I recently did a trip from Adelaide to Sydney that saw me stop overnight in Hay. My recommendation for those of you who have anything to do with hospitality or tourism is, if you haven’t done it for a while, get out into the country and check out how it used to be done.
Now I might be a little biased because I’m a boy from the country myself, but they just seem to get the people thing right! Well, maybe not everyone, but you certainly come across the right way of handling people more often in the country than you do in the busy cities that many of us now call home.
The following story provides some of the unexpected highlights that made my stay in Hay so pleasant, along with some of the startling disappointments I experienced once I got to Sydney and spent the night in a hotel owned and operated by a very well-known and respected brand.
My journey was to fly from Brisbane to Adelaide, meet my colleagues at the airport, collect the keys to the van full of A/V gear, wave good bye as they flew home, follow them back to Sydney by road and finally fly home to Brisbane.
Hay, NSW was roughly half-way, so I checked out a few motels on one of the online accommodation sites. I rang a couple to confirm they had off-street parking and were happy to take a booking over the phone because I was travelling with cash not a credit card which was required to book online.
The second place I rang was the Highway Inn and I spoke to Alex the owner. He assured me they had plenty of parking and no clearance issues at the driveway. “You can check out the pictures on our website if you want”.
Cash payment was no problem and when I asked the room rate, it was less than the price advertised online, so it was a double win.
Alex then asked about the trip and whether or not I’d be wanting dinner when I arrived. I explained I was travelling from Adelaide and would probably drive pretty much straight through so yes, I’d have dinner when I got in.
“OK, well at that time of night, I’d suggest the roadhouse near the big roundabout as you come into town” was his recommendation.
I thanked him for the heads-up and said goodbye. “Thanks Justin, that’s all booked. I look forward to meeting you next week. Safe travels and we’ll see you when you get here”. He said he or his wife Leanne would greet me on arrival but if I was going to arrive after 9.30pm to “Give us a ring and we’ll leave a key for you”. No hoops to jump through, just easy, convenient and accommodating.
It was about 8.45pm as I pulled into Hay, so I decided to head straight to the hotel to check-in before dinner.
Alex greeted me as I arrived. “G’day, you must be Justin. Welcome to Hay Mate, how was your drive?”
We went through the check in process and then I asked him to remind me which road house he recommended for dinner. “I’d go to the Shell but just a moment“ he said as he stood and looked across the road, “looks like the bowling club’s still open, I’ll give them a quick call”. While it turned out they’d closed the kitchen early that night, it showed the extra care that you appreciate when you arrive somewhere late on a cold evening after 7+ hours of driving and just want to be looked after.
I parked the van over by my room and went to drop my gear in before heading to dinner.
The room was really well presented. Very clean and you could see it had been recently renovated. So it actually looked much nicer than they did on the website which was a pleasant surprise.
The bed was comfy and they had extra blankets and a range of pillows in different thickness and firmness which is often a bug bear of mine.
I decided I’d turn on the A/C to warm up the room while I was out. But I couldn’t get it to come on, so I returned to the office for assistance. Alex got half way through his first sentence as he tried to explain how it worked then stopped and said, “Tell you what, why don’t you head off and get your dinner and I’ll go and sort out the heater so your room’s nice and warm when you get back”. Not your typical response from someone at the front desk of a hotel and a perfect example of the type of gesture that is both greatly appreciated and long remembered by guests.
The next morning when I went to check out, I met both Alex and his wife Leanne at reception. They were keen to hear if I was happy with everything and pleased to have a bit of a chat as I paid my bill and signed out.
“How was the room? Was it warm enough for you when you got back last night?” Standard type questions but the way they delivered them made me feel as though they genuinely cared and it felt like I’d known them for years.
“Look forward to seeing you again sometime if you’re ever passing through” said Alex as he walked me out to the van. “I just might do that” I said with a smile and waved as I climbed in the van and headed off.
As I pulled up at the roadhouse for dinner, it was filled with truckies, travellers and a group of people who looked like they were probably local farm hands all there for a feed. This was reassuring to me as I always try to find where the locals go because they know the best places.
There was a bit of noise but all in good spirits and even a bit of inter-table conversation about their days and where they were heading to or from.
As I approached the counter I was met by a big smile and a I asked the lady serving which of the specials she recommended. The “Hearty Lasagne” or the “Pepper Snit”? She said most people go with the “Snit” so I ordered that and as it was a cold night, I went for the veggies and chips.
Now I’ve gotta tell you, I can knock back a decent meal. But when that plate arrived in front of me, I had my doubts. And, compared to the underwhelming meal I’d been served in a local schnitzel restaurant the week before in Brisbane that was barely bigger than my fist ... suffice to say, I took this photo and sent it to my wife with the caption “Now this is a schnitzel!”
Without question, the best pepper schnitzel I’ve ever had. The crumb coating was perfectly seasoned, the gravy was delicious and there was plenty of it. Even the chips were freshly cooked and nice and hot. And while you can’t really see them, the veggies were pretty good too.
While I was eating, the cook, I think her name was Deanne, came wandering around the tables to check-in with everyone to make sure we were happy and see if anyone wanted anything else. I complimented her for the meal and said “I don’t think I could fit anything else in”. She smiled and reminded me I still had butterscotch pudding and ice-cream to come and as she wandered away I heard her say “no-one goes hungry in my house”.
