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Caring About Your Customer Service Screw-Ups

People seem to think Customer Service and Marketing are separate departments. I say they go hand in hand. There is no better way to increase or decrease your brand impression than through customer interaction. Every person in your company is a marketer, especially those on the front-lines.

Purple Pie Man FTW!

Not an actual image of the chef

Which leads me to today. I’m writing this from the Hilton Garden Inn, in Hartford South/Glastonberry. I’m on stop #8 of my 30 city UnBookTour to promote my new book, UnMarketing. It’s been going amazing, but that also means I live in airplanes and hotels.

This morning I rolled out of bed, and headed downstairs for breakfast around 9:45am (did I mention I’m not a morning person?) The lobby has a breakfast buffet, and I’m not talking about a “continental” breakfast that most hotels throw in as a bonus that contains a danish and something that resembles juice. This was a full spread of eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, cereal, bagels. You name it.

I usually miss breakfast, since sleep is something I really enjoy, especially after just crossing the continent, so I was impressed I was able to catch this feast.

I told the chef that I’d like eggs, bacon, sausage and hash browns (shut it foodies) and grabbed a juice and took a seat. As soon as I sat down, I noticed they turned off the lights around the buffet. Score! I just got there in time.

Apparently not.

I dug in to my food and it was bad. Cold. Old.

I forced down some bacon and after testing each of the other items, I couldn’t continue. The waitress walked over with my bill and placed it on the table, without saying a word. Now, most people would just allow this to happen and walk away but I called her over. If I owned a business like this, I’d want to know if something was up.

“Hi, the food was really bad. It was cold and old.”

She just looked at me, not knowing what to do.

“I’ll go get the manager”

And she walked away. I never asked for the manager, or to have the bill taken care of. The manager came over and was nice and offered for the chef to make an omlette or something special for me. I declined, letting him know I really wasn’t hungry anymore, told him I wasn’t looking for a freebie or anything but thought he needed to know. He picked up the bill and said they’d take care of it and apologized again.

And this is where the customer service “apology” usually ends for 99.9% of businesses in the hospitality business.

But not here. The Sous Chef came out, Forbes, and stopped me from walking out and he looked shaken. Not in a shaken way like he’d been chewed out by anyone, but a sincere look of being upset. He said “Sir, I’m terribly sorry about your food this morning. A few things, although not excuses, we didn’t know until we were cleaning up, but the water underneath the food trays that keep everything warm was gone, hence why it was cold. And I also should have never given you the food that was sitting out that long, I could have made you something fresh right there but I thought you looked like you were in a hurry. Regardless, I’m terribly sorry, this is not how we operate and we’d like another chance to make it up to you.”


This guy gave a damn that a guest had a sub-par experience and he needed to make it right. We can’t stop screw-ups, only how we remedy them. And the solution usually isn’t hard. Most people who complain just want to feel validated, that someone has heard and understood them.

I didn’t threaten to “tweet about it” or use “Do you know who I think I am?”. I’m simply a person staying at the hotel. He could have simply talked about how much of a moron I was to his co-workers, or brushed it off by saying “you can’t please everyone.” He truly cared that they screwed up. He owned it. He changed my view of the Hilton Garden Inn and the Hilton overall. And he didn’t have to.

Every employee is your brand ambassador, your marketer and the face of your company. They make a difference. Forbes made a difference for a billion dollar hotel brand to me.

He said, as I was heading back to me room, “I’d like to make this right.”

And my reply was “You already did”

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  • Dave

    I always like hearing this kind of story. I think most people want to do the right thing and this Sous Chef wasn’t going to let his mistake be your view of the Hilton brand. Good for him and good for the hotel for hiring such an employee.

