Hyatt Strikes Out… but United and Hertz Pinch Hit and Score

Author: Linda J. Popky

We notice customer service when it is extraordinary – whether good or bad. We also notice patterns. If you are continuously delighted by a company, product, or service provider, you remember the pattern. Similarly if you are disappointed on an ongoing basis, you remember that too.
In that reference, three recent encounters with the Hyatt chain were a lesson in handling customer service issues – or more accurately, how not to handle them.

Two of these involved desk clerks who in two different hotels in different cities thousands of miles apart, told us that we did not have a reservation on the day in question. In both cases, this was not the truth – the reservations were there for the correct day and so were we. In neither case did the hotel clerk apologize or offer to make amends for their mistake. In fact, the impression they gave us both times was that we were bothering them.

But it was the third incident that really takes the cake.

My husband checked out of the Hyatt in Westlake Village in Southern California and asked the bellman to hold his luggage for the day. The bellman said he’d put the luggage in the rental car that Hyatt had valet parked. At the end of the day, my husband drove to his next destination only to find no luggage in the car. A call to the Hyatt resulted in the argument that they had in fact put the luggage in the rental car – what was his problem? And, in fact, they had put the luggage in a rental car – just in the wrong rental car.

The problem was that not only did the Hyatt staff have no way to know which car they’d put the luggage into, they also had absolutely no plan to figure this out. Nor did they appear to have any sense of urgency about the situation. Ongoing calls over the next seven days to increasingly higher levels of Hyatt management got absolutely nowhere.

About a week after the incident, we got a call from United Airlines. A Hertz Rental Car location, miles away from Westlake Village, had found an extra suitcase in a returned rental car. Hertz saw the United frequent flier ID tag on the bag and delivered the suitcase to United, who in turn notified us and then returned it to us at no charge.

Now neither Hertz nor United had any fault or responsibility in this fiasco. However, they each saw this as an opportunity to solve a problem for a customer, and perhaps as a way to build goodwill. (Hyatt Corporate, by the way, has still not responded to requests for help, explanation, or apology. However, we just received a claim form from an insurance company regarding this lost property.)

What can you learn from this incident?

First, mistakes happen. We need to do our best to avoid them, but even with the best of intentions, no one is perfect. The key is that when issues or problems or mistakes occur, honest and ongoing communication with the affected customer is the best policy. Ignoring the customer because you don’t have the right answer just leads to bad will, animosity, and perhaps even having your story featured in an email newsletter as a case study of how not to respond to customer problems.

Second, sometimes we come across others’ mistakes. Rather than saying, “It’s not my fault,” companies known for outstanding customer service like Nordstrom’s or the Ritz-Carlton teach their front line employees to try to solve the customer’s problem – quickly, simply and without a lot of fanfare.

Marketing is about building relationships. Our relationships with customers are constantly in flux. When you stumble upon the chance to build on or strengthen your relationship with an existing customer or impress a future customer, consider it a gift. That opportunity is invaluable and an extraordinary response will in turn be extraordinarily memorable.

Finally, when you or your team have really dropped the ball: admit it, apologize, and offer to make amends. Consider the long-term value of your relationship with the customer and the future opportunity that may be lost if you don’t take the time to be both humble and helpful. How you respond to a customer problem will be remembered long after the initial incident is forgotten. (Hyatt Hotels – this hint’s for you.)

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