Examples of Really Bad Service

If It's Too Broken, Don't Fix It

Just because it's broken, doesn't mean you should fix it.

The U.S. Postal Service was invented in 1775. Of course there wasn't email, the internet, FedEx, DHL or UPS. If you wanted to get a message to someone, you either sent a telegram, wrote a letter or yelled really loudly. That system worked (more or less) for a long time. Now, it's been disrupted, to the point where staying the course will lead directly to mounting debt and degraded service. Making adjustments to something this broken is a futile undertaking. Especially when the alternatives are already in play.

Time to abandon and start over...or maybe just abandon.


In hospitality we use clues to surprise people...we read them to help us deliver a memorable experience. But, it works the other way around as well. Customers use clues to make buying decisions. And not always the ones a business owner wants them to use. Case in point. The other day I decided to change my insurance company...not because of price or bad coverage...because they insisted on using a fax machine (or worse, the U.S. Postal Service). My decision was based solely on a seemingly trivial point of technology. But my problem wasn’t the fax machine. The fax machine was just a clue. A clue into how the organization thinks...how they approach business. Do they choose easy over right? Do they do the hard work that gives me what I want? Or, do they stay in safe harbor, expect me to jump through hoops and hope I won’t go away.

Starbucks on the other hand continues to earn my respect, not because they make the best coffee (they don’t), but because they learn, evolve and give me what I want. The other day I forgot my wallet in the car (probably because I was so frustrated about using a fax machine). No worries...Starbucks lets me pay via my smart phone. Pretty slick...saved me a journey back to the car. I also like that innovative idea of the little stoppers that go into the lids so you don’t spill the coffee all over your suit. It’s clear they do the hard work to figure out what their customers want. And I bet they don’t use fax machines.

The more choices, the more clues matter.

Lying is Never a Good Strategy...especially in a deteriorating economy

CenturyTel | Chat Online

Phone companies are notorious for stretching the truth...Centurytel is no exception.

Most of the time, lies aren't this obvious. Most of the time they're buried in ad copy, subtle tag lines or internal memos.

Unfortunately, bad times seem to bring out the overpromisers in droves. Please don't allow yourself to fall in this trap. Make the best out of what you've got. And, try to improve upon that every day.

So, United has their problems, but they're not bad enough to risk a change.

Saw this quote in an exchange on Church of the Customer. It's a pretty sad state when it comes down to this. But, many companies plan to operate in exactly this place...good enough and safe. Works well when there is little or no viable choice and no one else is doing anything extraordinary. Problem is...both of those dynamics always, always shift. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.

Once the airline gets bad enough, even the  most inconvenient of options will be better than enduring their good enough strategy. Even at $5 per gallon, driving might be a better play. 

Missed Opportunity for Continental

Art of Hospitality Lesson...When things go bad, don't make them worse. Seems like common sense. I think that's what is lacking in organizations like Continental Airlines.

Last Thursday, 168 passengers on Continental flight 71 endured a 32 hour journey to get from Amsterdam to Newark. Along the way, the poor people on the plane enjoyed overflowing and inoperable toilets, raw sewage in the aisles and an unexpected overnight stop in Ireland. One of the passengers, Dana Bushman, was kind enough to share her personal account. Or, you can read the media version. Either way, it wasn't a good day for anyone, especially Continental.

Continental's failure has nothing to do with toilets or flight delays. Much like like Jet Blue's Valentine's Day chaos, it's not an equipment problem, it's a people problem. It's an attitude of prevention and fear that gets these companies into trouble. They use traditional and outdated PR tactics to downplay very serious and remarkable issues. And, that's what everyone expects them to do...and there lies the missed opportunity. Here's the PR statement released by Continental:

"We deeply regret the serious inconvenience to our customers and are apologizing to them and compensating them for the poor conditions on the flight as well as the diversion and delay," from the Houston-based carrier.
FYI, the compensation (to date) amounted to $100-$500 in credit vouchers for future flights.

Pretty lame...and exactly what we've come to expect. Now, they're in a real firestorm...and, deservedly so.

The mishandling of the people on that flight was remarkably bad. Yes, some things could have been prevented along the way. But, they weren't. And, the situation ended up in the toilet (pun intended). Such is life. But, anytime you have a situation that's remarkably bad, you have a gift...an opportunity to create something remarkably good. In fact, it's the only option...if you care to erase the bad. Continental should have been prepared to do just that. They should have seized the opportunity and jumped into action and done something like this...Continental's CEO should have personally greeted the passengers of that flight upon arrival in Newark. The airline should have made 168 passengers lifetime platinum (or whatever the highest level is) members. They should have been offered lifetime airline passes (at least a couple of trips per year). They should have been treated like royalty. They should have been given champagne and T-shirts (I survived the s**t storm on flight 71). They should have been showered with gifts and apologies...and caring.

