What do remarkable customer experiences look like today? When is the last time a service experience left you speechless? Wait, let me rephrase. When is the last time a customer service experience was so utterly remarkable and satisfying that it left you speechless with shock, awe, and gratitude?
For me, it happened just yesterday.
The SECOND best customer service story ever told. COME ON SHANKMAN, Call it a TIE!
What I find more than ironic is that my experience is just a day behind “the greatest customer service story ever told” as experienced by the infallible Peter Shankman.
A couple of disclaimers before we dive in to this –
1) I do not write as fast or as well (or nearly as succinctly) as Peter Shankman
2) To paraphrase a Creole musician I once heard in the French Quarter, “I ain’t braggin’, I’m just explainin.’” With the story below, I’m not trying to say that I’m “special” or extra-deserving of the amazing service I received; I’m just explaining how special my favorite hotel chain makes me feel and what lengths they go to to make that happen.
My favorite hotel chain has spoiled me beyond belief. They deliver on everything you would expect from the hands-down best loyalty program in the global hospitality industry; and then for their most loyal guests they pull out ALL the stops and take your breath away. Visualize remarkable and then expect surprises that exceed your most hopeful expectations.
As a member of this hotel chain’s preferred customer loyalty program, I had always been a fan of their hotels, but I never paid too much attention to how many nights I stayed. Then a few years ago, I reached 50 nights in one year, taking me from Gold to Platinum level. Upon reaching Platinum, all of a sudden the experience of checking in becomes a magical journey “behind the curtain” to a world of hospitality you never knew existed.
What’s it like?
A Few Examples of Remarkable Customer Experiences at the Chain
- While some hotels don’t allow dogs, this chain defines “dog-friendly.” I have a Dachshund (Harley) and a Great Dane (Bailey). At most hotels it’s hard to get a room with just one dog, much less two and one being a Great Dane. But at my hotel chain, their little dog beds are fluffed and laid out next to mine, along with polished dog bowls and a doggie amenity (Milk Bone).
- Often when I check in, somehow the GM or MOD (manager on duty) magically knows and appears like a genie to welcome me. I don’t know how, but they always seem to know when I’m arriving – I never see the associate who’s checking me in make a call or signal. Maybe they have some kind of silent alarm button?
- When I have checked in to beautiful hotels in the most beautiful places on Earth I am immediately upgraded and whisked away to a paradise within a paradise. Bali? The Presidential Suite. Thailand? A two-story villa out over the lagoon with a menu of “tub services”(aromatherapy/bath salts) which require a staff of 2 a half-hour to prepare. You sink back in an open sky tub and watch the full moon while listening to palms rustle and fish jump in the water below your villa.
- On another visit to Thailand, the resort drove me to a remote part of the property with a free standing villa and private plunge pool built out on a cliff with stilts looking across the lagoon to the largest free standing Buddha statue on the ancient hills beyond the water’s edge.
- Here in the States, I checked in to the Westin Atlanta Perimeter and was escorted to the Presidential Suite, with floor-to-ceiling windows wrapping the tower with a 180-degree panoramic view of the Atlanta skyline and an in-room cedar sauna built for four.
- Right now I’m in a suite with 3 balconies, two flat screens, a large walk-in shower and separate 8 head Jacuzzi, overstuffed chairs and couch in the living room, dining room table set for 6, large executive desk looking out at the Florida shimmering palms, and everybody knows my name. You remember that old theme song from “Cheers?” Yeah, it’s like that; but not just in the bar–you get this feeling at all of the properties and at all levels of the organization, from engineering to the executives and from room service to reception – they caringly say, “Hello, Mr. Allen,” with a smile and wave. I’m paying $99 per night for a room no one else staying here even knows exists. That suite in Bali is normally $1,500 per night but they gave it to me for $120. The villa in Thailand is normally $800 per night but I got it for $59.
- By now, I’ve stayed with this hotel chain for almost 600 nights, and they’ve selected me for a secret invitation-only echelon within the top tiers of their loyalty program. Again, like a genie, an Ambassador appeared. Not just any. Their best. She calls and says, “Hello, my name is Brenda, and I am your dedicated Ambassador.” What’s it like having a dedicated Ambassador? Imagine the very best concierge at the very best hotel you’ve ever stayed at. It’s like having the best ninja in the world who says, “I’ve got your back.” Wherever I go in my global travels, I have a dedicated point person who makes everything spectacular and problem-free.
I sure hope this doesn’t sound like I’m some entitled or over indulgent jerk lazily being fed grapes and cheese and getting wildly unfair advantages. I work hard. I work like Dr. Frankenstein. I haven’t had a (single) day off in 5 months and work 10+ hours per day (on a ‘light’ day). I’ve given this hotel chain many thousands of dollars worth of business, and I’m so loyal that I would sooner sleep in a tent than stay with one of their competitors. (Sometimes I even turn down consulting business if the prospective client is not located close to one of my favorite chain’s hotels.)
What Hotel Chain Creates These Remarkable Customer Experiences?
So you must be wondering what hotel chain creates such a never-never land, right? It’s Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (Westin, W, St. Regis, Sheraton, Aloft, Element, Four Points, Le Meridien and The Luxury Collection). Trust me, no other hotel chain in the world will do as much for you if you will just consolidate those nights with them. Join today. Right now, actually. Here’s the link: www.spg.com. And take a peek at their commercial below. It’s more than just a catchy song. This is honestly how they make their guests feel. It is so magical when the advertising is a reflection of the reality like this.