  • What a wonderful story of how one employee can make a HUGE difference. How refreshing. On the flip side, I was at a retail store the other day which had giftcards at the checkout in 4 different denominations. All except the one I wanted. The girl yelled out to someone and near as could tell the someone did nothing. I looked at the other registers myself and couldn’t find the card I wanted. I came back to the checkout and asked if the someone had found a card for me and received a “I donl’t know”. I left and the store was $50 poorer because not one employee cared enough to make an easy sale.Kudos to Forbes for exemplifying the power that employees have to make a positive difference in the lives of customers (and for the company that employs them!). It’s rare–and so appreciated when it happens.nnAmber @wordsdonewrite

  • This weekend I had reason to contact a Tech-company’s support line. We were syncing my wife’s phone / PDA with her computer. A glitch happened and all her appointments vanished — POOF! The Tech-company was at a loss for an explanation. Repeatedly telling us what we should have done, or what we should do in the future. They actually tried sell us their cloud-computing service to allow us to regularly back-up our data to their server-in-the-sky — for a nominal monthly fee. We were trying to solve a problem. We didn’t need a backseat driver. After spending an hour on the line, the Tech-company finally acknowledged that it was likely a “human error” on their side and would I like to file a issue with their feedback site? Would it get my data back? No, but it would tell the engineers your problem. Isn’t that what I’m doing right now? After an hour of going back and forth with this issue. I told them: no, you tell your feedback engineers about what happened, I don’t have time/energy to go through this again. Again, poor timing.

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  • Those are the kinds of people who keep me coming back to a company again and again. The first time I tried to build a website I found a little hosting company. I had no clue what I was doing but their agent walked me through the whole process of changing hosts, installing WordPress, getting email working and so on. Most of this wasn’t his job at all, WordPress for example was not a service they offered. He just did it because he wanted a happy customer. Well, four years and six sites later, I am still their customer.

  • Scott,nThanks for driving home these points, as you do so well. Unmarketing has changed my biz. The stuff you teach is genuine, and it’s common sense, and I appreciate it. Thanks!

  • loved this article, hits home for me!

  • I couldn’t agree more. I just blogged about an experience at Kinkos (who got it wrong) and Hertz (who got it right). Marketing does not end at the sale!!

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  • Anita Pathik Law

    speaking of customer service, I’ve been attempting to get word from someone in your office intermittently for almost a year…how does one get a response?

  • Christine Goh

    I happen to work at Hilton Garden Inn in Philadelphia. Thank you for this article. I shall have a little discussion with the rest of my co-workers on how important it is to own up and apologized genuinely.

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  • Craig Vermeulen

    I got to say that is a great post! I work in the Home Building industry and the company I work for measures our brand by our customer service and the surveys that come in from each person we build a home for and service after they move in. More companies need to realize they go hand in hand! A company no matter what industry is nothing without superior customer service.

  • Ned Barnett

    Great. After an experience like this (but completely reversed) over breakfast at an Embassy Suites, I have never missed an opportunity to warn off people of that chain … nnI was moving my family from Atlanta to Florida, and the night before we departed, we stayed in the hotel since the movers had already taken care of the house. Came breakfast time, and we chose room service over the lobby buffet. Time passed, and more time – way too much time. So I called down to find out where our food was (I had a hungry elementary schooler on my hands). I was told, and this is a quote, “I’m sorry, sir. We have some VIPs here – I’m sure you understand.”nnI did understand. I was paying rack-rate for a suite, and that made me a VIP – nobody in the hotel was doing more, and nobody in the hotel should have taken precedence over us (nor should we have taken precedence over anyone else).nnI never forgot this, I never missed an opportunity to share the story, and I never missed a chance to impress on an employer or client that every customer is a VIP in his/her mind – and unless they’re being comped, they should be treated as well as any/every other paying customer.nnYou showed in this story how it can be done right. ThanksnnNed BarnettnLas Vegas

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  • I’m a huge stickler for great customer service. I was impressed when I first heard you tell this story in Buffalo last weekend, and I enjoyed reading it again. Most of the time, genuine complaints are met with defensiveness or “Sorry but I can’t do anything about it” excuses. Glad to hear the chef did such a great job of handling the situation.

