Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Tale of Indifference

I called the butler and asked him to please bring us an umbrella. He said he couldn't because he couldn't go out in the rain...

I wholly agree with Elie Wiesel - the opposite of love is not hate, yet indifference - so on the heels of a recent post, A Love Story, I wanted to showcase an example of what's perceived by service recipients as indifferent service, so as to inspire what not to do, as well as what to; thus finding and highlighting this unfortunate yet valuable review from a client of Butler services, elements which could equally apply to any domestic staff service position.

Although not exactly written with a gracious tone, one can understand both the frustration of the service recipient and also most would agree these types of complaints are, at the end of the day, better issued than not - as they contain valuable data which can be drawn upon to improve service experiences for the client - and helping one to become aware of indifference, perceived and/or real (the same thing, really), thus moving forward and providing a better service experience the next time.

There's some preliminary discussion in order, however, as despite how articulate and painstakingly each event was recalled by The Mrs., we must keep in mind we're having just one side of the story here - and it's an interesting plunge into organizational behavior as well as customer service attempts. If the string of atrocities did indeed occur, one must first and honestly ask:  Eeek gads, why?! 
  • What conditions existed within the service providers themselves - and - the organization which employed them? 
  • Did the behavior of one cause the other? 
  • Were the Butlers unappreciated or insufficiently supported by their manager and acting out through old-fashioned passive/aggressive behaviors, were they untrained, or were they simply inept? 
  • Were the team managers in a similar predicament themselves, being either unable, not allowed by their own superiors, and/or unwilling to provide the needed performance management and reviews which may have prevented all of this? 
  • Did either the managers or their staff of Butlers suffer from a soul-crushing lack of autonomy - unauthorized to make the quick, ground-level decisions needed and instead having to check with someone throughout the day, in order to constantly be covering their rear ends and not get into some sort of trouble? 

We may never know.

Each of the complaints were actually very well noted, I must say, as each describes a wholly reasonable expectation one would have from a Butler, in virtually any setting, resort or otherwise. Yet, when I got to the line in the story where the "best part" for the clients during their stay was the consumption of alcohol, I did begin to wonder if inebriation played a part in their daily experiences and if so, was it the result - or the cause - of each of them? Or, none at all? 

Again, we may never know.

Kudos to the author, however, for at least pointing out she enjoyed the bubble bath and punctual chauffeur service provided by the Butlers; it added some credibility to her story as she apparently had kept an open mind during the review and searched for something positive. I do question the legitimacy of an overall "F-MINUS" rating for the Butlers, yet it's her review as she chooses to write it, and some venting is to be allowed.


Honeymoon: Sandals Grande Ocho Rios in Jamaica

Resort: B

Butler Service: F MINUS

We stayed a week in an Ocean view Honeymoon One Bedroom Villa with Butler Service. Honestly, because of how bad the butlers were, we would never ever go to a Sandals resort again. However, we both agreed that had we stayed in the main Riviera building and not had any butlers that we probably would've enjoyed the trip much more. Although Sandals still doesn't count as luxury to me.

Butler Service: Having a butler is like hiring an apathetic moron to do things for you that you could easily do yourself. Every single day of our trip, the butlers did something that messed it up a little bit. We had two butlers. Our main butler was the MANAGER of all of the butlers and he did the worst job. The second butler had only worked there two months but he wasn't much better.

- I'll start with the worst: They lied to us. At the beginning of our trip, we told the butler all the restaurants we wanted to eat at ending with the very elegant and formal restaurant on the last night because the butlers make "reservations" for you. We knew that each restaurant was only open certain days and there was a schedule posted in the lobby. But, we trusted that the butlers would know this schedule and inform us about any nights the restaurants weren't open. Well, one night, the butler told us that a restaurant had unexpected maintenance that night and we'd have to choose somewhere else. We weren't overly concerned until the last night when our butler TEXTED us with bad spelling saying the exact same thing about the restaurant we had looked forward to dining at the whole week. At that point, I went to check out the schedule in the lobby and saw that it was never open on that day! Had I not had a butler, I would've simply checked this information out myself and planned accordingly, but I stupidly thought that a butler would bother to check a posted schedule for me. So, we never got our fancy dinner that we were really looking forward to.

