How To Make Your Customer Really Mad

woman sitting poolside holding a straw beach hat background is a tropical pool bar with families enjoying their vacation

As a consumer advocate and professional speaker I listen to consumers from around the world share their unpleasant customer experiences and this is a great example of one that ends well, but one that the company should have solved much sooner. This highly respected brand was close to experiencing a social media crisis by doing everything possible to upset a valued customer.

A gentleman from Ontario took a vacation to a well-known premium Caribbean resort chain in high season. The all-inclusive fee for him and his family was $25,000 for a ten-day vacation. Half way through the trip he and the other guests were notified in writing that the pools and beach area would be closed to guests because the company would be undertaking promotional advertising that involved professional models and a helicopter (because, of course, the professionally beautiful always look best from the sky). To protect the paying customers from downwash from the helicopter the company simply denied customers access to those amenities for four days.

This gentleman told me that everyone was dismayed that a premium brand would inconvenience them in such a way when, presumably, their brand was about exceeding customer expectations at every step in the customer journey. He and other guests lined up to speak to the manager and they were told the company would “do something”. This was their first opportunity to take corrective action. They never did.

When he returned home the gentleman expressed his discontent by calling the company several times but, apparently, head office “just wouldn’t deal with it”. More missed opportunities for some brand recovery.

Finally he voiced his displeasure on Trip Advisor where 2000 people viewed his negative post and his complaints were removed at the request of the company, based on a fine print technicality. Silencing your detractors is best done with positive action, not this way. Furthermore the company cited that it had now been more than a year and so the customer was outside of his right to compensation.

So, to recap, they failed to deliver the high value they had promised and for which they were charging a premium. The company missed the opportunity to solve the issue on the spot, refused to deal with an angry customer over a prolonged period and, when he took to Trip Advisor to be heard, The resort chain’s response was to muzzle him rather than deal with the problem, which further reduced the brand’s image in his eyes.

A few days after his review was removed from Trip Advisor the resort did call, however, and offered him four free days if he were to purchase another 10-day vacation. What do you think his response was? Correct, a hearty “no thanks”! Why would someone who clearly spends top dollar for a top dollar vacation shop for 40% off a bad experience? Their handling of his displeasure for such a long time ensured he would say no.

Instead, he told them: “I am going to get creative with social media and create some content that you may not enjoy but others may find humorous and enlightening”. I was honoured that he directed their attention my United Breaks Guitars trilogy on YouTube as his inspiration.

I began by saying it ended well, however. Because he stuck to his guns, and someone took his social media promise seriously, the gentleman heard from top management who, most importantly, apologized and then followed that apology up with action: they agreed to reimburse him for the value of those four days he was unable to use the resort with his family. That was all he had asked for in the first place.

The company will lose a bit of cash but they may well get this man and his family to return for a full priced vacation. More to the point, this man’s friends and thousands of others might consider a vacation at this resort, when his story might have alienated that many and more if he’d gotten creative on YouTube. He was reasonable in his request and despite it taking more than a year, the company acted reasonably. Why wasn’t this handled more quickly?

When I speak around the world about customer service, social media and storytelling what I try to best convey is the simple truth that every one of us deserves respect and that we should give it to others. A meaningful apology, when owed, is a company’s best defense in brand management. I remind my audiences that we are all storytellers and that our brands rest upon the stories of other people. Companies cannot guarantee that everything will run smoothly 100% of the time but, even in the face of poor experiences, every company can control the ultimate story their customers will tell. This particular company realized that just in time.


Happy family in the pool


4 replies
  1. Cindy Hawkins Legorreta says:

    Couple of years ago, here in NYC, I went shopping early one morning to my local KMart on Astor Place. I was hunting for my hubby’s fave IBC diet root beer, sold at KMart. When I arrived at the store just after opening time at 8 a.m. I saw no one at the registers, but several employees were standing around chatting. I came up, from the lower floor where the root beer was shelved. I attempted to pay. “Go over there to Customer Service,” the Manager snapped, gesturing to the other side of the store. Surprised, but eager to pay, I walked over, but no employee was visible. I returned to the register and said, “Sorry Sir, no one’s there – can I pay here at this checkout?” “Credit or debit?” Mr. Manager asked. “Cash?” I smiled, showing him a ten dollar bill, “The long green? Moolah?.” “Oh, I can’t take cash,” he smiled. “Going once, going twice,” I thought. Then it occurred to me: jeez maybe KMart’s new motto is now “Service With a Shrug.” I calmly put down the six-pack of root beer and left the store. When I got home, I wrote KMart’s Corporate Headquarters a scathing letter, having made note, naming the Manager who had such a terror of actual cash and, contempt for me. I also mentioned that on car trips to South Jersey we often stop at the local Key Food, which employs mentally challenged people with Down Syndrome, from the local adult home, as baggers. They are always unfailingly polite, and friendly. So, I steamed at KMart, it shouldn’t matter how ‘smart’ employees are! What matters is how CARING they are, when it comes to customer service. And, then I got on with my day.

    Two days later, my cellphone rang, and a man with a silky Barry White voice on the other end, introduced himself as Lester, one of the KM Regional Sales Directors. He apologized for my ‘unfortunate shopping experience’. Lester Silky-voice then went on to say that while he would understand if I never patronized their store again in the future, he was authorized to give me a gift certificate in the amount of $25.00, in the hope that I ‘might think a little better of them’.

    When I arrived at the Astor Place store the following day, I went to the Customer Service office and, sure enough there was my courtesy certificate in a jazzy red envelope. The Manager on duty apologized yet again, and I staggered out of the store with enough low cal root beer to keep my husband chugging away for several months!

    Couple things I learned from this episode: KMart did not ignore my letter, but responded in a timely manner. They right off admitted they blew it. And, lastly, they went the limit to make it right.

    Will I continue to shop at KMart? Hey, what do you think?

  2. Ken Lord says:

    Edit — it’s “cite” not “site.”

    Nearly an octogenarian now, I have had so many parallel experiences — with both airlines and resorts.

    And with retailers. Prior to the days of YouTube, I went into print about my experiences with Sears.

    I’m the author of a couple of books and several other tomes on the subject of customer service.

    As to the question below, 9 – five = four–or-4-or-8/2 or 2*2. It’s all a matter of perspective.

  3. sabahat chaudhry says:

    “Fine Print ”
    needs to be banned
    in selling/buying transactions
    Warnings have to bold as on Packets of cigerrettes

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