days left. The entertainment reps worked hard – but it was the same program every day!
We usually get chatting to other guests around the pool, and this time was no exception. A couple of observations:
1. I am used to seeing people with tattoos – not my thing but I have no problem with it – but so many people with at least half of their body covered in tattoos! Why? I just don’t get it.
2. So many Stoke City fans! One of the Premiership teams I most hate and where my Swansea boys are playing on Monday night!
3. Some lovely people who were lovely to our family, especially the two youngest, and one family in particular that we struck up a friendship with and who want to keep in touch (I’m expecting an abusive text tomorrow night if Stoke beat my Swans!)
So, all in all, not what we were expecting – and a lot that we still didn’t expect even after the conversations with the travel agent. But it could have been worse. I spoke to one family due to stay in the same original hotel as us. They had prepared their boys by looking at the hotel online, and brought their gym gear too. The first they knew about having their accommodation changed was when they drove past the original hotel, asked about getting out, and were told they had been moved like us. I gave him the info, told him to get their 44% refund – and to email me to let me know if they got a higher percentage!
Setting, managing and meeting our customers expectations is so important, make sure you keep them informed along the way if changes occur so there are no nasty surprises!! That way, they will remain your clients – if you don’t they may go elsewhere next time!!