Customer service is really marketing, but only when it is done well and correctly. We have all experienced a customer service fail from a brand or two in the past and those experiences really make an impact on how we perceive those brands. More importantly, customer service failings will also determine whether we ever do business with them again. But some of the more rare experiences we have with brands is when their customer service stands out so dramatically that it becomes marketing in and of itself.
Customer Service Done Right
Just a few weeks after a horrible customer service experience that spawned my article called a A Lesson In Customer Service Failure, I was blessed to have the exact opposite customer service situation with brands that actually understand the impact that customer service has on their marketing. It was real, genuine and not something that had to be discussed or explained. The brands and circumstances that I will highlight within this post displayed customer service at a level so effectively that it became marketing. Let’s see how they did it.
An Example Of Customer Service As Marketing
During spring break when my nine year old was out of school, we decided to take a few days to get away as a family. Since neither my wife or my son had ever been to Seattle, Washington I decided to book a trip up North and have a little fun. After some searching, we found what appeared to be a great new hotel in Renton, just South of Seattle that had an indoor pool, a great location across the street from Lake Washington and even free breakfast.
We arrived at Hampton Inn & Suites Seattle/Renton to find a beautiful new hotel. The outside architecture and styling were very up to date and inviting for a national hotel chain and that same modern, clean and up to date style continued inside the lobby, hallways and even the room. It was apparent that a lot of thought went into its design and atmosphere, all the way down to the furnishings and decor. But I was not prepared for the staff.
From the very moment I made contact with the staff, I noticed something different. There was a culture of sincere and genuine interest and concern for their guests. This was displayed from the moment they said hello as we arrived, through every single encounter we had with them during our three day stay. There was a culture of customer service that beamed from every person we came across at this hotel.
But not everything was as perfect as we had hoped.
We had a few challenges that started right as we arrived. First, unlike most hotels, this facility had a 3 pm check-in time. This was pretty surprising since we had never experienced such a late check-in time in all of our travels and we arrived at 11am after a long morning drive from Portland, OR. Next, I had some serious challenges accessing wifi on my laptop and was never actually able to get a good connection on my smartphone. And finally, our bathroom/closet door had a beautiful barn door that really wasn’t designed for a hotel that would have frequent guests opening and closing it often. As such, it got stuck several times, locking my son inside twice and my wife outside of the bathroom once, and ultimately the guide for the barn door broke clean off the wall. Frustrating? Yes, without a doubt!
How did the brand and hotel staff handle these situations and turn a customer service issue into marketing?
Here is how the national brand team as well as the local hotel staff handled all of the issues that arose, and how their culture of customer service sets them apart.
1- Just after arriving we were informed that check-in wasn’t until 3 pm. But rather than just explaining that with a too bad, so sad attitude, the staff made several attempts to find a room that they could switch us to, in order to accommodate us sooner. When that didn’t work, they got to know us and our reason for coming up to Seattle and gave us a bunch of things to go see and do right around the hotel. Lastly, when we returned around 2 pm and our room still wasn’t available, they got staff marshalled to get our room ready as a priority and got us in and settled early. This was all done with genuine interest in us and making our trip a good one.
2- After finally getting checked in and into our room, I immediately turned to getting all my gear connected. Since we do digital marketing for clients we always have to have good internet access and a quick spring break trip wouldn’t be changing that. Unfortunately, there were no clear details on accessing their internet and it had a lot of hoops to jump through. When I finally got my laptop connected, I received an email from the reservation company we used asking about our first impressions. I completed the check-in evaluation form and explained our frustration with the wifi so far. The hotel brand responsible for the reservation service immediately responded with a desire to help. So unheard of, especially for a national brand!!
3- Next, we had the situation with the barn door as my son and wife were getting ready to meet friends in Seattle for dinner. This could have been a nightmare, but it wasn’t. I responded again to the interaction with the national brand online and they immediately updated the local staff, who also immediately got on the problem. Not only did they get their maintenance crew on it while we were gone, but we returned to this note in our room. Clearly, going the extra mile here.
I took the time over the next day to find the location general manager, Ana Lopez to express how grateful we were for her and her team, but also reiterate how important what she is doing for her company really is. She clearly has cultivated a staff that not only understand what customer service done right looks like, but they do it before there is a problem needing a resolution.
Another Example Of Customer Service As Marketing
The next evening, we decided to get dinner at a place we had never heard of, but was in the strip mall located right near our hotel. The place appeared to be very clean and the reviews we found also indicated it would be a good option.
When your food isn’t good, it’s frustrating
A short time after ordering our meals at WildFin American Grill the food arrived at our table. Our waitress was so pleasant and made sure we had everything. As we all dug into our food, everyone was thrilled with the flavors, except for me of course. My steak was extremely dry, had no flavor and seemed to be a totally different cut of meat than I had ordered.
After trying to just eat it and be content, I couldn’t continue. Just then, the waiter came back by to check on us. I had to be honest and tell her that it was horrible. That’s when the WildFin Grill team began to shine!
How the staff turned a customer service issue into into marketing.
- Without any hesitation, our waiter showed real concern and offered to make it right.
- During the issue she offered many options to make me happy, and it wasn’t based on some protocol, she took a genuine personal interest in my issue.
- They made sure I was happy with the outcome in every way.
I want to point out that all of the other food here was amazing. Even my bustel sprouts and potatoes were amazing! So the situation could have been from just about anything from just a bad piece of meat, a vendor or new cook staff.
But I took the time to meet the manager of the Renton WildFin, Shannon Howard and let her know how well her team did. I commended her for the culture she has created within her restaurant and that it was working. She was gracious and took the time to visit and listen.
Customer Service Is Marketing
It isn’t often that you get to experience amazing customer service. Good or average are more likely the standard. But these two brands displayed a customer service culture without having to say they cared. Both of these brands stood out from competitors by investing in their customer before, during and after the issues arose. Both brand invested time and resources to ensure that the customer experience was protected.
So how does this kind of customer service become marketing?
In both cases, these brands showed that they understand the impact their customer service has on their marketing. By acting immediately and staying on each issue with care, they won me over and turned me from customer to happy customer and then even a brand advocate.
I have since written reviews on all of the various review sites for these brands and even shared my experience on my social accounts. Furthermore, I now have a personal connection with the brands and their staff and will go out of my way to stay with Hampton Inn and eat at WildFin Grill repeatedly in the future. I will also tell others about how these brands stood out with their customer service every chance I get.
The fact is that no matter what industry you’re in or how long you have been in business, you’re going to have customer services issues from time to time. If you develop a culture of customer service within your organization, problems that are handled for your customers will become marketing that you couldn’t buy. In the digital age, all of your customer experiences will remain online for the world to see. Make those situations marketing advantages through a culture of caring and empathy that is genuine and unique.