When Good Service Brands Go Bad

Think of brands known for service and you think of Nordstrom, Enterprise Rent a Car, Ritz, Virgin Airlines, Zappos, Starwood. These are brands known for differentiating themselves by their service DNA. And yet, sometimes even the brands that are known for getting it right, get it wrong.

Somehow this is even more devastating then if they had just not been “service focused” to begin with as it’s a break in the brand promise. You feel a bit mislead, fooled and disappointed. Or at least I do. In fact, it makes me angry.

Case in point – a recent bad travel day I had (and yes.. it was all on one day) with two of my most favorite service brands. Starwood and Enterprise Rent a Car.Preferred Gues progmram

Two brands to whom I am loyal despite the fact that they are not low cost providers (my usual preference). Why, you ask? Because Starwood brands reward me; with points, remembered preferences, special check in, exclusive floors, club level lounges, free internet and more. They reward me. They take care of me. And they have earned my devotion and trust (there it is.. TRUST) that they will live up to the promises they have made.

Enterprise Rent a CarI choose Enterprise for many of the same reasons; points, preferences etc. And also.. because yes – just like the commercial says – they “pick me up”. It’s a big perk and I love it. And I love their management training program and the professional demeanor and genuine service levels their “team” exudes. It is always a wonderful experience renting from Enterprise as they “surprise and delight” with excessive explanation, proactive directions, accommodating my needs etc.

So.. great service brands, right? Thus my disappointment when both failed me. At once.

The first was Starwood. I was headed for a one night stay at the Westin Galleria in Houston. That day I found out I needed to stay another night, so I went online to extend. I got an error – saying it was too late to change and that I should call. OK. I dutifully picked up the phone and explained to the pleasant customer service person that I’d like to stay another night, to which she informed me that I was within 24 hours of my stay and in order to extend she’d have to cancel the reservation – which would result in forfeiting the cost of one night. Huh? I am trying to stay an additional night. I want to give you more money?? You can’t just extend my existing reservation? “No ma’am” I was told. At this point we’d have to cancel and start over.

Um, ok. Well then, let’s just make a second one night reservation then (but so help me if I have to move rooms I am going to be pissed!). Hold.. hold….

“I am sorry ma’am. The hotel is sold out”. OMG. We couldn’t have started there!!??? Forget it. I’ll find somewhere else to stay tomorrow night. Argh.

Besides, my ride was there to “pick me up” from Enterprise. I quickly put the Starwood experience behind me and traveled with the young, pleasant, good-looking (another benefit) young man to the Enterprise office. My car wasn’t quite ready yet (surprised as I’d given my pick up time and.. they’d PICKED ME UP…so they were expecting me, no?).. but after 15 minutes I was escorted to my car. We did the check list, I signed my life away.. and then.. as we were finishing the paperwork… almost as an afterthought.. the Enterprise guy casually mentions there is NO GAS in the car….

So…I should feel free to bring it back almost empty.

Um… what??? You are giving me an almost empty car?

What a pain in the ass! The very first thing I have to do is fill it? And then what?  I am supposed to run the risk of almost running out of gas to return it in the same state in which you gave it to me? So you can then do this to someone else?

I don’t think so.

I was shocked. When I expressed my frustration I was told that “sometimes they just didn’t have time to fill the cars”. Seriously? You had time to send someone to pick me up?

So I took my annoyed self to the gas station (and dropped $70, 5 minutes after picking up the car) and drove my annoyed self to Houston. Fuming the whole way.

Imagine my surprise when I check into the Westin Galleria and casually asked if it would be possible to stay an extra night… and with two keystrokes, it’s done. WHAT?

Bad Service

At the end of the day, both of these stories come down to channel conflict and logistics. I get that these challenges exist – but seriously Starwood – empower your people to over-ride systems when things are illogical. Are you really so bogged down in your systems, procedures and processes that you are willing to forfeit a night stay and frustrate a loyal customer? You are supposed to be better than that. There is the rub.

Learn from Zappos, whose customer service people will compare rates and find you a lower price – even on a competitors website!

Or, train your people to pick up the phone and call the local hotel if its’ showing full!

And Enterprise– stock gas vouchers or combine services.. so your “pick up” guy stops for gas on the way to pick up a client.

Surprising missteps for two brands I so admire for their service standards.  

I grant a few missteps here and there. I will continue to use both of these brands. But.. it’s a chink in the service and brand perception armor.

My guard is up. Please guys. Prove me wrong.



3 Comments Add yours

  1. nicole says:

    Great article Steph,
    You certainly handeled those hairy situations with grace, much more than I would have been able to muster up.

  2. stephpfef says:

    LOL… Nicole. I can just see you now!! 🙂


    You provide a vivid description of the challenge that accompanies having been disappointed by a trusting relationship. I wonder if multiple experiences of recovery and adaptation over time yields the same level of maturity that one derives from this type of challenge in our person-to-person lives. Does the easy availability of another brand to choose rob one of the opportunity to grow as a loyal consumer? Is there any personal value inherent in growth with brand loyalty? You raise some interesting questions!

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