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Hospitality Heroes: How the Human Touch Trumps Brands

Whether Starbucks, Nordstrom, Wegmans, or Apple, we all have our favorite companies. Yet, it’s the creativity and generosity of their people that seals our loyalty.

Consider the story of Zach Foster of Virginia Tire and Auto. Last July, I drove my Nissan Maxima over for its yearly state inspection. Normally a routine affair, I was startled when a mechanic summoned me to the service bay. I got that sinking feeling you get when your dentist tells you that, instead of a filling, you need a root canal.

$1,500, really?: “As you can see Mr. Brown, these brackets supporting your headlights are broken. To pass inspection, we’ll have to order and install a new assembly.” “What’s the damage?” I inquired. “Along with the oil change, it’ll run around $1,500, including labor,” he read the verdict. “You’ve got to be kidding … $1,500?” I protested.

Flabbergasted: Well, I can search online, and we might find a refurbished assembly,” he replied. I mulled over the cost of the repair versus buying a new car. Resigned to a no-win, I replied, “OK, let’s go with Plan B.” “You’ll have to leave the car with us since it failed inspection,” he laid down the gauntlet. “But we’ll get you a ride home on the shuttle bus and call you once we’ve located the part,” he continued. Later, I got the update. “Mr. Brown, we found a rebuilt assembly in Texas for $750. It’ll cut the cost to around $1,000. Please give me your credit card number to purchase the part, and we should have it wrapped up in about a week,” he continued.

Out to lunch: I told him I was leaving on a trip to LA for 10 days and asked him to call when the part arrived. After enduring an all silence for six days, I discovered the Maxima saga had disappeared into thin air. Being transferred from rep to rep wasn’t the kind of service to which I’d been accustomed. Fuming, I got a take-charge person on the phone. “Hello Mr. Brown. My name is Zach Foster. I’m the service manager and sorry to hear no one kept you informed. We dropped the ball. Let me do some investigating, and I’ll call you back in 10 minutes.”

Hospitality rescue: Moments later Zach was on the line, “Mr. Brown, I have good news. I’m personally going to fix the brackets, refund your money for the refurbished part, and comp your oil change. And, since you’re on the road, I’ll make sure your Maxima is in your driveway fixed, passed, and ready to go later tonight.” When I got home, there was another surprise. The car was cleaned and in the back seat were two brand new tool kits emboldened with the Virginia Tire and Auto logo, the adjusted receipt, and a note that read, “Thanks for your patience.”

Sure, the big boys Disney, Zappo, and Ritz-Carlton have service failures, but, not unlike Virginia Tire and Auto, they have cultures that foster warmth, ingenuity, and hospitality heroes like Zach. In the end, no matter how strong your brand, it’s your people added to the product that make the difference. Never forget that loyalty is local.

About the Author

Bob Brown, president of Bob Brown Service Solutions (bobbrownss.com) pioneered Marriott’s Service Excellence Program; worked with Disney, Hilton, Morton’s of Chicago, Nordstrom, Olive Garden, and Ritz Carlton; internationally with Burj Al Arab in Dubai; has appeared on the Food Network; authored The Little Brown Book of Restaurant Success. Contact Bob at 571-246-2944 ©Bob Brown Service Solutions 2016.

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