Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Fine Art of the Settling Things Right (or Getting Your Money's Worth)

We all have our pet peeves (and no this isn't a blog about pet peeves, per se). My biggest is not getting your money's worth.  Even at a young age, I remember writing letters to the editor and companies when I felt their products were not substantial.  In the same storage box (see entries below) was a copy of my "letter to the editor clip."  My friend and I went to our local park (Washington Park/Casper, WY) to practice only to find the court in terrible shape.  Feeling outraged, as only an 8th grader can, we decided to write a letter to the editor together.  And not just letters.  I learned how to take my dissatisfaction and turn it into a resolution.  No one responds well to angry, grouchy customers (just watch when you see people trying to re-book a flight after a delay, bad weather, or cancellations....).  Not that I, mind you, think one should be a push over.  Rather, expression dissatisfaction, but making it about how we can work together (e.g. myself and the person "behind the counter") to find a better solution.  This skill has come in handy in many situations and in most cases, I was very pleased with the outcome.  My key:  deliver it with a smile.  A meaningful smile.  Let them know the situation isn't acceptable, but that you hope you can work together to find a way to resolve the situation.  

Cases in Point
  • When returning some duplicate bridal gifts to store X, I was treated jeered by some of the seasonal Christmas help and called a liar and that I wasn't told the information I claimed I was told.   Note:  I'd called ahead and checked the return policy given I had to drive several hundred miles to get to this store...I documented the person whom I spoke with, the time of the call, and the exact information/items I needed to help facilitate the return.  THe clerk helping us (I was with my mom) was rude and frankly quite nasty.  I left the store, having not spend serious dollars buying several items remaining on our registry.  I called and spoke to the store manager.  I relayed the events of the visit and she apologized profusely and asked what action I'd like taken.  Rather than say "fire her!," I figured what good what that do for me, so I asked that she be told her behavior was unacceptable when dealing with a customer.  In response, the manager offered to ship all the items off my registry I was going to buy 'on the house,' where they'd absorb the cost of the shipping.  I love the bed, lamps, and bench we ended up buying.
  • ES and I bought a airfare+hotel deal on one of the discount travel sites.   It was a great deal at a nice hotel in Montreal for 4 nights.  On our first night, we kept hearing the ballroom below us until well after 4 am.  I called downstairs during the night inquiring when it would stop.  15 min. was the common refrain.  The next morning I let them know it was unacceptable and if the situation could be remedied. I think they felt sorry for the circles under my eyes, as they gave us a huge room service credit and moved us to a much higher floor with a view of Mount Royal Park. Lesson learned:  I find that consolidator services for hotel rooms aren't always the best solutions, despite the appearance of money saved on teh site.  Bottom line - you get what you pay for.    Hotels don't have much incentive to give you a great room off the bat, as you've paid the consolidator for the room.  The hotel itself sold it to the consolidator in a large block and I'm sure they didn't get nearly the price as Joe Q Public who pays rack rate through the hotel.  So I try to find the good price on a discount site and call the hotel directly to see if they'll match the price.  I've never been turned down by a hotel.  It's a win-win.  They get my business and a better price than if they sold it to a 3rd party consolidator and I get the hotel to take more of an investment in me as a guest.  We've never gotten a crummy room booking in this manner.  Another tip:  read reviews.  If the hotel you really want to stay in has some suspect reviews, email the hotel manager (if you can find the information) and ask if the issue in the review (construction, pool out of order, etc) is still an issue and what remedies (if any) have been made.   I've found this results in a bit better service from the hotel as well.
  • Last Memorial Day weekend, ES and I were on vacation in a National Park.  We'd stayed a few days in our location and we ready to move on to our second spot, where we'd see a little more remote part of the park.  The hotel's valet was getting our car.  We waiting and waited and it dawned on me things weren't right when we saw him with an ashen complexion.  He'd gotten into an accident with our car.  The car was drivable (rear-end damage) but understandably not happy.  Rather than get angry, yell, ect, we made sure no one was hurt then got down to getting the accident report and information from the hotel about how we needed to go about getting our car fixed.  They were very professional and there was never any doubt they'd pay for our car.  I requested and received several free nights for a follow up visit.  I booked just this week for next May (a good time to visit the park) and extended our stay beyond the visits they'd comp'd us.  I got a pretty good rate (as compared to the rack rate on the website) by going through the hotel manager's admin (as his letter to us offering the free nights suggested).  We're excited to head back for our days.
  • Free dinners.  When in DC, at a restaurant that is part of one of our favorite groupings/restaurant holdings, we had some less than par service.  We stood up to leave and expressed our displease and surprise the manager of our poor experience and what had happened.  We were on our way out and she asked us to stay and said she'd make sure we were "taken care of."  She did.  The food was excellent and the bill was taken care of.  The same thing happened tonight at a local restaurant (which prompted me to get this post finished).  ES expressed his surprise at 1)  picking up our take out order and 1/2 of it was missing, and 2) when he went back to the restaurant, it took 1+ hours to get the right food (his dinner was at home now stone cold) and the order still wasn't ready.  After asking the manager to please cancel the order (and explaining to him what happened), the manager gave him a small gift card and said to come back another night and all would be taken care of.  True to his word, he remembered Eric and dinner was excellent tonight.  I understand that things can sometimes go awry, but good customer service can go along way to making things right.
  • Free oil change.  We noticed about 1 week after we got our oil change that we could smell a burning odor from the engine.  Shortly thereafter I noticed a bit of oil on the front bummer.  Fearing the worst, ES opened the hood.  Worst fears realized - the oil cap wasn't replaced during the oil change (despite what we later learned was 2 checked that are supposed to happen during the process).  Thankfully, the oil light never came on and there was still enough in the engine.  A quick call to the service center and oil was being driven over to our house.  We took the car right away into the service center, they detailed the car, and rinsed out the residual oil.  And after many apologies, said the next change was on them.  Now normally I'd just take my business elsewhere at this point, but given their response to our problem (and complete acceptance of making it right right away), we're going back.  
Bottom line - the situation usually won't change.  I've found the only thing I can do is change my reaction to situation, whether it be a wrecked car, a surly employee, or loud hotel room.    One of my friends noted - "wow how does this happen to you guys (and something a lot)."  Another followed up with "in fairness, they get the short end of the stick a lot."  In reality, I think we all run into issues, but it's how you go about letting a service provider/business know (and make them want to keep you as a customer) that makes the difference. If I was a business owner, I don't think I'd response very favorably to someone who was screaming and demanding lots of irrational things.  On the other hand,  I slap on a smile and try to see how we can all make it right - or at least moving in a positive direction.  If that means free stuff, well, I'll good with that.