I went for a ski lesson last week, as I’m going on my first ski trip in over 10 years later this month.

I almost didn’t.

To find out my local options, I Googled ‘ski lessons Surrey,’ which pointed me to The Sandown Ski Centre in Esher.

Its web site is terrible – not just because of its poor grammar, amateur design and confusing information but for its horrendously hostile tone.

It’s obsessed with telling you what they won’t do for you – and what you’re not allowed to do there. In bold. Or underlined. Without so much as a ‘please’, ‘thank you’ or other pleasantry to soften the blows.

Most other companies have by now worked out that, to stay in business, they need to be nice to paying customers. A little customer service ethic goes a long way.

In fairness, I’m sure a ski centre does needs some safety guidelines. But the web site could make all the same points in far, far better ways.

It says, for example: ‘Under no circumstances will Sandown Ski Centre teach any child under the age of 4 years’.

Why do small children seem to make them so angry? Why not be positive and simply say they teach people from five years upwards?

It says: ‘Should any child being taught be found to be younger than 4 years of age, tuition will be immediately stopped’.

They must pounce with ID checks halfway through lessons. And it conjures a vivid mental picture of under-age children being dragged around the corner and shot.

My wife decided she had no desire to go to a place like that – she didn’t need a lesson that much. I did, but if there’d been an alternative place nearby, I’d have gone there. Unfortunately there wasn’t and time was short, so I gritted my teeth and booked.

Turning up on the day, I fully expected to find a hostile, unpleasant atmosphere – but was amazed to find the staff relaxed, polite and friendly.

So presumably the centre assigns its nice, service-focused people to look after its customers – an extremely sensible plan of course.

But why did they think it a good idea to get someone who I assume is normally in charge of a borstal to write their web site?  OK, I went anyway as my options were limited, but I’m sure they must fail to entice many others along.

It hammered home how the tone of communications – as much as what you say – is vital in shaping a brand. In particular, people who don’t already know you will judge you first and foremost by what they find online.

If they don’t like it, as long as they have a reasonable choice, they’ll waste no time going elsewhere.

 

What are your experiences of good companies spoiled by terrible web sites?  Or bad companies hiding behind good sites?