So, after giving me so many amazing experiences, what could Starwood do that could possibly top all of that? How could a chain that so consistently wows and surprises exceed even themselves? Here’s what happened…
How Starwood Topped Themselves and Created Even More Remarkable Customer Experiences
A couple days ago, my very favorite hotel chain sort of let me down. I’m admittedly a little picky about restaurant service (imagine going to a movie with a professional film critic and you can envision what I’m like at dinner…and probably why I’m single!). But my experience as a restaurant consultant has made me a little particular when dining at restaurants or staying at hotels. Plus, Starwood has so relentlessly over-delivered on their services that when something is even slightly amiss, I notice.
I ordered room service, and my steak came up overcooked. This is a recurring issue I’ve found with room service at hotels around the world. When food is taken off the heat it still keeps cooking, so if a steak (or salmon or whatever) is going out to the dining room, it needs to be timed differently in the kitchen than if it is going on a cart and hauled off to the remote corners of the hotel. Room service entrées need to come off the fire a little bit sooner, or else they’ll be overcooked – but many hotel restaurants don’t manage to notice this. This has happened to me often enough that I expressed my disappointment – both at the property level and with my Ambassador.
The time between expressing my concern and what happened next was barely like the time between the flash of lightning and the sound of thunder.
To tease what they did just a bit further, I hope you will indulge a quick and relevant story from my granddaddy.
A Quick and Relevant Story from Granddad
One of the earliest lessons I learned in the restaurant industry was as a child, watching my granddad working in our family restaurant. I saw him go over to a table and give them all a free meal, and then as he walked out of the restaurant with them, he thanked them. I said, “Grandpa, I thought they called you over to complain, why were you thanking them?” He said, “Because if they didn’t tell us what was wrong, we would never have known what to fix. When customers complain, they often feel just as awkward about it as some managers or owners do hearing about it. For every customer that says something, there may have been several that didn’t say a thing. I thanked them because they are helping us.”
So then I asked, “But why did you give them all a free meal when it was just the one man that was upset?”
And my granddad said, “Because his experience is shared by everyone at his table, and we want to make sure everyone leaves happier than when they came in. We want to surprise them with even more than they asked for or expected.”
I can’t remember how old I was when I heard this but I know I will never forget it. It is one of the top two most vivid memories I have of my grandfather. He passed before I was 11.
Technology and operational systems may have all changed since my granddad was alive, but what’s important to hospitality hasn’t changed since the dawn of man. Just one person can make such a difference in an organization that the entire culture and customer experience is transformed. The true story of Johnny the Bagger is such an example. Helping employees (i.e. your “internal customer”) realize this is one of the most important priorities of management. Whether you call it training, operations management or marketing, this is potent stuff in building a remarkable business.
Without Further Ado: What Starwood Did
So here is what Starwood did for me – to not only resolve my complaint, but blow my mind with amazing, surprising, remarkable service:
- Earlier, I had sent my Starwood Ambassador a link to Peter Shankman’s Morton’s story. The Starwood staff not only read the story, they took action on it; I think they were just as inspired by the Shankman story as I was. My Starwood Ambassador and other staffers at the Sheraton Orlando North researched and contacted Morton’s best supplier and bought a special prime cut of the supplier’s very best steak, and delivered it to my room with such expertly crafted perfection that it would be indistinguishable from any world-class steakhouse. (This steak is not going on the hotel’s regular menu – it was a one-of-a-kind experience that they delivered just for one valued customer.)
- And wait, there’s more: Luxurious, specially purchased doggie beds for Bailey and Harley, dog treats that make “Scooby Snacks” pale in comparison, the biggest bottle of Grand Marnier you can serve without rolling up a barrel, and they’re still holding more of those world-class steaks just for me to enjoy on my next visit (which is like the steak connoisseur’s version of wine lover’s looking forward to exploring a private cellar of investment grade wines).
To Peter Shankman
Peter Shankman – I want you to know that you are making a difference. You are an influencer among the influential. While there is much you have shared and promoted that was widely meaningful, your post about “the greatest customer service story ever told” has had a ripple effect. Not just because you’re a great publicist among publicists, but because you and Morton’s cast a stone into the pond of goodwill and random acts of kindness that is rippling out much further than you may have even thought possible. Despite odds, risks, “what-ifs,” slings and arrows, or skepticism, you both connected in a way that shines a light on the positive example of customer service and hospitality, just like Gotham lighting up the Batman logo: “This is what ‘remarkable’ looks like. This is what hospitality can be. Everyone, let’s recalibrate our standards and be remarkable!” It reminded me immediately of the trailer for the documentary “I Am” which explores just how powerful such actions can be at improving not just service but the world in general.
Starwood – Whatever you do, please don’t change the SPG program. Don’t let the accountants, attorneys or naysayers undermine the magic that you are creating for your best customers. Like Morton’s, your acts of overwhelming generosity and goodwill may not immediately impact the bottom line, but what you are doing is so standout that we can’t help but cheer for you like Shankman did for Morton’s. When companies treat their customers with jaw-dropping acts of generous, surprising, remarkable service, the customers will respond by trumpeting the story to the world. I’m trying to do my part!
To Sheraton Orlando North
Sheraton Orlando North – I would like to express my deepest appreciation to the entire SPG team and staff of the Sheraton Orlando North Hotel, but would like to especially thank: Jerry, Amy, Pete, Christina, Arshad, Miles, Marilyn, Chris, Lucy, Linda, and the many others who follow your example.
Create Remarkable Customer Experiences
If we want the flame of remarkable service to glow brighter, we need to constantly refuel the fire. What Morton’s did, what Shankman has done, what Starwood is doing, and what Sheraton Orlando North stretched to do – it’s remarkable. It’s inspirational. In the face of such deeds we owe it to those brave souls creating such experiences to meet them in kind. Such a good deed is worth more than praise and appreciation. It is worth more than our loyal business. It is the sort of thing that makes this planet a better place and improves the human condition.