The passengers should have been converted from disgruntled Continental haters to raving fans...whatever the price. But sadly, they weren't.

Continental could have been lucky (where opportunity meets preparation). But, sadly, they weren't.

We're going to unravel this some more on tomorrow's indieHotelier program...join in on the fun at 11 AM EDT via Talkshoe.

Update: Dana Bushman will join us on tomorrow's live indieHotelier show to give us her first-hand account.

The Art of Recovery

One of the fastest ways to lose the trust of your customer is to make a mistake and be average at fixing it.

A quick illustration…

We recently bought some furniture for our new home… a relatively painless process, at least the buying part. One of the reasons we selected what we bought is that all of the pieces were in stock and could be delivered on the date requested. Without that assurance, we would be sleeping on the floor and eating on TV trays…not a good situation after a month out of the country and moving the week you get back…even though camping in Colorado is nice this time of year. Well, you probably can guess the outcome…the delivery truck came…but without some of our furniture. The delivery folks had no clue, “we just deliver what they put on the truck, we don’t sell it”. A call to our sales person determined he had forgotten to notify us that the pieces were on back-order, this even after he assured us everything would be delivered to our satisfaction. I, of course, diplomatically and calmly voiced my displeasure (honest, I was nice). So, here was the salesperson’s big chance, right?...an opportunity to really show me what he and his company were capable of. Instead, here’s what he said, “what would you like me to do?” and “we’ll get it to you next week…guaranteed” A broken promise, you have my money and I don’t have my furniture…not good.

Mistakes are bound to happen…in any business…we all know that. We also know that the correction of those mistakes is paramount to a successful future for any organization. But, just “fixing the problem” isn’t enough any more. A simple “I’m sorry” and a discount doesn’t make much of an impression when there are so many other products and services to choose from. And, while this seems likes it’s leading to a customer service lesson, it’s not…it’s a marketing lesson. Every mistake, every service screw-up, every fly in the soup is a wonderful marketing opportunity…it’s the most likely place for you to beat the competition and gain lifelong customers…for three reasons. 1. you have their undivided attention…this happens very rarely; 2. the customer expectation is that you will fail…or at a minimum that you will be average (offer the proverbial 10% and apologize). In their minds, you’ve already let them down. Now, it’s just a matter of getting out the door before you can cause any more damage; and 3. your competition isn’t likely to do much better…the odds are that disgruntled customers are leaving your competitors at least as often…and for many of the same reasons. In other words, screwing up is actually a pretty good place to be…if you’re up for the challenge.

Again, simply recovering from a mistake is not the opportunity…that’s expected. Your best chance to act remarkably and regain the trust of your customer lies in how you recover. At the end of the experience, two things need to happen: 1. the customer must feel special; and, 2. they need to shake their heads in disbelief at the lengths you took to earn their faith. The only way to accomplish these two goals is to act with sincerity, empathy and honesty…tell the truth, try really hard and be remarkable.

Marketing takes many forms, and it often happens behind the scenes or after the initial sales transaction, like when there are issues. So, the next time there’s a problem, don’t just fix it, make their heads spin!



Just when you think you’ve seen it all…as written in this report, hotels (apparently, lot’s of them) are gouging prospective guests who are victims of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. I can’t believe anyone would take advantage of people like this, especially in the wake of all that we have been watching with such tremendous loss of life and property. It’s embarrassing to know that I have colleagues who conduct themselves this way. Frankly, any manager or owner who advocates such activity should (and will according to this report) be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And, if necessary, I am happy to offer (pro bono) “expert” testimony against any of these morons. I happen to know Pat Miller with TH&LA…I’ll give him a call to see if he needs a hand. I hope you will too.

On the other hand, as reported in this article, a number of Victoria, Texas hoteliers are to be commended for their efforts to make it easier on the victims. It's nice to see some people have their priorities in the right order.

Self Serve


Here's yet another fine hotel company falling victim to the "technology makes everything better" bug.

Fairmont is installing self-serve check-in kiosks in their hotels. Here's the link to the full story, and here's why they claim to be doing it:

Jeff Senior, Fairmont's senior vice president of sales & marketing believes the new kiosks are another symbol of the brand's promise of personalization. "We're fully committed to welcoming all of our guests in the manner which they prefer, and are driven to developing processes and products that make it easy for our customers to do business with us. By enhancing the arrival experience in its entirety, we are completely reinventing this process and putting control in the hands of our guests."

