Why Great Customer Service Matters
A Tale of Two Ski Resorts
When push comes to shove, great customer service MATTERS.
You may find cost-cutting deals. You may be OK with poor service in exchange for low rates. But if you’re paying for a decent product or service, the human element – customer service – may very well determine if you’re a returning customer. Or not.
I find this is especially true when it comes to vacations. After all, you’re paying for an experience. Or a getaway to relax and recharge your battery. You may not want or need the royal treatment, but you’ll expect to get your money’s worth and be treated fairly.
My husband and I recently took a four-day ski vacation. Usually, if we’re going to ski, we’ll aim for January through March when the snow is best. This year saw a record-breaking snowfall, such that the Utah ski resorts decided to extend their season a few weeks into late April. A very unusual event and my husband Alex, whose love for skiing is only eclipsed by his passion for tennis, was desperate to go.
Not so deep down, I’m a fair weather skier. Groomed scenic black and blue runs on a sunny, warm day? I’m there! Freezing temps, blinding snowstorms, and poor visibility? Not so much. I’d rather sip hot chocolate (or something …!) by the fireplace instead.
Surprisingly for late April, we didn’t get the spring skiing. It was cold and snowed just about the entire time we were there, with low clouds and fog obscuring what would have been spectacular views.
What irked us, however, was not the weather, but – and this is where the conversation on customer service comes in - how the ski resort handled their guests.
It’s much harder to win a new customer than it is to retain a happy one.
We booked a very nice hotel with a well-respected name in Park City that had easy, close access to the Canyons ski area. We didn’t know until we arrived that:
The entire Canyons ski operation had been shut down at the end of their original season, about a week before we had arrived. When we called the hotel to book our reservation (a few days after the original last day), we asked about ski in/out availability, and they said nothing about that part of the ski resort being closed.
Only 20% of the Park City ski resort was operational, greatly reducing the number of lifts and runs.
We still had to pay 100% - full value - for the ski pass for access to only 20% of the mountain. WHAT?!
Ski operations were severely understaffed because the resort and the town (with its many restaurants) had lost most of their contract workers, South American nationals with work visas that had expired at the end of the original season.
The runs that were open were not well-maintained, but very short, rather boring (and flat), and required a lot of trudging along on skis to access. Including the initial walk up the hill to access the first available ski lift.
The few employees we did see looked overworked. No happy campers there.
Consequently, we were quite put off by Park City. It’s not good customer service to charge guests 100% for a full mountain experience and then give only a poorly-maintained fraction of it in exchange.
So we went a little farther down the road to …
Built as a luxurious residential ski community, Deer Valley is squarely in the white gloves service end of the skiing industry. And it shows most in their excellent customer service. Case in point:
Half of their mountain was open for business.
Lift ticket prices were correspondingly half the regular rate.
The runs were beautifully maintained. Long, winding, picturesque, and perfectly groomed. A fair weather skier’s dream.
Guests were greeted and treated well, despite half the park and almost all of the restaurants on the mountain being closed.
The result? As far as Alex and are concerned, we will return to Deer Valley. We had a terrific time and look forward to enjoying it another season when the full terrain and amenities will be open. Park City? Most likely not, though we did enjoy our last morning in town on its Main Street, visiting its museum (which is excellent by the way and a fascinating look into its origins as a mining town) and coffee bars.
We could have done a better job of researching before we finalized our plans, but after nearly 30 years of skiing together, we’d never run into this situation. Going forward, you can bet that we will:
Hesitate to accept the promise of a hotel, resort, or other establishment that everything is la-dee-da perfect in unusual circumstances. Even top notch hotels that should care about their guests’ experience.
Ask locals or call around the area (restaurants and shops) to learn the real truth. If nothing else, we would have learned that the whole area depending heavily on seasonal employees with contracts with expiration dates and work visas that were non-negotiable. By inference, we would have suspected that the ski resorts would have had trouble finding workers, too.
Rethink our decision to spend money where we’d have limited recreation, limited dining options, but full costs.
In the end, we had a nice trip (once we decided to ski only in Deer Valley), but we feel we got burned a bit because we didn’t know the right questions to ask. Or that we’d even have to ask these sorts of questions. So, here’s one more lesson learned:
In an unusual situation, think of everything that could be a problem and see if any of it has merit. And when in doubt, either don’t go or decide to risk it and view the whole thing as an adventure, however it works out. One that you’ll enjoy just because it’s something different.
I think I remember one advertiser summing it up best, whatever it supposedly applied to:
“Know before you go.”
Yup! Got it. Thanks.
And for anyone out there who offers a product, service, or experience … don’t screw with your customers. It’s much harder to win a new customer than it is to retain a happy one.
Laura's Quick Tips
Experience is a hard teacher.
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
Don't screw with a loyal customer. They're not going to stick around.
'Nuff said. Except a friend who used to be in the restaurant business told me this axiom that he had his employees follow: People will forgive bad food if they experience great customer service. They won't forgive or forget bad customer service, no matter how great the food is. Customer service MATTERS.