Saturday, November 19, 2011

The (second?) greatest customer service story ever told, starring the Hilton Anatole.

If you read blogs and/or hang out on Twitter, you likely heard or read about Peter Shankman's delightful encounter with Morton's Steakhouse, which he dubbed the "greatest customer service story ever told." No question, that is one outstanding example of customer service. However, after that story went public, there were a lot of questions swirling as to whether Morton's offered that level of service because of Mr. Shankman's relative fame, in hopes that he would share the story online with his many fans and followers. Though I can't vouch for Morton's (besides noting that they have delicious food), I truly believe that some people and companies are just devoted to providing stellar customer service, whether said recipient is famous or not. I'm living proof: take what happened to me last week. 

I was in Dallas attending the NMHC Apartment Operations and Technology Conference & Exposition (aka OpTech) at the Hilton Anatole. During the very last session, suddenly the power went out. After determining that the outage had affected a large portion of the city, the conference organizers urged anyone who needed to make their way out as soon as possible, as there would likely be back-ups at the emergency elevators for those who needed to return to their rooms before departing for the airport. I immediately stood up and began walking towards the elevators, hoping I'd be able to beat the rush.

A small group of conference attendees was soon gathered at the elevator banks. One of the Hilton's conference managers, Hal, was standing at the elevator and suggested that we all start walking up the stairs, as there was no indication of when the emergency elevators would be operational. My room was located on the eighteenth floor, and when I expressed  concern about carrying my suitcase down eighteen flights of stairs, he said, “No problem, I’ll come with you and carry it down.” 

We went to my hotel room, which was pitch black, and Hal gave me a glow stick so that I could finish packing my belongings. He waited very patiently while I attempted to search the room and assured me that the hotel would be glad to send anything that I'd inadvertently left behind. We then walked down eighteen flights of stairs, while Hal smiled and chatted, and told me about some of the other power outages he'd witnessed during his career. He carried my suitcase through back entrances, all the way to the taxi stand, and gently placed my suitcase on the curb. I am certain that Hal had much more pressing things to attend to, but you'd never have known it from his behavior: he made my little request seem like a major priority that deserved immediate attention.

I was so wowed by Hal's kindness and exemplary service that I honestly could do nothing except hug him and thank him profusely. (I never carry cash; otherwise, I would have given Hal a huge tip on the spot.) Instead, I promised I'd write a letter to his General Manager, and then left for the airport, utterly aglow with thankfulness.

The next day, I wrote a letter to the Anatole's GM, as promised...and then I emailed Hilton's Senior Vice President of Operations to share the above story. (Isn't it amazing what a quick Google search can do?) Within just a few hours, he emailed me the below.

Sara, first of all I am sorry that you had to deal with the power outage while at the Anatole.  That said I am thrilled to read your comments on how Hal handled the situation and put your situation in front of any other issue he had which is the absolute way it should be!  I will be in Dallas next week and will make sure I personally thank Hal!  I appreciate you taking the time to let us know and look forward to welcoming you back at the Anatole and/or any of our Hiltons around the globe!

Wow. When senior management and on-site management share the same philosophy, some serious greatness occurs.


4 comments:

  1. That's a great story Sara. As soon as the power went out I high talked it out of there. Thankfully I had my bags with the porter. I'm very glad Hal came to your rescue! And kudos to the senior operations guy for a personal response.

    I wonder if we can get to the same level of service in multi-family? I sure we are practicing that every day.

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  2. Hi Matt - I definitely learned my lesson as far as "packing procrastination" is concerned! Never again will I extend my check-out time with the intent of packing late in the day.

    We're on the same page when it comes to wanting to provide that same level of service in multifamily. I'm not sure if we're totally there yet, but think we're on the right track.

    Greatly appreciate your reading and commenting on the post!

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  3. Hi Sara,
    This raises the question, Did the outstanding service come from the brand/business or the individual/person. We can all strive for better customer service in our businesses, however it is in the hands of our employees to pull it all off. Hal could have hidden anywhere and no one would have noticed, but he decided to engage the customer, Bravo!

    All the training in the world doesn't mean that our employees will actually "Engage" The question is, what is the secret sauce for folks to behave like Zappo's?

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  4. Eric, you're absolutely right. It's up to the employee to make it happen. However, I think part of what makes employees like Hal (and the superstars at Zappos) shine is partly due to corporate culture: if our employees are empowered to do the right thing, then they will. Of course, you've got to hire the "right" employees in order to do that. If they believe that great customer service — not price, product, or anything else — is the key to getting and keeping customers, AND they have the authority to make things right, then you've got most of the ingredients you need for that secret sauce.

    Thanks for weighing in!

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