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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”