After taking so long to battle through the main, I asked if I could take the dessert with me. “No worries Luv” was the response. But, because the pudding was hot, instead of handing me the pudding and ice cream in just one container, they handed me a hot food container with the pudding in it and a milkshake cup (almost full) with the ice cream in it. “Didn’t want your ice cream to melt on the way home...”. I was impressed, this was both thoughtful and generous. At about $20 for the whole meal, this was great value for money and served with bountiful pleasantries.
The next morning, after I’d checked out, I went back to get fuel and some breakfast. Faced with the option to go to either of the two ‘servos’ to buy fuel, there was no question I would return to the place that had served me so well the night before.
After I’d filled the van I went in to pay. This was in a different office to the restaurant. I was served by another very friendly lady. She asked where I was off to, engaged in a friendly chat about the trip and told me about the new cotton mill and finished with “Have a great trip and see you again if you pass through this way” as I left.
As I walked into the restaurant, I was greeted by a big smile from the lady serving who looked like she’d sold a few brekkies in her time.
When it came to my turn to be served, she opened with “OK Darling... what will you have?”
“I’ll have a flat white thanks”.
“Do you want a big one or a regular?”
“Regular will be fine thanks”.
“OK, now what about some brekkie?”
I looked at the pre-cooked burgers to see if there was something I could grab and go.” What are these?” I asked.
“Well this one’s bacon and egg, this one’s sausage and egg but these one’s at the end, well they’ve got everything! Sausage, egg, onion, cheese ... that’s a heart attack... that’ll get you going” she said with a wink and a smile.
“Heart attack in a bag hey... I’d better try one of them”. So, I paid for my order and sat down to get started on the burger while she made my coffee.
Now my expectations weren’t particularly high I have to say. Often when you grab something like this that’s been sitting in a bain-marie, they’re pretty average. A bit dry at best or tough and virtually inedible at worst. To my absolute delight, it was a bloody good burger.
Just moments later, I heard the barista call out to say my coffee was ready. “Here’s your coffee Luv.”
With a mouthful, I turned to acknowledge her and as I did, the old guy standing at the counter chatting to the girls about local goings on (so I knew he was a local) grabbed my coffee and plonked it down on the table I was sitting at and with a big smile said “there you go fella... you look like you’re enjoying that”.
I could only smile back at him with my mouth still full and nodded my thanks. It made me think, I couldn’t really imagine that happening in too many city places. And if it did, I doubt there’d be the same level of warmth in the gesture. It would probably be done in a more matter of fact way to just get my coffee out of his way, so he could be served faster.
As I left, I stopped at the counter, said thanks and with a cheeky grin added “If that’s a heart attack in a bag... it’s a good way to go”. Both ladies behind the counter smiled, said “thanks” and wished me a safe trip.
The final test for the roadhouse before hitting the road was a quick pit stop in the ‘little boys room’. While the building was certainly not new and could definitely do with a lick of paint in some areas, it was very evident that even though it was a 24hr venue with high traffic, they obviously made every effort to keep the place clean. Which is more than I can say for plenty of much newer, big brand places you visit in more built-up areas or along the major highways.
Just goes to show, it’s not about how flash the place is, it’s about what people can do with what they’ve got when they care enough to do so.
The last little piece of country hospitality that stood out was when I stopped in Wagga Wagga for another ‘pitstop’. A smile and pleasant greeting from the guy as I said a quick “G’day Mate, I’ll be back in a sec” and rushed by pointing to the bathroom.
When I got back to the counter, I stopped to grab some gum and said “OK, that’s much better, I’ll have these thanks” and threw a pack on the counter. The guy serving smiled as I counted out some coins and said, “It’s OK mate, you can use the bathroom without having to buy something”.
I told him about my delicious brekkie burger with the onion and said, “thanks but I actually need the chewie” but as I walked back to the van, three thoughts came to mind. Firstly, another very clean and presentable facility. Secondly, how many servos and convenience stores do you walk into now where they don’t let you use the loo unless you do buy something. And finally, with those who do allow you to use them, how often I'm more than a little disgusted with how filthy they are.
While I won’t go into great detail, I will say that when I arrived at my ‘big brand’ accommodation that night in Sydney, the standard of the front desk service, the condition of the room and it’s furniture, the rubbish they served for breakfast, the untidy state of the building and grounds and the fact that every fire sprinkler in the building was covered in silver duct tape, left me wishing I was back in Hay.
So, what’s the moral to this story? Well two things really.
Firstly, great Customer Experiences happen when the people who serve you actually care about what they do and the people they serve while they do it.
While many city dwellers may laugh at country folk and accuse them of being ‘behind the times’, the fact is, there a plenty of lessons to be learned from those communities that haven’t yet been swept up in the frantic pace of modern life.
The simple act of taking just a few more moments to engage more with those we serve goes a long way to having them leave feeling happier with the way they’ve been served.
And secondly, as I have previously written about, the simplest reference I can offer as a guide to how we should look after our customers is to treat every person you serve just as you would a member of your own family or a loved friend. In my article “Want to know the secret to Customer Loyalty?”, I introduced my ‘GUEST model’ and offered a range of tips on how to do this effectively.
The bottom line is, when people take more time to savour the moment, everyone involved gets more out of that moment.
For more information on our Five Star Customer Engagement Skill workshops or any of our other team development services please contact JB.
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