Fairmont operates some very nice hotels, priding themselves on personalized service and world class facilities. So, why would they dilute their message this way? Why would they risk the trust they have with their customers?

There's nothing about a check-in kiosk that "enhances" the arrival experience, makes it more "personal" or "easier", unless you're a robot. And, I'm willing to bet, it's not what guests "want" either.

This move has nothing to do with guests, and everything to do with operator convenience and the bottom line. And, that's a bad approach in the hospitality business...in any business.

Mr. Senior, I think most of us would prefer a friendly gretting and a handshake when we get to the front door.

You can read more about my thoughts on kiosks here and here.

Direcway Not The Best Way


Don't let that smile fool you.

As a follow-up to Mr. Godin's public service announcement about Direcway, I thought I'd throw in my four cents...these guys are clueless! I should have ranted about these people a month ago. Thank you, Seth, for taking the lead.

The Hostage Factor is definitely well at work. For, it's the only logical reason this group still exists. Last month, I spent almost two full days on the phone with their technical department fixing a problem they created (they decided to no longer support the modem they sold me just over a year earlier). As if my wasted two days and accompanying ear ache weren't enough punishment, you won't believe what I heard from two of the IT nerds..."forget whatever the last guy told you because he doesn't know what he's talking about". This is no joke. That's what two of them told me. So, you know I had to ask the third guy what I should expect the fourth one to say....there was no response.

As Seth said, only choose this service if you have no other options. Well, when you live and work on the top of a mountain, miles from the next house, let alone a town, you definitely fall into that category as well as the one of being up the creek without a paddle.

One day, I'm going to have a choice, and they're going to lose.

Trailblazer Monkey


The next time you're in the market for an SUV, will you buy a Trailblazer? I hope not...

This is a True Story.

We use 2003 Trailblazers, three of them. We recently received a recall notice to repair a defective tail lamp. We called the local dealer as instructed to learn that they were out of parts. Then, when we inquired about the prospects of having the repair completed, the Chevrolet ambassador said, "just keep calling us to check to see if the parts came in."

Let me get this straight. You sell me your product claiming it's the best, most comfortable, great value, blah, blah. Then, come to find out, it's broken. You tell me to bring it in. But, there are no parts to fix this broken product. Now, the monkey is on my back, and it's my responsibility to call you to complete the job.

I don't know about you, but this kind of thing hacks me off, makes me feel really angry. It certainly doesn't make me feel like buying another Chevy, much less tell my friends to buy one.

Don't make your customer feel this way. Work extra hard to repair YOUR problems...and for goodness sake, say you're sorry.

Not So Easy

I know this doesn't have anything to do with hotels. But, it does have a lot to do with service, or in this case, the lack thereof.

I have tried to take advantage of Verizon Wireless' EZ Move plan to change my phone number to my new area code (I made the big move from East ot West a couple of months ago).

After 3 telephone calls, hold times exceeding ten minutes, and twice told I would be on hold at least 20 minutes, I still haven't talked with anyone! Hello, Verizon, there is nothing easy about this plan. As my wife said, perhaps they should claim it's easy...once you get through!

Don't promise what you can't even come close to delivering. Wise Up.

Seth's Blog

This has got to go into the ugly category.

Seth's Blog

The Selfish Marketer (part XIV)

If this wasn't true, you wouldn't believe it.

I needed to store a bunch of stuff as I move my office (the new office, no surprise, is months behind schedule). I went to one of the handy new storage companies (Public Storage), answered all their questions and got this response (click to make it bigger).


That's right. They don't service my area. Their solution? I should move, then try again.

"Honey, we need to move to Florida!"
"Because we can't store our stuff here in New York."

To be fair, I called the number they asked me to call. I spoke to Cheryl, who was very friendly. I read her the message. She said, "Oh no, we don't serve your area."

"Why," I asked, "did they want me to call you then?"

And her answer, which is priceless, was, "So we could officially tell you."

Money For Nothing

Yesterday, I made a same day trip to and from the Big Apple via La Guardia….always a pleasant experience, isn’t it? And, this time it was not much different except that the two hour flight delay happened on the ground at Dulles vs. the typical problems at LGA. But, that’s not the focus of this post. I don’t think there’s really any help for that airport (my apologies to those that work there).

This is a post about a combination of my own oversight and United Airline’s uncanny ability (like so many of the airlines these days) to deliver the knockout punch…instead of seizing an opportunity to secure a loyal customer.

