Image Is Everything by John Brandt

October 20, 2017

Back in the early 90s, Canon Inc. ran a highly successful ad campaign featuring Andre Agassi with the tagline, “Image Is Everything.” Canon was trying to sell cameras of course, but the adage the company tapped into was playing on the importance of how people carry themselves, the image they project to the world. (In Andre’s case, big hair, black sunglasses, and tennis montages meant cachet.)

While image is socially relevant on a personal level, it can be critical in business. It’s the thing the most customers remember, after all. I thought about this when I stayed at a hotel in rural Montana this week where I was delivering a conference keynote address on leadership. I was flabbergasted by the image I saw the morning of my speech: a hallway floor filled with an obstacle course of garbage bags and dirty linens. Worse still was the sight of replacement towels and sheets stacked on that floor right alongside those other items. Had the sheets and towels I used the night before been treated the very same way?

Why weren’t these items on a housekeeping service cart? As it turns out, the elevator does not reach the very top level of the hotel (really!), so housekeeping is unable to bring them up to that hallway. The staff’s apparent workaround for this problem was to place everything on the floor!

That lack of care and respect shown to these items raises all sorts of questions regarding the standards of the hotel otherwise. After all, if leaving clean items on the floor is permissible, how is food treated in the downstairs restaurant? What level of attention goes into cleaning the bathrooms? Or washing those towels and sheets to begin with?

Naturally, I couldn’t help but email the general manager with a photo of the hallway. I wrote, “I understand you do not have an elevator, but I think you would find this to be a very shocking housekeeping practice—clearly not up to your standards.” I politely added, “I just thought I would bring this to your attention as I am sure you value positive guest feedback that can help improve the overall guest experience at your hotel.”

The GM’s response? “I appreciate you bringing this to my attention.” No salutation. No sign off. No apologies nor mention of embarrassment. That one sentence was the entire reply. Not only does the terse, impersonal response suggest a lack of managerial concern, it suggests that customer service is a top-down, institutional problem at that hotel. The GM sure could have benefited from attending that leadership conference!

Now more than ever, online reviews on Yelp and Google can make or break a business, especially a local one in a small town like that. Worse still, that manager’s rebuff wasn’t just noticed by me but by the conference organizers who put us all up there together. How likely is it that they would choose that hotel again? Or recommend it to someone else? Talk about an image problem!

Business owners must measure whether their managers are good stewards, whether their employees are showing the respect and care towards their customers. Mystery shopping can give you an honest, independent appraisal of those very things, equally important are leadership seminars and employee training.

What image is your business putting out into the world? Reach out to me today, and let’s find out.

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