Cromleach Lodge – A Masterclass In Customer Service That Brought Tears To Our Eyes
The simplest things in life are often the most humbling.
At the weekend, we decided to take a well-earned break at a hotel in one of our favourite parts of the world – the West of Ireland.
This particular hotel came to our attention mainly because it overlooks the beautiful Lough Arrow in County Sligo, and we’d been on a walk behind it a couple of years ago.
It was only when we went on their website that we got the real story behind what I now believe to be one of the most incredible hotels on Earth
Okay, it’s not optimised for all browsers (I’m going to email the owners to tell them it comes out all mushed up in Firefox), but it’s got lots of great stuff going on there, especially the video section, which gave us a real insight into the type of people that run this place.
The story goes that a young couple, Christy and Moira Tighe set up a small B&B on the hillside 32 years ago. They soon got found by fishermen and rich German and American tourists. They had no formal training in cooking or hotel management, but over the years have single-handedly built this up into a large four-star luxury spa hotel that rocks. Moira herself has been awarded Irish Chef of the Year and Restaurant of the Year. Serious achievements.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that every single element of this hotel is perfect. I am seasoned in the art of staying in hotels and I’ve done everything from Travelodges to 5-star disappointments all over the world. In fact, possibly the worst hotel I ever stayed at was the Royal Crescent in Bath – at £5 a night that place would have disappointed, but at £800 a night it made me apoplectic with rage. Not least because that’s the venue we chose for the last night of our honeymoon (and Katy’s birthday t’boot), but I digress.
What really made Cromleach Lodge shine was it’s staff. Absolutely the finest hotel staff I have ever encountered. A real inspiration to any business, and obviously the key to their tremendous success.
The weekend did not start well, with Katy experiencing some tummy rumblings during the drive to the hotel that quickly developed into a violent vomiting fit that did not abate until the small hours.
This did not stop her taking her much-needed pregnancy spa treatment of an Atlantic Seaweed bath and facial, but she was straight to bed after that. After I experienced the best massage I’ve ever had and availed myself of the excellent steam and sauna facilities, I then started to experience what really makes this hotel special.
Knowing that Katy would not appreciate my stubble, and having forgotten to pack all the tools a gentleman needs into my wash bag, I gingerly approached the spa receptionist.
“I don’t suppose you sell razors?” I asked, my eyes darting across myriad bottles of potions and lotions all designed to fool us into thinking we’re younger.
“Actually, Mark, I do have a razor here for you” she said.
Mark? How did she know my name? I don’t know if it was the beautiful lilt in her voice, the way she looked me directly in the eye, or the fact that I was completely relaxed that made it feel utterly right that this total stranger should address me by my first name.
As she scuttled off to rumble in a cupboard for what was presumably their emergency razor supplies for idiotic men, I felt an unfamiliar warm fuzzy feeling inside. What the hell was this!
Then she presented me with the razor and agreed that I could put it on the room (I don’t often carry cash when I’m dressed for the sauna) and it suddenly hit me – this strange, alien feeling was that of…satisfaction.
I was experiencing customer satisfaction.
No wonder it felt weird.
It had been a long, long time since I had experienced this feeling.
And it just got better.
Katy managed to squeeze out the information between bouts of puking that she was not well enough to join me for dinner. I suppose I should have ordered room service and stayed with her but, and I think she agreed, at least one of us should experience the famed food in the restaurant as we’d come this far, so I scuttled off with my iPhone in hand (I knew that sitting on my own in a restaurant on a Saturday night would necessitate some iPhone shenanigans to alleviate the sad, lonely sod in the corner looks I was sure to get).
I then squeezed a drink of Guinness in at the bar. If you’ve never drank Guinness in Ireland I strongly recommend it. I don’t care what kind of drinker you are: it is simply one of the finest pleasures on this Earth to be served a properly-poured, cared-for, correct temperature glass of Guinness by a real Irish person in an Irish bar. And the guy behind this bar was brilliant.
He was all teeth and curls, and as friendly as they come. I asked him if I could possibly get some dry roasted nuts or a pack of cheese and onion crisps to go with my drink.
He looked at me with deep sympathy. His eyes basically said “I know what it is like to desire such a savoury nibble to go with such a delectable beverage, but this hotel is a cut above that and I’m afraid we have no nuts or Tatos in the house”. But the shortcoming (which was mine, not the hotels) was overcome with a swift “But I can offer you this bowl of delicious olives” – an offer which I just as swiftly took him up on.