I was hurriedly checking in via the e-ticket machine at LGA for my return trip to Virginia. I had arrived later than planned due to a fair amount of traffic, even for a Saturday (I know, my fault for not planning accordingly). Somehow, not paying attention, I ended up buying an economy seat upgrade for $15. I thought I was choosing seats. Of course, had I read the screen more thoroughly, and then had the good sense to “cancel” before committing to the purchase, I would have avoided this entire tragedy. But, I goofed, and didn’t.

So, I end up at the gate, and the following exchange occurred between me and a Ms. Hatchet (I refer to her as Nurse Ratchet from the famed One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest film due to her like demeanor and personality).

Me: Excuse me, I have kind of a stupid question.

Nurse Ratchet: No answer….just a stare.

Me: I just checked-in via the e-ticket machine, and inadvertently purchased this (I showed her the printed receipt). What did I buy?

Nurse: You bought an economy seat upgrade.

Me: Thining….(Duh! I can see that on the receipt Miss personality of a wet towel). I see that, I mean what do I get for the $15?

Nurse: Noth’in

I kid you not, that’s what she said….Noth’in!

So, I ask you United Airlines, what the heck did I receive for my $15? Now, I think I somewhat figured out the game, and the supposed value of the upgrade….to be closer to the front (I guess so I can get my rear off faster if I’m late for a connection which is more than probable coming out of LGA. But, not this time…we were an hour early!)

The moral of the story is this….if you’re going to charge someone for a service, please make sure all of your employees know how to articulate the benefits of the program. In Ms. Hatchet’s case, she has far deeper issues. I wouldn’t have her loading luggage (no offense meant to you folks doing that important job). She certainly has no business paying such special attention and administering her special brand of courtesy to a large percentage of your LGA customers. She needs to go!...for your sake more than mine. Since it’s unlikely I’ll Fly the Friendly Skies anytime soon.

*Stay Ahead

Recently I contacted Verizon Superpages on behalf of my client to determine the viability of maintaining an advertising listing. To give you some background, my client has been using Superpages for the past year with practically no idea of the listing's effectiveness. No one from Superpages has ever called them to review click-through rates, hits, or anything of the sort.

The Account rep who initially sold my client the advertising is no longer with the company. So, I was kicked up to the "manager" for handling. While she was very pleasant, she really missed the boat in terms of sales and service. She never once apologized for my having to track her down after numerous mind numbing calls to various 800 numbers. And, when I let her know I was seriously contemplating the cancellation of the advertising, she suggested she would mail the past six month's results to me (rather than review them on the phone) to illustrate how well we (they) had done. Then, she asked me to call her in four days to ensure I had received the packet of information (she indicated the mailroom sometimes loses the mail. But, she was certain I would get it).

Give me a break!

I constantly preach that you must Stay Ahead of The Customer. It is essential to performing beyond expectation and doing it in a memorable way......hence, it is also a key concept in the Memorable Solutions approach.

This is a clear example of a company having countless opportunities to stay ahead of me and my client, and failing miserably. They knew the contract was expiring, they have all of our contact information, they host our website, they have all of the stats, they have me on the phone... Instead, I have to do all of the work...and in the end make a stupid phone call to make sure their mailroom didn't lose my mail. Good grief.

Needless to say, Verizon Superpages will lose my client's business. But, the really sad thing is that they could have avoided all of this by simply staying ahead of me....and keeping in touch (another key concept to be reviewed at another time).

Strategize: My United Airlines Rant

Ross had a bad trip....I think I'll try Frontier!

Strategize: My United Airlines Rant

Last Saturday I was flying from Los Angeles International to Denver International Airport. My flight was at 8:00AM, so I showed up relatively early along with everyone else that was taking flights that morning. I wound up in line for about 30 minutes at the self-service, automated kiosk check-in. Why did it take so long? Here's why:
Most importantly, just like self checkout at Home Depot, there were not enough employees to help people. I actually walked up and helped a few people through the check-in process, but, worse than that, people had to wait 10 minutes or longer for an employee to come put a baggage check sticker on their checked bag. You see, the system is not fully self service: you don't get to put your own sticker on your checked bag; that prints up behind the counter.
The employees that were behind the counter were allowing people to get out of line and ask them questions, many times simply checking those people in behind the counter. That is not ok!
There were no employees making announcements nor were there any signs that told International travelers that they could not use the kiosk to check in. I can't tell you how many people had to go get in the International line after having stood in line for 20 minutes at the kiosk.
So I arrived at the gate around 7:00AM, sat down to%