Tag Archives: Australia

Another great Social Media example

Thanking my friend Alice who, after reading my post this week about Social Media shaping our travel experience, shared this with me:

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It seems Tripadvisor are going to new lengths here to encourage in the moment feedback via QR codes and the Cullen hotel in Melbourne is working hard at reminding people to go and shout about their experience on Google, Facebook and Twitter. This certainly helped prompt Alice to share this status with all of her Facebook friends:

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To tip or not to tip? That is the question…

The prospect of giving a tip can be one of controversy and is something that has triggered much debate and discussion among friends, family and colleagues over the years. As such, I thought I’d share some views and stories of recent tipping experiences whilst travelling, as the whole concept and the unknown ‘rules’ between different countries is one which continues to baffle me.

Tipping is clearly a point of anxiety for many travellers. The fact that we now see sections in travel guides advising on the appropriate percentage to tip when visiting specific countries shows this is something that plays on peoples’ minds during and even prior to a trip…and I am testament to this! There is nothing more awkward than a bell boy taking luggage up to your room and then hovering around for a few moments whilst you have an internal moral dilemma about how much to give him. And that’s made even worse when you have just arrived in the country you are visiting, unable to think straight after a long flight and haven’t yet grasped the currency break down. Then after some fumbling around you realise you don’t even have any small change. Mega awkward! I wonder if these moments of mild discomfort are intensified because I am British or whether the experience is just as uncomfortable for others around the world?

So, correct me if I’m wrong but I always thought that you tip someone based on how you rate their service and their ability to make your experience in a restaurant, hotel, taxi or whatever it may be painless…perhaps even enjoyable. That’s the way it works right?

Apparently not…

A friend recently told me about how she was asked to pay AND provide a tip upfront when having a manicure done in the states. I get that it would be easier to deal with payment before having wet nails, but how on earth was she expected to decide upfront how much tip she should award the manicurist? Surely a tip is something that should be earned and the amount given should be based on my friend’s judgement post receiving the service and assessing how good the manicure was?

Another friend actually got kicked out of a restaurant in San Francisco because she is Australian and Australians have a reputation for not tipping. She was told whilst ordering drinks that unless she paid $11 upfront (which the waitress described as ‘the worth of her seat’) she would have to go outside. That’s pretty shocking on a number of levels.

Now I know in the likes of America it seems that people in the service industry are not paid particularly well and rely on tips to beef up their wage. But what I don’t think I’ll ever really understand is why they can’t be paid more in the first place to avoid relying on customer donations so the actual cost of something is spelt out from the start. Anything extra should be earned and awarded at the discretion of the customer. Because what really starts to anger me is when customer facing staff don’t provide an adequate level of service but STILL expect a tip.

I was in a restaurant at JFK airport last week and received some appalling service. The waiter pretty much forgot about my colleagues and I to the extent that one of us had to go and get the drinks ourselves, Larry David style. When another waitress walked past with a tray of dirty plates half the food got spilt over another colleague and there was a mix up with orders (among a number of other mishaps). Consequently, when calculating the bill we decided that our waiter did not worthy a tip. After handing back the payment to him and swiftly trying to leave the restaurant (obviously being British and wanting to avoid confrontation) I caught a glimpse of him frowning and adding up the dollars against the bill. He was confirming that we had indeed not given him the tip he somehow felt he deserved for his non existent service and started shaking his head in disbelief. He then turned towards us and gave what can only be described as ‘the look of death’ – not what you want before getting on a plane – leaving me questioning what planet this guy was on if he thought he deserved a reward for his horrific ability to ‘serve’.

I’ve also started to notice on restaurant bills that some places actually dictate how much tip you should give on the bill itself. A few months ago I was actually chased out of a Mexican restaurant in New York for not aligning my tip to the one that was ‘suggested’ on the bill. The service was average at best and the food wasn’t anything worthy of an Instagram upload, so my colleagues and I thought a 15% tip was actually quite generous all things considered. And that is what we decided to award our waiter, despite the bill giving three tip options only with a little check box beside each one for 18%, 20% or 22.5%. This did mean having to calculate the amount ourselves rather than ticking one of the three pre-calculated options, but we were standing our ground here! The waiter clearly disagreed and just as I was opening the door to leave the restaurant I heard heavy footsteps and a voice behind me shouting “maaaam I think you’ve miscalculated this!” I glanced back awkwardly, told him it was perfectly correct based on 15% and left feeling like I’d committed some sort of crime. Ridiculous!

It seems these tipping games are played by lots of people I know and there are actually a number of different ways that people approach the ‘to tip or not to tip?’… or ‘how much to tip?’ dilemma:

The tip Jar approach is most suited to a restaurant type situation and involves setting a maximum amount that you are prepared to tip upfront (say 18%). Then each time something goes wrong during a meal, whether that be a waiter getting an order wrong or forgetting to bring something, a deduction of 1% is made to the final amount.

