My favourite type of holiday is a coach tour, despite being 25 years younger than most of my fellow travellers! A local coach company runs a range of excellent tours with interesting excursions at a reasonable price. As part of their outstanding customer service, they even pick you up from your door and drop you back at the end of the holiday. In my view, this is the best way of travelling: no long queues, waiting around at an airport or worrying about penalty fares if your train company failed to provide ticket machines at your local station. You can just sit back and relax from the moment you leave home.
Last year I went on a coach trip to the Black Forest. We stayed in Hotel Bären in Oberharmersbach, which is a charming village set against a picturesque background. The hotel was efficient and well run; the staff were friendly and helpful. There was one problem: the food during the evening meals was poor. So poor, in fact, that a German party staying at the same time said they were embarrassed that English people had come to Germany and might think this was typical German food.
The hotel’s “crowning achievement” was the disaster on the final night entitled “Hot and Cold Buffet”. I’m not a great fan of buffet dining at the best of times but I cannot ever remember seeing quite such a shambles. It was held in the hotel entrance, blocking the way of a number of arriving guests who, with their luggage, had to squeeze between the diners. Splitting the 2 main large parties into shifts was sensible enough but allowing those on the first shift to go back for more while the other shift was arriving caused overcrowding. The result was chaos with no room to move: elbows and cardigans ended up in trays of food while pots of baking hot food were passed over people’s heads.
On the last morning the owner, in a manner slightly reminiscent of old Mr. Grace, stopped by our breakfast tables to say he hoped we had enjoyed our stay. Apparently oblivious to the mutterings of “the food was awful” and “I’m never coming back here again”, he asked us to rate his hotel as excellent on TripAdvisor. They did get a review – and I tried to be fair and balanced – but it was not quite the excellent rating he hoped for.
This unfortunate experience was not the fault of the coach company. They only run this trip every couple of years. I know from someone who had previously been on the same trip that on other occasions there had been no problem with the food. My impression was that the owner, who appeared to be in his late 60s, had probably made a decision to expand the business and increase margins to maximise profits before selling it as a going concern. There was no reason for the coach company to know or suspect this.
This is where constructive feedback is important. Out of all the people who complained about the food throughout the trip, I was the only one who let the coach company know there was a problem. One person is providing feedback is not enough. How can the manager of that coach company realistically assess whether there was a genuine problem based on a single complaint or whether it’s just one disgruntled individual? If just 3 or 4 people had reported the same thing, then based on that he could have negotiated with the hotel or chosen a different venue. But without this feedback, those on the next Black Forest trip may have a similar bad experience.
So, the next time you have a poor experience with a company – perhaps an unsatisfactory holiday, rudeness from a staff member or damaged goods on delivery – it is worth dropping them a line, an email or a tweet. It does not have to be a long message or a rant: simply let them know what went wrong and you may be helping others to have a better experience on a future occasion.