  • LisbethComm

    Today I had a similar experience with a company: OC Surplus. ( They assured me they could get an item to me by a certain day, so I placed the order. The rep then had to contact me to tell me he had made a mistake. They could have left it at that and refunded my money, leaving me without the product. But, rather, they offered me a higher quality (read: higher priced) product similar to what I was looking for, that they could get to me on time – without my having to pay the price difference. Oh, and a “bonus item” too. Granted, I know this is just some item sitting in a corner somewhere. I get it. But, it’s the fact some rep in CA took the time to pay attention to my order, and then find a solution for me – not just leave me in the lurch. I referred him to this article, and expressed my gratitude for REAL customer service – not perfect order fulfillment, but doing the right thing to serve your customer. You know I’ll shop them again in a heartbeat. His response at the end? “Thank you for the article and your kind words. We appreciate your appreciation! At the end this is the way that business should be.” Yup.

  • Onallumette

    It’s all about the details…and every little one counts!

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t it amazing that such a simple thing as acknowledging the error and saying I’m sorry made such a difference. Nice story about how simple it really is…

  • Anonymous

    LOVE this story. Customer service really just is treating customers the way you’d like to be treated. We’re all human. We all make mistakes. How we handle those mistakes tells more about a brand (or a person) than all the perfect moments.

  • I am an avid gamer, and used to like going to specialty stores to try and get my game on. One of the places i would frequent is gamestop, and i can’t tell you enough of how much of a nightmare their customer service is. The employees are always talking with eachother, and are simply disgusted when you try and ask a question for interrupting them, will at times outright lie about item preorders (in order for the manager and employees to scoop up rare items to resell online for a nice profit) and are just completely unhelpful when it comes to knowing their own products.

    After a couple of times, I just couldn’t justify the great prices for that kind of behavior. Now I only buy online.

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  • LIsa Fields

    Wow, what a cool guy.

    I wish we had known the name of this remarkable person but then I thought perhaps his “Leadership Team’ have been only looked at the unfortunate part of the story instead of concentrating on his strengths.

    Thanks for reminding me of the importance of trying to give Feedback regarding Customer Service. It can be easy to give up.

  • Sorry for the late post (i just “found” this blog and am going back an reading old posts…LOL!).

    Anyway….WOW what a great example of Branding at every level. You talk about it often Scott, but this is really the best example you could possibly imagine for impacting a customer positively after a bad experience. I think we have all had bad experiences like this in the past and I know that when I do, I make a point to share it with someone because, like you said, if I were running it, I would want to know. But, rarely (if ever) has anyone shown concern like this.

    BRAVO Hilton Garden Inn!

    Thanks for sharing Scott. Was an AWESOME read brother!

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  • Also think every complaint is an opportunity to impress someone. Something that entire books have been written about, but an idea many still fail to understand.

  • Tiara Cosmo

    I couldn’t agree more on this one. I don’t often complain at restaraunts or hotels, unless it really is necessary. But when I do, I just like to know somebody listened…not just nodded along…but that somebody really heard me. A simple mistake won’t make it or break for me, but how it’s handled, will.

  • Geo Love

    Your Non-Profit segment has been one of the best I’ve seen concerning this subject. Today businesses had better come to grips with the fact that we, the consumer have a lot more power over how we are treated by them. Rule used to be please 1, they tell three. Piss off 1, they tell 10. Think of the snowball effect of where that last number is now today.

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  • That was a humbling story. Thanks for sharing. Hotels are all about customer service, there is always a competitor aka another place for a guest to stay. Just look at how big the hotel review presence is online. 

  • “Do you know who I think I am?” – that definitely made my day. 
    Take-home tag line: “Every employee is your brand ambassador, your marketer and the face of your company. They make a difference.”
    I told employees in a small retail business that smile is contagious. Duh! The owner called me to say that not only the work environment improved, but the sales too. Customer service is simple details added to each other and applying one of the first rule we learned in kindergarten: treat others a you want to be treated.

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  • Daniela_puzzo

    Just sitting through your webinar and I dealt the need to read the blog – nicely done.  I’m a marketer myself and couldn’t agree with you more.  

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