The Value Of Kindness

When dealing with an adverse customer service situation, there are two ways we can interact with the service rep:

  1. We can treat them as our adversary, to be verbally beaten into submission.
  2. We can treat them as our friend, willing to do everything they can to help us.

I’d like to think that #1 is rarely true (unless you’re dealing with an exceptionally shitty business). Yet, I see and have personally experienced people defaulting to #1 all the time.

If you’re one of these people, maybe this story will change your perspective …

Melissa and I visited Bora Bora recently. Now, if I said that the trip was anything less than spectacular, everyone will probably think I’m a spoiled brat. So yes, to be clear, it was a stupendous trip.

Yet, it was not without its snafus.

We booked through a travel agent and reserved five nights in one of Bora Bora’s famous overwater bungalows. We paid for everything four months in advance, received our confirmations, and our itinerary seemed to be all set.

Then, two hours before we were to leave for the airport, our travel agent called me. She apologized profusely and told us that the hotel had just told her they were overbooked, and because of that, we would be moved to a “garden view” room on our last night. Basically, we would have to downgrade rooms.

We would be refunded, of course. And as a concession, she offered us an excursion on them (tour of the island, snorkeling, private dinner, etc.).

Having to move rooms wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened, but I was still frustrated by the timing. Why were we not notified sooner? How did the hotel realize this less than 24 hours before we were due to check in?

Given a few clues I had picked up during our booking process, I had an annoying suspicion that our travel agent was the one who dropped the ball here. I believe she may have taken our reservation and payment, but then failed to book with the resort itself in a timely manner.

But, I had no proof of my suspicions, so I saw no point in confronting her. I decided to be nice and thanked her for doing everything she could to fix this.

19 hours of traveling later, we arrived at the resort and found the staff to be exceedingly friendly. Yet, they made it perfectly clear that they were in fact overbooked, and we would have to move rooms.

They also added that they had emailed our travel agent about this well beforehand, but never heard back from her. Well … that seemed to confirm my suspicions, but at this point, there wasn’t anything we could do about it, so we decided to just let it go.

I mean, we were in Bora Bora. We weren’t about to let this little snafu ruin our vacation.

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Over the next three days, we made it a routine to stop at the front desk every morning and inquire about our status. The staff continued to be friendly, but our situation remained unchanged.

At one point, one of the managers came out to talk to us, and I lightheartedly — but also clearly seriously — asked, “Well, can you at least put us in a nice garden bungalow? Like, can we have one of the bungalows that’s right on the beach? Those seem decent?”

To which she replied, “I’m so sorry. That’s a different category of room, but I promise we will put you in the best one we can.”

Since we were finally talking to a manager, I then decided to take the opportunity to ask about late checkout. (Our flight off the island wasn’t until 6:30 pm, and the typical 11:00 am checkout would have meant that we’d be stuck for over seven hours in the heat and humidity of an outdoor Bora Bora resort.)

The manager replied, “Yes, of course. If we can accommodate late checkout, we will be happy to do that for you.”

I was a bit flustered by the repeated non-answers, but at this point, I resolved to remain friendly and patient. We figured we’d just have to trust that management would do their best to take care of us. The situation wasn’t ideal, but … again, we were in Bora Bora. There didn’t seem to be any point in being a brat about it.

I’d like to think our kindness and patience paid off.

Yes, we did end up moving rooms. But, they put us in the closest beachside bungalow. It was huge, had a private courtyard complete with a jacuzzi, and of course opened up right to the beach.

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Even better, they let us stay in the room all the way until we had to leave for the airport. Essentially, they gave us a 5:30 pm checkout.

Plus, we opted for the snorkeling tour and got to see some beautiful marine life, including a juvenile manta ray.

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Even though it was annoying to have to pack up our bags and move, we had a great time hanging out in our new bungalow — and with the fishes. It was actually cool to experience two different types of rooms. And best of all, we had a nice, air-conditioned place to chill out in until we had to leave.

In the end, it worked out perfectly. And while I can’t say for sure that our kindness made a difference in the accommodations we ultimately received, I’d like to think that it could only have helped. We never sunk to being demanding or rude, and it paid off far more than we would have expected, especially given that the resort was evidently not the one who messed up in the first place. More likely, they were accommodating our own travel agent’s error.

That’s why I’d like to believe that our experience was a lesson on the value of kindness. If you treat someone as a friend, they may treat you as a friend right back.

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