Customer service lessons from Sunbird


Let us face it, Sunbird is one of the brands with an admirable record of high quality customer service. At least I am one of many that I know that are equally impressed by Sunbird. From the time you arrive until when you leave their hotels, you experience a unique taste of care.

It all starts from the time you arrive at any of their hotels, be it Sunbird Capital in Lilongwe, Sunbird Mount Soche in Blantyre, Sunbird Kuchawe in Zomba, Sunbird Nkopola Lodge in Mangochi, Sunbird Livingstonia Beach in Salima or indeed Sunbird Mzuzu in the North.

The experience is nearly the same across their chain of hotels. When you arrive at their hotels, you are welcomed by nice and friendly smiles-genuine smiles. Unforced. They greet you and make you feel at home. They also try hard to know their regular guests. They will quickly master your name after just a couple of visits and so their welcome to you is personalised: “Welcome back Mr. Phiri”, for example.

In the past, they would stop everything so they can come and help you carry your bags. Even their cleaners and handymen-everyone seems to have come out of the same customer care class. They smile at you and are willing to help anytime. It seems their managers know how much one bad apple can spoil the rest of a guest’s visit and experience. They don’t leave it to chance by making sure that everyone behaves according to their ethos of customer service.

Of course, things do go bad even at Sunbird. The difference is in how you manage situations when things don’t go right. Sunbird staff are good at this. They have no problem to quickly accept wrongdoing as they apologise and work to make up immediately. Compare this with how harsh some customer facing agents can be. I remember an experience with an airline officer who was speaking to me like we would never meet again and as if I had not paid money that would ultimately contribute towards his salary. Even when I reminded him that his salary is paid from our money, he had no patience or remorse.

Sunbird staff will not let an issue go unattended. They will not let any of their customers or guests leave their hotel unhappy. I remember a couple of instances when things did not go right at Sunbird. The best example was when we visited their Sunbird Livingstone Beach in Salima. We had lunch there. However, my son’s sirloin steak wasn’t as well done as expected-far from their usual standard. I complained quite strongly to the waiter. She immediately accepted the problem. She never argued but she kept saying sorry. She told us to give her time to “see what she could do about the problem”.

Moments later, we saw the chef himself coming to our table to apologise personally. He told us there was a mistake and that there would be no repeat of that mistake. He then wanted to make another good sirloin steak dish to make up. We declined politely-partly because time was up plus we did not think it was worth the bother. He then insisted that he would offer us free cake and ice cream. We accepted. He brought us nice ice cream and cake!!! We loved and enjoyed it. This made us forget about the problem we initially had. Even a harsh customer would not vow to never come back to such a hotel! We went back a month later!

Isn’t this the kind of customer service that we would all expect not just from a hotel but from any service provider be it a bank, a shop, bus company or even the police or schools and hospitals? Companies that do not pay special attention to the quality of their customer service cannot grow their business-they cannot even keep the few customers that they have not to talk about the challenge of attracting new customers.

Ambitious companies will want to convene and reflect on the lessons that they can learn from Sunbird regarding customer service. Those that have the eagerness, humility and interest to learn the Sunbird lessons will grow their business by admirable measures. Good luck! n


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