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Nuance Matters – how to damage your Brand in one easy lesson

Photo by Robert Mathews

Trust collapses when checking boxes replaces human interaction. The conversation IS the relationship.

“You can’t stay here. You have to leave.”

The desk clerk was supposedly trained – but she spoke those words. Her training no longer mattered.

The problem was our nine-pound dog, officially certified as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). Under federal law, she is allowed to fly with us – at no charge – on most airlines.  She is allowed to live in an apartment that does not allow pets. We believed that the same law would allow our dog to check in with us at the resort where we were staying. We were wrong. Or were we? It all depended on the words we used and the attitude of the hotel personnel. Nuances. 

Resorts and hotels can register as NON pet friendly. They can refuse to allow pets to stay in their guest’s rooms. But wait. There’s an exception. If a dog (or other pet) is officially designated as a “Service Animal” – they can check in and stay with their owners.

The term “Service Animal” is written into Federal law under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Everyone must comply – even resorts that can deny access to pets under all other circumstances. Officially, a service animal is one that has been trained to perform a specific function that helps its owner deal with symptoms of a disability. If the animal is just nice to have around but doesn’t do anything to help deal with a disability – sorry Spot, you’re just a pet. Get out. 

For entry into hotels and resorts that don’t allow pets, the process is straightforward – as long as you know the correct words to use. 

PTSD is a disability. My wife has it. She is not a combat veteran. She got it as the result of an accident. PTSD symptoms don’t know the difference. 

Here’s where things get tricky. If an Emotional Support Animal helps a PTSD victim remain calm just by being present, that is considered a skill that qualifies that pet as a Service Animal. So, the two designations, in effect, merge into one – Service Animal. 

But the hotel clerk and her direct supervisor had other ideas. They had a box to check – NOT A SERVICE ANIMAL. Appropriate policy response – LEAVE. 

We did NOT leave. Cutting to the chase, we worked our way up to the Director of Guest Relations, one step below the General Manager, who was off-site. She was a skilled, empathetic listener. She knew the power of nuance. She apologized, thanked us for bringing it to her rather than just walking away, and told us exactly how they were going to deal with the larger issue of better training their front desk employees to interact with guests.

Most importantly, she gave us the language we can use in our own playbook going forward. From now on our little 9-pound bombshell is a SERVICE ANIMAL. Any hotel personnel with whom we interact is allowed to ask us 2 questions: Is your dog a Service Animal? Our answer is YES; Is your dog specially trained to perform a task that addresses your medical issue? Our answer is YES. That’s it. We are not required to produce any documentation, or demonstrate our pet’s skill. Our answers must be accepted at face value. That’s the law. 

The hotel clerk in question could have gently prodded those answers from us if she had taken the time to reframe her questions rather than check a box.

If we were more passive, we would quietly have left the resort with a terrible Brand experience. Management would never have known what happened or that their Brand had been tarnished. 

Are you focused on the nuances? Do you understand that conversations are the foundation of relationships? Or are you really good a checking boxes?    

By Bill Leider, Managing Partner, Axíes Group      

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