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The Simple Customer-Service Mistake That Cost $800

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I travel quite a bit and as a result, have racked up customer "status" in a variety of customer loyalty programs, including those related to airlines and hotels.

I had a disconcerting experience at one of the hotel chains where I had top-level status a few weeks ago. This is how it started. After arriving at the property at 4 a.m. -- post a five-hour cross-country plane delay and a five-hour plane flight -- I received a less than hospitable greeting at the front desk. The staff didn't offer me the usual room upgrade and I had to ask for help with my luggage (which is my version of a security escort) to my room.

It didn't end there. Following a handful of minor issues over the next two days, the biggest problem came when I left for dinner on my last night. I hung my "do not disturb" sign on the door yet when I returned, someone from room service had ignored the sign, entering my room to leave me a food amenity that he or she had neglected to deliver earlier that day. As a woman who travels alone, having someone enter my room when I clearly asked for nobody to disturb the room was a big violation of two big issues for me -- privacy and security.

When I called to alert the front desk and the employee apologized and said she would look into it. I got a few apologies that night and again the next day when I checked out, but nobody took it any further. The manager emailed me a few days later to again say "sorry" and that the hotel was going to change its training to ensure that it didn't happen to others in the future.

Related: The Future of Customer Loyalty

Given my busy schedule, I normally would have just ignored this, but this hotel chain is one that I give a significant amount of cash to each year, so I couldn't let it go. I responded to the manager's email that I was incredibly disappointed. As a top-tier customer, nobody offered me anything to try to make me feel like they cared about me and my experience. Whether it was taking care of my $12 breakfast or some small gesture, I only got lip service on what they were going to do for future guests, not for me -- the person whose privacy and security had been violated.

The manager responded that now she was embarrassed (although I am not sure why she wasn't previously) and said that she was now comping both room nights at a price of more than $800 total. I thought that this was excessive and couldn't figure out why they just didn't make a simple offering to begin with. A small, authentic gesture would have created goodwill with an important customer and saved them $800 in revenue.

That was an example of reactive customer service. Here's something more proactive: A couple of weeks later, I was at a different hotel where I have top-tier status for a three night stay. The morning I was due to check out, the concierge informed me during my wakeup call that the water in the hotel was out -- completely. I had a TV appearance that day, so not showering was not an option. After asking the concierge about potential options, the entrepreneur in me asked if they had any large water bottles. She said they did and offered to send me up as many as I needed. They did, and I took a "shower" in approximately $54 worth of bottled water.

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Upon checkout, not only did they not charge for the bottled water, they told me that they had "comped" my last room night due to the disturbance without asking me for a thing. This more than generous gesture ensured my continued loyalty to a hotel that may or may not have running water in the future.

The interesting takeaway was not just the difference in the proactive vs. reactive responses, but that -- here's the twist -- both hotels were part of the same chain!

Despite having the same corporate policies and standards, one hotel's staff understood the power of proactively addressing issues and making customers -- particularly the businesses' best customers -- feel cared about. The other staff was defensive and reactive, where the customer wasn't even in the line of thinking.

Reactive thinking and a lackadaisical attitude towards customers can cost you short term money, but more importantly, long term loyalty, which is priceless.

Treat your customers well and make them feel cared about, and they will be loyal to you, even if you run out of water.

Related: The Real Cost of Giving Terrible Customer Service

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