Where Has Customer Service Gone?

As many of you know, I travel quite a bit.  I am extremely loyal to my brands often going out of my way or not taking the convenient path to maintain that loyalty.  For example, I drove 55 miles each way for a speaking engagement to stay in the nearest Marriott.  However, more and more, I am seeing customer service get worse and worse.  In this economy, it is even more important to retain your customer base than ever.  I try not to complain, but two situations that just occurred have led me to this post.  Unfortunately, I will not change the names to protect any innocents.

The first experience was with the Vanderbilt Marriott in Nashville, TN.  They have one of the most amazing and wonderful staffs ever.  From the valet to the desk manager to the Concierge team, they are a class act.  I have had several customers in Nashville and have stayed over 100 nights in that hotel.  At one point, I didn't have to stay in Nashville for 6 months, yet everyone still knew me by name when I came in.  Most hotels have corporate rates and when I travel, I use the client's rates to lower expenses.  In every hotel I have ever stayed, if the corporate code is unavailable, I have been told to book a room anyway and get the code changed at the front desk.  This was the case for this particular reservation.  I booked the room and headed to Nashville.  When I arrived, I was greeted by the familiar valet guy by name.  The front desk manager welcomed me as she has for years.  We asked about each other's families and made the usual small talk.  I told her the rate situation.  She told me she can no longer change it and I can see she was upset at the inability to do so.  I asked her why.  She said that a new owner had taken over and that policy is not in effect anymore.  She stated that the owner representative was there and I could discuss it with him.  When I talked to him, I was appalled at the answer.  He said that the reason is due to a revenue model to ensure they stayed as viable as possible.  I explained to him that I had earned my platinum status at that hotel.  Not just that I am platinum, I earned enough nights at his hotel to become platinum.  The rate difference was $80.  I asked if an extra $80 was worth losing a customer that had spent easily $20,000 at that hotel.  He said that it was policy and his hands were tied.  So I cancelled my reservation and found another Marriott in Nashville.

The second item happened on my latest trip.  I rent with National Rent-A-Car and have been an Executive member for several years.  I realized when I arrived in Houston at IAH that I had left my driver's license at home.  It is Sunday night late and I am stuck at the airport.  I go to the rental counter and talk to the manager.  I explain what I had done, but that I rent a car from her counter every other week for quite some time.  I could have my wife fax her a copy of my driver's license to prove that she was in possession of it and that it was valid.  She was going to overnight the license to where I was staying.  I had my passport with me to prove my identity.  I had just rented a car there the prior week so it wasn't as if I was an unknown entity.  I can appreciate the policy and I can appreciate the adherence to it as well.  The attitude that I received from the manager was flippant and she just said, "I can't do anything," and walked away.  As she walked away I asked was there anything that could be done, any options, or anyway to get a cab from the location.  She continued to walk away mumbling and let the office door close behind her.  Fantastic customer service, I must say!  Again, I understand my mistake.  I can understand the policy.  The attitude was what was so infuriating.  She didn't even look up my name or what type of customer I was.  She didn't even try to assist when I was in need.

What happened to customer service?  There used to be trust in the consumer.  If I had never rented a car at that location or stayed at that particular hotel before, I can understand.  Even if I had only done so once or twice, I could understand.  To attain the highest level statuses of their loyalty programs and have their locations be where I attained those statuses, unforgivable.  Sometimes you have to look at the money lost or loyalty lost versus the immediate gain.  Policies are there to protect and serve, but not to the detriment of customer service.  Everything these days is recorded, outsourced, and has a total lack of empathy.  Bring back the human.  Bring back the humanity.  Please, loyalty should be more than a free gift.  Loyalty should mean the company should strive just as hard as the consumer.  It is just as easy for me to book somewhere else.

Stay loyal!

Rick