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Service Re-Recovery at Hampton Inn and Barnes & Noble

Jim Tincher Jim Tincher 03/20/2012

Service recovery is critical for any business.  Of course, the best time to fix a problem is immediately following its occurrence, but this is not always possible.  How do you handle service recovery after the fact, when complaints come from the web, email, or a call?  Let’s look at two very different examples, each based off of previous posts.

Several weeks ago I discussed running out of hot water at a Hampton Inn. The manager on duty paid for my room, but never gave me a time to vent before doing so, actually frustrating me more than the original problem. After creating the post, my daughter Becca suggested I share it with the hotel.  I did so, although I didn’t expect much to happen. You can imagine my pleasant surprise when I received this email from Peggy Messmer, General Manager of the hotel:


We are in receipt of the Hilton Guest Assistance File #XXXXXXX.  Please accept my humblest, personal apology for your poor guest experience and for the lack of hot water in your room.  It is very disappointing and disturbing to hear how you were treated, or should I say ignored? Crazy morning though it was should never be an excuse to gloss over a guest issue with lack of empathy and awareness.

Actually, aside from the pain and embarrassment of hearing this about your own hotel, in which you take false pride that we consistently earn praise for service (reality check, eh?), I very much enjoyed the blog on your website!  I have added it to my Favorites list!  I handed out your blog to our management team this morning in our daily team huddle.  As a management team, we sincerely discussed the takeaway message at the bottom of the blog in a lively exchange.

And it could not be truer.  The Hampton brand has the 100% Satisfaction Guarantee and we are encouraged to use it unconditionally, yet there may be something as simple as stopping, listening, apologizing & asking how we can fix it for the guest now that it has happened…

Thanks for the dose of reality and you have a new fan!  Again, I am very sorry and hope you will give us another chance to re-earn your business next time (company name) brings you to Chesterfield.

This is a terrific response.  Peggy took the time to read customer-based feedback – even though she had to go to an external site to do that. She absolutely owned the issue, taking the steps to make a personal outreach to set things right with the guest.  If I’m ever again in Chesterfield, MO, I’ll stay at the Hampton Inn, because I know they care about the guest experience.

Not All Recoveries Are Equal

Unfortunately, not all companies are as good at service recovery. Last week I discussed Barnes & Noble’s new recommendation feature and its underwhelming execution.  Again following my daughter’s advice I sent a comment with a link to my blog to their website.  My expectations were low. I didn’t expect them to hook me up with the corporate staff implementing the program or anything similar, but I was interested in whether and how they would respond.  Unfortunately, their response was below even my lowered expectations.  Here is the email I received (emphasis mine):

Dear Customer,

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on (store, program, event, etc). Our mission is to make our stores the ideal place for book lovers to shop, and we always welcome our customers’ suggestions.

We assure you that we will keep your feedback in mind as we review our stores and the services they provide.

We look forward to your next visit

Visit and click on the options that appear in the upper right-hand corner to view information about your order.

We look forward to your next visit.


(Name removed)

Customer Service Representative

Barnes & Noble Customer Service


Keep in mind – this was not the automated email!  That came hours earlier – this was the custom response. What message is the company sending? This was sent by an individual who was clearly too busy to care.  On what planet do customer-centric staff include “store, program, event, etc” in the response?!?  At least the rep set clear expectations.  I now know my feedback is going nowhere!

I found similar disinterest in the local store.  I stopped by their Edina location for coffee with a friend on Saturday.  I mentioned my blog post, and he shared a similar experience.  He also never knew he had the recommendations until he pulled out the gift receipt.  So, on the way out I decided to share my thoughts with the manager, thinking that perhaps they could reinforce their training to improve execution.

I spoke with a delightful man at the information desk while waiting for the manager on duty.  He agreed that the cashier should have at least have mentioned the list of books.  The manager, however, was particularly uninterested in talking about the program.  She replied, “This is just something corporate gave us, and it’s still in the early stage.” More importantly, she clearly communicated that she had neither time nor interest to discuss it. Again, I didn’t expect much – but a polite “Thank you for your feedback – I’ll talk about it with the team and see if we can’t do better” would have been sufficient, and probably taken less time.

What Impact Does a Recovery Have?

These encounters share similarities with my Caribou Coffee experiences discussed a few weeks ago. The outcome of each interaction comes back to the customer focus of the employee involved.  The original Hampton Inn Manager On Duty wanted to do the right thing for the guest – but in his rush he forgot to take the time to listen.  The General Manager Peggy certainly invested the time, going out of her way to make a personal connection to correct the issue.  Whereas she could have simply let it go, she made the effort to follow up personally.  The right process matched with the right person created an excellent service re-recovery.

Barnes & Noble has the right process.  They allow feedback on the website, and they responded within 12 hours – actually faster than Hampton Inn.  But the response was left to an employee who clearly saw no benefit in crafting an individual response.  The Edina store also had the right process, quickly calling the manager on duty.  Unfortunately once she discovered there was no burning issue, she transparently disengaged from this odd customer trying to help.  Since it did not involve a typical service recovery issue, this may not have been a fair review of their processes. But it clearly proves that Barnes & Noble does not practice the principles of The Ownership Quotient, which teaches that the best way to develop your company is to involve your customers in helping grow your business.

Your Takeaway:  Do you have the right people executing your processes?  Once your web or customer-facing processes bring an issue to your staff, do they invest the energy to create a personal connection to solve the problem and create a fan?  Or do they simply follow the motions they’ve been trained?

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