As I munched through the olives, iPhone in hand making me look busy, I soaked up the atmosphere of the bar. Locals telling tall stories and complaining humorously about the council, Americans gabbling excitedly about the scenery they’d experienced that afternoon, middle aged women glowing in the corner and ruminating on how their spa experience made them feel younger (with, presumably, rooms full of lotions and potions)…it was also something I had not experienced in a long time: everyone in that bar was happy.
It was then time to go to dinner, and I was escorted to my table by a delightful, non-obtrusive, non-judgmental (I was not in my best clothes) Maître d’.
The restaurant itself had a huge amount of deep thought gone into it’s construction. The gleaming kitchen was exposed by huge windows and automatic in and out doors for the serving staff. The cooking activity I spied in there was just screaming efficiency. I was immediately under the impression that this was a very well oiled machine.
Now, I can honestly only remember about five meals I’ve had in my life in any great detail. In all cases because of the quality of the food and the service containing the rarest of elements: love.
Most of these were in France.
This meal brings that total to six.
Superb house Sauvignon Blanc served at the prefect temperature, which for me is about 8 degrees Celsius. This is of course a complete guess and prompts me to revisit my idea of creating an attachment for the iPhone that can do clever things like be a thermometer. The ultimate app! Followed by an amusing “idiotic men” moment when a wonderful young waitress presented me with a small cup of soup which I waved away confident that I did not order it. “Complements of the house, sir”. Eh?
An amuse-bouche. Of course. How silly of me!
(The wine and Guinness were kicking in. There was that warm fuzzy feeling again).
This beautiful little cup of pumpkin soup went deliciously with the incredible fresh bread which I ate so fast I can hardly remember what it looked like. I do remember being bowled over that there was a proper slab of real butter at the right temperature (again!) on the table. This is a detail that is so rarely done right it warrants a full mention.
And then…monkfish salad. Seriously, I’m going to sound as if this Mr and Mrs Tighe are paying me to write this. Un – bell – eevabull.
Followed by (and yes I know I was on the wrong wine for this) Henry VIII’s favourite piece of meat. So much so, he knighted it: “Arise, Sir Loin”.
So good, I forgot all about the iPhone.
It was during the munching of this delectable meal that I was paid a visit by Christy. If Basil Fawlty is The Joker, then Christy is surely Batman. Except better dressed. Even Bruce Wayne couldn’t pull off a tie like this fella.
Desperate not to appear like the lonely fool I clearly was, I explained how my wife was vomiting and couldn’t make it to dinner. At first, I think he thought I just enjoyed talking about vomiting but then it dawned on him: “She’s in the hotel!?”
“Yes, upstairs, missing out on all this loveliness”
“If she needs anything at all…”
“No, no, she assured me she has no appetite for food. But thank you anyway.”
“I’m serious, if she needs anything at all, let me know”
“Thank you so much”
Warm and fuzzy. Back to steak.
Ten minutes later in the hotel room…
“I’m really hungry Mark”
“Okay, I’ll call room service.”
“Hello, yes I’d like a salad sandwich and a glass of milk please”
“There’s a menu sir, and that’s not on it I’m afraid”
(sensing the disappointment in Katy’s eyes) “No, I just spoke to the owner and he said…”
She cut me off.
“Oh, was that a salad sandwich you say?”
Warm and fuzzy feeling now getting silly. About to get sillier.
Five minutes later there was a knock on the door. I opened it to reveal an opulent dark wooden tray with a white cotton cloth underlining a beautiful pile of assorted salad ingredients, a bowl of afore-mentioned soup and a plate of afore-mentioned bread. And a big old glass of milk. Perfect temperature.
All being carried by Christy. The owner of the bloody hotel.
He offered the tray to me, but I invited him in so he could see that the whole vomiting wife story stacked up, and then he was gone in a puff of good manners and astounding decency.
I slept like a baby that night.
A slightly drunk, loudly snoring (at least for the first 30 minutes, allegedly), hairy-arsed baby.
Katy remarked in the morning that it was the most comfortable hotel bed she’d ever slept in. Remember the story of the Princess and the Pea? That was her.
