The key to creating a great customer service experience, is to understand your customer. Specifically why your customer uses your service, what they use your service to do, and how they use your service. Once you understand these things, you can decide what you want to do to enhance your customer’s experience, and then tell people what they can expect from you. This is called providing a great customer service experience. The other thing you can do, is say what you think people want to hear, without truly considering the customer experience and what it means for the service you provide. For example, when you say that you’re a dog-friendly hotel, when you’re not.

Since we welcomed Kimber into our family, we’ve noticed how many great pubs, cafes, hotels, and restaurants welcome dogs. With pubs, cafes, and restaurants, it’s easy to discern what dog-friendly means, because you are going there with a fairly straightforward purpose: to eat and drink. Some hotels, though, advertise themselves as dog-friendly, without thinking it through. Without considering what someone coming to their hotel will want to use that hotel for. Two of the hotels we’d booked for a road trip to Cornwall advertise as dog-friendly, but don’t provide anywhere for us to eat dinner or breakfast, accompanied by Kimber.

One of these is a Holiday Inn Express, but to be honest, we’re not going for the food. All we expected from them is a bed for the night, and we’re happy to eat dinner somewhere else, Add that to the fact that they were quick to offer us the solution of room service for breakfast, and we’re not that bothered about their partial dog-friendliness. [UPDATE! When we arrived at the hotel, we discovered that we’d been given the wrong information! We were able to eat in the bar, and at the side of the restaurant for breakfast. They could not have been more welcoming to us or Kimber! Holiday Inn Express at Warrington: recommend it!]  The other hotel is a different story.

When I realised that we would pass through Padstow, this avid Saturday Kitchen viewer immediately made the connection to Rick Stein. How fantastic would it be to eat at his restaurant? And didn’t I remember someone saying he had a hotel? Could that possibly be dog friendly? A quick search online, and hooray, it was! I duly booked a room, and when the confirmation came through, I called to make a reservation for dinner. Which is where my elation evaporated. The friendly, open persona portrayed by Rick Stein on TV does not seem to carry through to the rest of his staff. Certainly not to the lady I spoke to.

When I explained we’d have Kimber with us, she told us we couldn’t book a table for dinner because dogs aren’t allowed in the restaurant. Not even Chalky. (Although given his demise in 2007, that’s rather a given.) She didn’t offer us an alternative, so I asked if there was anywhere in the hotel that we could eat. ‘The Bistro.’ was the short, two word answer. Perhaps I could reserve a table in the Bistro? Not until a few day before, I was told. Odd. What’s that about??? Turns out that the Bistro is where they put big groups, and they weren’t prepared to book a table for two of us and have to turn away a group!!! I’m all for enterprising celebrity chefs, but we were guests in the hotel, paying a not insubstantial sum of money, extra for parking in a pay-and-display car park, and the only reason we were going there was to eat the food! As for breakfast, that’s only served in the restaurant, so I expect we’d either have to take it in turns or go hungry: obviously no other alternatives were offered. Following this difficult and tedious exchange, I’d be hard pushed to describe them as guest-friendly, never mind dog-friendly!

Needless to say we’ve booked somewhere else. Somewhere a sight swankier than Rick’s place, where they’ve offered us three alternative places to enjoy the restaurant menu. A place that’ll provide Kimber with a blanket, bowl, treats and food as part of the pet package. A place where their eye is on what their guests want, rather than how much money they can make from them.

Let’s be clear: I have no problem with Rick Stein excluding dogs from his restaurant. It’s his business and he gets to choose. But I do mind that he pretends his hotel is dog-friendly, when it’s not. The main reason you stay at his hotel is to eat his food, and when the only way to do that is to book on a day when they don’t have a big group, and therefore will deign to give you a table, it’s neither guest nor dog friendly.

It’s good to look at ways of enhancing your services for your customers, and with dog-ownership at an all time high, becoming a dog-friendly hotel would seem to make sense. But you have to think through what that means, and what your guest experience will look like. And if you can’t provide a full service, either be really clear about that up front, or don’t offer it at all. Focus on your core clients and make their experience the best one you can. If people don’t expect you to provide something, they can’t be disappointed in you when you don’t. Which means they’re more likely to recommend you to someone you can cater for.