- Sandals had told me that we would get a nice honeymoon breakfast and a romantic turn down service with flower petals and candles because we were on our Honeymoon. I had expected this the first night and was disappointed when it wasn't there. I asked about it on the second day and our butler said "you are ruining my butler secret surprises". So, I kind of dropped it after that. By the fourth day of not getting it, I was more than disappointed. I bypassed our butler and called the front desk to ask. They were surprised that I hadn't gotten it yet and said that it would be there that night. Had we not had a butler, I would've just called and gotten it myself on the second day after our private beach dinner when we had wanted it. However, our other butler set up the flower petals in our room that night which was very nice. Then, he told us we would get a "special" room service menu for our honeymoon breakfast the next day. Queue the next crappy service:

- Our butler called us at SEVEN AM the next day to tell us he had our "special" menu and that he was coming over immediately to get our orders. I told him he woke us up and not to come. He insisted that he was coming and hung up. I called him back and said again that we were sleeping and not to come. He said he absolutely had to get our orders in right away so that we could have breakfast by 10:00 like we had asked and that he would read the menu to me. It was the exact same room service menu that we ordered breakfast from every day with one new item: blueberry pancakes. So, we ordered those. We tried to fall back asleep but couldn't and didn't get very much sleep at all. Then, instead of coming at 10:00, our breakfast came at 11. So, we ordered really early for no reason. Also, the pancakes sucked and were plain with no blueberries and everything that we normally ordered from the room service menu was way better.

- We ordered room service breakfast every morning and when we ordered it through the butler, it took an hour. When we decided to bypass the butler and call room service, it took half an hour. We bypassed the butler because he only delivered it to us personally and set it up for us on the first day. After that, it took forever and he didn't bother to bring it and set it up for us so we stopped bothering to call him.

- They give you a cell phone that you use to call your butler any time you need something but they don't bother to give you a charger. Twice on our week long trip, our phone died. The first time, we asked for a charger and waited around in our room for over an hour till the butler finally showed up. But, he didn't give us a charger, just a new battery. The second time, it died and I had to use the room phone to call the front desk. They didn't answer the phone at all for twenty minutes. Then when someone answered, they didn't know the butler's number. Then when I finally got through to the butler, he didn't answer his phone and I had to leave a message. When I finally called again and got through, I again said I wanted a charger but he took an hour and brought another battery instead. So, we wasted over an hour of our time twiddling our thumbs in our room waiting for the butler.

- We had two separate reservation numbers for the exact same room. One half of the trip we paid for and the other we won at a bridal show. Our butler knew this. However, he neglected to inform the front desk or anyone at all. So, three days into our honeymoon, someone came banging at our door at seven AM (so, this is two days now that we got woken up early) and they wouldn't stop. So, my husband gets up and the guy says he's here to take our bags and my husband informs him that we are not checking out, we have another reservation number. Then, we call the front desk and inform them. They say that they are aware of it. At 7:30, a bus driver comes banging on our door telling us we have to check out and we say the same thing. At eight AM, a housekeeper starts banging on the door and we tell her the same thing. In there, someone else from guest services calls us to remind us to check out too. This whole time, our do not disturb sign is on the door but is ignored. Why didn't anyone (ahem, the butler) inform all these well meaning people that we were not leaving?

- Sandals advertises that the butlers will get you "your heart's desire" to make your vacation memorable. This is BS. Their service was terrible. ONE time, it was raining really really badly and I called the butler and asked him to please bring us an umbrella. He said he couldn't because he couldn't go out in the rain. So, we and our stuff got soaked because he couldn't come out to bring us an umbrella. That's some high end service. This was the only out of the ordinary thing I asked him to do the whole trip. Also, our butler constantly sent other butlers to do his job for him so we rarely saw him.

- We had made prior reservations for an excursion which we told the butler about on Monday. When we went to it, they didn't have our name and there was a big confusion to go through. It was sorted out eventually because I brought the invoice with but it would've been nice if our butler had confirmed our excursions with the front desk beforehand and sorted that out for us since he knew about it well in advance.

- On the first day, our butler barely explained anything to us. He didn't tell us we had two butlers or that he was off the next day and to call the other butler or that they both got off at 8 PM and that after that, we would have to take a bus back to our room rather than calling the butler to get back to our room. So, we were very confused the first two days when we didn't know why the butler didn't answer the phone and we didn't know how to get back to our room. He also didn't give a S*** that it was our honeymoon and never said congratulations or anything. We told him at least three or four times but on the fifth day when we mentioned it, he was surprised and said why didn't you tell me? Also, upon checking us in, he lied to us and said he was upgrading our room when he made us wait for 40 minutes. But, when we got there, it was the same room we had reserved. We told him we wanted reservations for a glass bottom boat ride but when we got there, he didn't make them. We also had to tell him our schedule of excursions and where we wanted to eat twice because he forgot and didn't write it down. (not that it mattered to him because he didn't check it either)

What did the butler do right? One night, he came to our room before we came back from an excursion and drew a nice bubble bath for us. We liked that. It is the only thing he did right our whole trip.

Some tips about butler service:

The only way to get a "reservation" at a restaurant is to have a butler. Even so, you still don't get a reservation, they just tell you you do. Really, your butler gets you there and then you wait at the bar for up to half an hour and you get the first available seat and cut in front of the line. They also always give you the best seat with the best ocean view which is really very nice. Some people wait up to two hours for the nicer restaurants. This is the only advantage to having a butler.