It’s not over yet…
Breakfast was stunning. Not only because there was Christy to greet us (does this man ever sleep?) and because the same brilliant waitresses were there filling up my juice glass seemingly as I blinked and because the food was unsurpassable, but also because the restaurant had an element to it that was not there in the evening before…a superlative view of Lough Arrow, a milk pond nestled betwixt dreamy Irish undulations.
If my iPhone had a warm and fuzzy app, it would have blown up.
Especially as Christy then insisted on knocking €100 off the bill.
Because Katy was ill. It wasn’t his fault!
As we drove down the hill, after the delight of being able to personally thank both Christy and Moira again, we realised we both had tears in our eyes.
It’s still not over. Four hours later I was retuning to the hotel on my own to pick up the wedding rings Katy had left in the bathroom.
“Ah, Mr Attwood. Here are your rings”
Another stranger that knew my name and proceeded to effortlessly surpass all my expectations. I felt like hugging and kissing the whole damn place.
On Tuesday morning I got the whole sales team in the meeting room. I told them this story and explained to them that ours should be the kind of business that gives people this warm and fuzzy feeling. Every single person that comes into contact your business should feel this way.
Do you think Katy and I are going to go back to Cromleach Lodge?
Of course we are.
That’s why I have shared this story – as someone who teaches business owners how to be more successful online in my Internet Marketing Training Members Area, it is a delight to be able to share an experience like this as a masterclass in customer service.
It’s also a masterclass in marketing. Because of their absolute commitment to customer satisfaction, I’ve just spent three hours eulogizing about their hotel on my blog which will also probably start ranking for their keywords (especially as I’ve put them in the tags!). Click here for more information on “The Art of Blogging for Business”
And I cannot finish without mentioning that their website is one of the best hotel websites I’ve ever seen. It reflects the hotel perfectly, with videos of Moira cooking, the story of how the hotel developed, twitter and facebook pages…they are truly embracing tribal marketing online and putting as much passion into their website as they obviously have into their hotel.
Here are a couple of videos of this extraordinary couple being interviewed by writer Brian Leyden for you to enjoy (they’ve even got their own YouTube channel. Spot on!):
Thank you Moira and Christy. We’ll see you again soon.
March 1, 2010
I love stories like this!
Plus he obviously spotted your potential with £100 off you’ve given him potentially 10+ times his money back!(Could be a comp upgrade on your next visit!)
March 3, 2010
Thank you so much for this fantastic report. It has brightened all of our spirts.
Thank you again.
March 4, 2010
No problem Mary. The pleasure was all mine 🙂
March 7, 2010
I encountered an interesting glitch on their website that they might consider looking into…
I was heading over to ‘Moiras Recipes’, got the menu rollover action but was distracted by the ‘Your Pets’, so I hovered over that and got a disturbing result; The recipe menu was still on but I was hovering over ‘Your Pets’! I wondered why my lamb was going to be parceled and spiced…
Its definitely an outside case, but might be worth moving the Pets menu away from the recipe section!
March 13, 2010
Great article, Mark!
When it comes to any business, customer service is probably the most important part of the puzzle.
And stories like this make my day!
March 18, 2010
I love the story right out of the shoot. A romance, a decision to work together through life, and success in making others comfortable. Who could ask for more?
Thanks for this recommendation. Being French, I probably would never have found this place if it hadn’t been for you.
March 23, 2010
Customer service you’re correct in assessing is tragically lacking in this country. The Brits just can’t continue any longer to blame the weather for their miserable demeanour behind shop counters and in the street (the Northern Europeans and the Irish seem to be able to smile abundantly..)
My husband is South African and a pleasant and obliging manner comes naturally to him particularly in the way he conducts himself in business and with clients. He puts this down to South Africa being in isolation for so many years during the apartheid era that businesses could not rely on foreign investment so repeat business from internal domestic customers was critical to survival.
Unfortunately, some clients can take advantage of the ‘nice guy’ approach and see it as a sign of weakness. It’s a rare skill to maintain one’s positive approach when the occasional client is trying to ‘pull a fast one’ for want of a better phrase. Which is why customer service seminars should be made widely available empowering business owners and staff with the skills to deal with all types of personalities in a successful way. Because, in the end the golden ticket is repeat business. Maybe we could learn from the South African approach…
Pincus Design Ltd.