The pre-tip is something a friend told me their father does from time to time. When checking into a hotel he’ll hand over say a couple of $50 notes and give the simple instruction ‘make it a good stay’. Apparently he has seen this pay off a number of times and has been known to have staff in hotels (clearly thinking there might be more where that came from) running round him as a result.

The tip and run is probably the one that I and most Brits are guilty of. Assessing the service you have just experienced, deciding the amount the waiter or whoever it may be deserves (which is often likely to be lower than they expect) then shooting off as quickly as possible and not hanging around for a confrontation. BEWARE – sometimes this results in being chased out like a criminal.

The reluctant is actually my Ozzie friend’s attitude – she does not enjoy the whole concept of tipping because she feels “putting a five dollar note in a grown man’s hand is like tapping him on the head like a dog” as she describes it.

And my favourite which another friend recently told me about… The just get drunk or Pretend to be more drunk than you are approach to avoid the situation outright. This isn’t necessarily designed to get out of giving a tip full stop, but could help you get away with only giving the amount you feel is deserved by playing dumb to subsequent confrontation or help to innocently justify your inability to add up correctly.

I’m sure many more approaches exist (which I’d love to hear about). But just a final point to end on… I have mentioned how tipping is not really part of the Australian way of doing things. Australians are in fact paid a lot better and the minimum wage is higher than most other countries. As a potential result of this, I think some of the best customer experience I have ever encountered has taken place in Australia. The service over there feels genuine – not just with a potential reward in mind like it is in many other countries. The impact of this actually on some level made me want to be more generous with my tipping for the duration of my trip down under. Go figure!

Behind the signs

Customer experience is not just about the interaction between a customer and a customer facing representative of a company. There’s a whole lot of stuff going on in the background which can really affect the experience and impact our decision making process, especially when it comes to travelling and being in new, unfamiliar environments. One key component of this background noise that I have been paying close attention to on my travels over the past few months is signage.

I asked Google the definition of the word ‘signage’ and have been informed that signage is ‘graphic designs, as symbols, emblems, or words, used especially for identification or as a means of giving directions or warning.’ This is certainly true. But what I have come to realise is that signs do way more than this. In many cases they are a window to the world and culture we have entered into. They allow us an insight into the mindset of that culture and the way they think… or the way they want others to think they think.

Take these signs I saw in Australia, one in a gift shop, one outside a Tourist Information Centre and the other when driving into the Daintree rainforest:

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So it seems that Aussies are not afraid to speak the truth, are perhaps a little bit cynical and definitely know how to make you laugh (well I thought these were funny anyway). Needless to say, I got out of the gift shop pretty sharpish after seeing that sign.

The following sign at the entrance to a hotel I stayed at in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles also made me smile but in a different kind of way, especially after seeing an infomercial for a drug (think it was for hair loss) on TV. The majority of the advert in fact focussed on the risk factors of taking the drug making the idea of going bald seem like the more appealing option by far! If I’d have known this detail about the hotel in advance I may have looked into another option. Note the ‘tombstone’ shape of the sign!

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Another personal favourite from Australia was noted at Cairns airport where signs directing passengers to go to the gate instruct them to ‘relax’ if the gate is not yet ready. Bizarrely, just seeing this sign did actually make me feel slightly more at ease at a time where I am typically frantically clock watching and panicking about not getting to the gate on time:

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Signage when travelling can also be powerful when it comes to influencing our expectations of an experience. Take this sign I saw outside a wine bar in the West Village, New York:

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First and foremost it’s telling me that I’m going to be drinking some nice, good quality wine. Perhaps on another level it’s not even about the wine, but in actual fact it’s telling me that the people who come to a place like this don’t take life too seriously and that I’m going to have a good time. Before I know it, I’ve made a mental note of this bar and put it on the list as a fun, quirky place to visit next time I’m in New York, imagining that I might get to observe or even chat to some interesting characters (unfortunately I was working at the time so wasn’t able to actually go in). That was my thought process anyway!

Signage shapes expectations in many other ways and the next example will be familiar to anyone who travels regularly…the kind of signage that tries to pre-assure (I think I just made up a word!) or reassure us that the decision we are about to make is the right one:

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Seeing information like this at the entrance to a restaurant, café or ‘tourist trap’ essentially gives us permission to enter. It tells us that it’s ok to go in… it’s got the stamp of approval! It also raises a number of questions. Do we automatically like a place like this just because we know other travellers…other people in our situation…like it? To what extent is it creating a sense of false hope…raising our expectations and setting us up for a greater feeling of disappointment at the smallest mishap? And since these signs are now so commonplace, could it raise further questions, even concern around tourist destinations which have not had certification from the likes of Tripadvisor?

And finally, another common type of sign that will be familiar to travellers. Signs where the message has gotten lost in translation – or at least I hope that’s what happened with this sign I saw in Macau, otherwise I’m a little lost for words:

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Next time you’re travelling pay close attention to the signage and how it shapes your experience. At the very least you are guaranteed to find something to make you smile as you recognise differences between the place you are visiting and where you are from. I know I’ll continue to document it so watch this space…