- Most of the rooms are located in the Ciboney Villas area and are far up the mountain and away from the main resort. Your butler drives you to your room in a golf cart. They are always very prompt to pick you up which is nice. However, it would be so much more convenient to stay in the main Riviera resort because you're closer to all of the restaurants and events and then you don't rely on your butler for transportation. If you don't have a butler and you're staying in a villa, you have to take this little jitney to your room. You can wait forever because there are tons of people and they only hold six and then you wait for all of those people to be dropped off. It's a pain and inconvenient.

Resort Review: B

For the price, Sandals was very good. But, it is in no way a luxury resort. However, it is far cheaper than many five star hotels I've stayed in so I think you get what you pay for. I was fooled into believing Sandals would be as nice as the luxury resorts I've stayed in because they advertise an expensive price and then tell you you're getting 65% off. However, I was engaged for a year and a half and that sale never ever went away. So, the sale price is the actual price. I wish I had known because I think I would've preferred to stay at a real luxury resort instead of paying less and getting crappy service.

Why isn't it a luxury resort?

- Nothing is air conditioned except your room. All of the restaurants are outside and the lobbies are not air conditioned. I was fine but my husband felt like he was having heat stroke all the time.
- It's not up to US safety standards. The pool area was covered with tile that was incredibly slippery and always wet and always full of really drunk people. What a terrible combination. Nothing was anti slip. Also, nothing is handicapped accessible. Every room, lobby, outside area and restaurant has at least three steps leading to it. Don't come here if you are handicapped.
- They constantly try to sell you crap. We felt harassed. We went to a "welcome hour" on the first night and people actually followed us around to get us to sample hot sauce when we said we didn't want any. Then they practically forced it to us. They followed us around to ask us about spa treatments, excursions, etc. They don't leave you alone. When I was sleeping at the pool, a lady woke me up to try to sell me spa treatments. Also, we got a couple's massage and right after our wonderful massage when I was trying to feel totally relaxed, the lady came into the room and gave us a hard sell for some cosmetic skin care products for five or ten minutes and we kept having to say no. Then they put it on our massage bill and we had to tell them to take it off.
- They call your room whenever they feel like it and ignore the do not disturb sign. I've never been to any hotel ever where the front desk called me to bother me. Every hotel has always left a message on the phone from the front desk to tell me something. They called us at really early hours to ask us questions about afternoon excursions.
- They had parties that should've been fun but just weren't because people just didn't seem to be into them. There was a chocolate party with a band and good food that should've been great. But, they had it in a tent with bright florescent lighting everywhere and no decorations. It was really bright and I think because of that, no one danced at all. Everyone just sat and ate their chocolate and quietly listened to the band. It made the party really lame.

One other thing to note: Every single person that we met at Sandals was on their honeymoon. All of them. No one cares that it's your honeymoon because they are all honeymooners. You go from being the special bride and groom to being totally unimportant and getting crappy service. It's a let down.

So, what was good about Sandals?

The alcohol was the best part. We never ever waited for a drink. The bartenders were always happy, knowledgeable and fast. They were the best service at the resort. There is a wide variety of alcoholic drinks and some really really good ones. They pour strong and are not cheap with their liquor. There were bars everywhere, even inside the pool and a constant flow of gratuity free alcohol. The service and selection was better than at an American bar where you pay and tip.

The food was good. Every night we ate in a different restaurant with a beautiful ocean view. I had a four course meal with steak every night and tried many different appetizers and deserts and salads, etc. Though there were some hits and misses, I was very pleased with the food overall.

Our room was beautiful. It was very nicely done with a nice balcony overlooking the ocean in the distance. Everything in our room was high end and tropical. We also had a Jacuzzi tub but that broke and then had to be fixed three times so I wouldn't count it. Our shower was large,. beautiful and very high end. We had our little pool that we shared with a few other rooms.

The pool area and beach area were very nice. It was so serene and relaxing to be at the pool because it is adults only so it was so quiet and the pool is large and has lots of lounging areas.

The free glass bottom boat ride and snorkeling were also very nice.


These types of reviews are good, in that they provide opportunity to examine carefully what goes not just right, but where there is room for improvement. 
  • Does your household staff have such an exercise on a regular basis during team meetings and also after each major estate social event (as described in Leading Teams, a recommended read from the Good Citizen Reading List sidebar)? 
  • Has your staff been encouraged to look past the emotional delivery of a message and instead to focus on nuggets of usable data? 
  • Are mistakes made throughout the day or during events seen as learning opportunities for your staff, thus creating a healthy and productive learning environment?
  • What would be your reaction, if your private estate owner/employer provided to you the above review?

As always, The Citizen welcomes your comments!

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