In my workshops I ask the question: “What would aggravate you to such a point that you would NEVER return to a business again?” People from the audience start shouting out all of the things such as

  • The store is dirty
  • They don’t have what I want
  • The sales people are too pushy
  • The people are rude
  • They aren’t open when I want to shop
  • And the one response I always get is Bad Customer Service

My reply to the person who said bad customer service is “What do you mean by good customer service?

I rarely get the same answer. I'll hear a lot of things, including: friendly people, I can get what I want there, clean store, nice merchandise, or the store exceeds their expectations. It’s as if I am asking a question within a question.

The purpose of the question is to make the audience realize that there are issues far more important than just price, because it generally takes between 8 or 12 responses before someone says the prices were too high! It also demonstrates that customer service represents different things to different people.

Using the concept of “knowing it when you see it”, let me describe two customer service experiences I had within the last few weeks.

I was speaking in Key Biscayne, Florida at the magnificent Ritz Carlton Hotel. The meeting planner was so embarrassed because he forgot to make a room reservation for me and the Ritz was totally sold out. He gave me an additional stipend to stay at another hotel. Understand that I drove to Key Biscayne from the Orlando area, which is about a four-hour ride. The speech was at night and I thought that what I might do is try to drive as far as I could, then find a hotel on the way back.

I made one mistake and that was I packed my suit and shirt in my suitcase and of course it was wrinkled. That always happens BUT this time I didn’t have a room where I could press it. I was aware of the legendary service at The Ritz so I thought I would put it to the test.

I parked my car with the Valet and there was a “greeter” to welcome you to the Ritz. That’s a nice touch. So I told this well trained and attractive young woman about my predicament. I asked for just a room where I could press out my suit. She said that she would take care of my problem by bringing the suit to the concierge. I handed it to her and she brought it to the concierge who immediately came over to me and told me to have a seat in the lobby, have a glass of their lemonade, and not to worry because everything would be taken care of.

Fifteen minutes later, he returned with my suit, which was pressed and covered with a plastic bag as if it had just come out of the dry cleaners. I asked how much it would cost and as I put my hand in my pocket to pay, he then said, “There would be no charge.”

As I started to take the suit from his hands, he called for the greeter to bring me to the spa where I could freshen up and change my clothes. The manager of the spa greeted me using my name, which blew me away. The concierge had called the spa, giving my name, and explaining my predicament.

The spa manager gave me a locker, the use of the shower facilities, and a place to shave. I asked again how much the use of the spa would be. Again I was told there would be no charge.

WOW! That is great customer service. That's smart business because they created more word-of-mouth advertising with that gesture than all the newspaper ads in the world could buy.

Three days later I was checking into Beaches Resort in Jamaica for a family get-together. There were 14 of us in the party consisting of my wife and me, my six grandchildren and their parents. That represented four separate rooms. We had a wonderful travel agent who took care of all of the details.

However, two weeks before the trip I called the Resort just to ask about some of the extra excursions, such as fishing and boat rides. While I was on the phone I wanted to make sure my daughter with her three boys had a room large enough for them. The reason I wanted to double check was that when we made the reservation my grandson was not yet born. When I checked, I was told that their room could only handle 4 people and the hotel was sold out.

I quickly called my travel agent who immediately called her contact. She faxed me the reservation she made and it clearly stated PLUS INFANT. She assured me that everything was OK but she also said she would follow up on this a few days before we left to go. She reconfirmed on the day before we were to leave that everything was all set.

Then I arrived at the Resort and checked in. I double-checked to make sure my daughter’s room was OK. I had to wait for about 15 minutes for that question because someone had to ask someone, who had to ask someone else. Then I was told not to worry and that everything was OK.

You guessed it. When my daughter arrived she was put into a room with one king size bed. It was even smaller than my other kids’ rooms. The hotel didn’t have any other rooms for that night and they would be moved the next day. They put in a rollaway bed and a crib and they spent a night in a room with wall-to-wall beds.

If that wasn’t bad enough, we then try to make reservations in two of the specialty restaurants on the property. I tried to make the reservations when I checked in. To make a very long story shorter, it took me 8 calls and two visits to the concierge to finally get a reservation. Why did it take so long? Because no one owned my problem. It was mine -- not the hotel’s.

We ended up having a sensational time but I refused to go back to the concierge due to their complete incompetence. That is sad, especially when you think that about the total cost of the family trip compared to the complete lack of money that I spent at the Ritz.

What is the lesson? It’s all about ownership of the problem. The Ritz trained their people to own the problem and then professionally and personally deliver the problem to someone who can solve it. Then the first employee follows up to make sure the problem has been taken care of.

How do you train your people? We don’t have to be the Ritz to treat your customers like the Ritz. If you do customer service like the Ritz, your customer service will be your biggest differentiator!