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Twitter Alert: #Sheratonfail - Why I Believe In Local Business

A story about an epic fail in customer service by The Sheraton...and a look at how local businesses raise the bar.

Betcha didn’t know the power of a “tweet.”

I learned last week that it’s something that can make….or break….the reputation of a business in the eyes of a customer.

I’ll explain in a moment – but first: why this experience jumped out at me.

I was recently given the privilege and honor of hosting a series of seminars for business owners at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

As the Director of Marketing and Advertising for Carter Chevrolet and Mazda of Manchester, and owner of my own small business, it was a wonderful opportunity to share some of my own knowledge of social media and marketing and learn from others.

I was inspired to see owners of start-ups and small businesses who are overcoming the odds and seeing wonderful successes because of their dedication, their fortitude, and most of all – their strong sense of integrity and customer service.

I encourage them to stand by their values and to always do the right thing.

I wish that the experience I had last week with the Sheraton was one I could have had before the seminars…so I could have used it as an example about horrific customer service…and how to recover from it.

The Background

A few years ago, my fiancée and her friend booked a room at a Sheraton for a wedding they were in.  The other girl got there first and the hotel asked for a credit card for the room.

The next day….both credit cards were charged.

When my fiancée called the hotel, they said they charged her friend for the room…and they charged my fiancée for a “no show.”

She explained that her friend had arrived first – but the hotel refused to listen, saying she just wasn’t there.

It took more than two months for her to get someone at the company to listen.  She was finally refunded.  In an effort to make up for it, the hotel offered to load enough points onto her account for a free night stay.

Six months later, that particular branch went out of business.

One year later, my fiancée tried to redeem the points for a room at another Sheraton for a wedding she was in.

She was told she didn’t have enough points.

She explained why she was given the points, and she was told, “too bad – you don’t have enough points.”

She asked if she could pay the difference between the points they gave her and the cost of the room, and this was obviously the breaking point for the Sheraton staff member – who then began yelling at her asking, “what don’t you get about this?  Did you not listen to me?  What is wrong with you?”

Needless to say, she swore off the Sheraton.

The Wedding Plans

We have a ton of family coming for our wedding in July.  We were looking for a hotel in Springfield, MA where we could block off about 50 rooms.

Last I checked, that is a substantial amount of business.

We looked into The Hilton, which is owned by the same owners of The Sheraton in Springfield.

We were directed to speak with Executive Assistant Moira Heap.

Despite my fiancées hesitations, I suggested that perhaps The Sheraton had changed.  I told Moira what we were looking for and why we were so hesitant to book with them.

Her response: “that doesn’t sound like us.”

No attempt to put our minds at ease.  No attempt to sell us on the value of doing business with them or why we should be assured that the family members staying in the 50+ rooms wouldn’t have the same experience that my fiancée did.  Just a "that doesn't sound like us" and a "do you want the rooms or not?"

So I sent out a tweet (a 140 character or less message on Twitter) about my disappointment with The Sheraton.

Three minutes later, The Sheraton (corporate) responded.  Turns out they have a whole social media team to monitor their reputation.  They asked me to email them about what happened.

Two points, Sheraton – nicely handled.

They were extremely apologetic.  They let me know I’d hear from a manager within 48 hours.

I was impressed.

Impressed…until first thing the next morning…my phone rang.

It was Moira Heap, the woman who I spoke with initially.

And she was NOT calling to fix things.

She was calling because she was very, VERY upset with me.  How dare I submit a complaint about her.  How dare I go over her head.  Who do I think I am?  Do I know who she is?

About halfway through her ripping me up and down, she put me on hold.

Next thing I know, I’m being transferred to Dan Walsh, Director of Operations.

Dan then proceeded to back her, saying I never should have “complained” because they are a franchise, not corporate, and have nothing to do with our past experience.

I explained we weren’t looking for them to “fix” the past experience...just assure us it won’t happen again.

Dan spent the next few minutes telling me that I was wrong to have gone to corporate and how his employee did nothing wrong - including calling and yelling at me for complaining.

I thought this was about as bad as customer service gets.

Until the email I received from Dan Walsh shortly after the conversation.

In the brief email, he made reference to our “stay in East Hart Ford” (which we have never stayed in East Hartford, much less East Hart Ford).

But the best part was this line: “We believe our hotel would not be the correct fit for your wedding. Starwood consumer affairs will assist you in making other arrangement. “

I believe that was a nice way of telling me to place my potential 50 reservations where the sun doesn’t shine.

I also believe that in their minds, they had taught me a lesson to never complain about them again.

Ah, back to Twitter.  And Facebook.  And Yelp.  And Google+.  And Trip Advisor.  Because, as I shared with the Manchester business owners at the seminar, people can use social media for good or for evil.

I like to think that sharing my experience with people is using it for good.

Surprisingly, corporate agreed with me.  They again responded to my tweet in a few minutes.

I spoke with Danielle, a corporate manager.

Danielle was incredibly sweet and understanding.  She told me she didn’t blame me for being so upset, and that she would have been just as enraged. 

She asked how she could fix our relationship.  I explained that we weren’t looking for anything for free before…and we sure weren’t now.

We chatted for a while about poor customer service.  I explained to her that all we wanted was respect.  Decency.  Assurances that the company had changed.

She told me that I may be blacklisted at the Springfield hotel (something she was NOT happy about), but that my business is DEFINITELY wanted by the rest of their hotels.  

She promised me that these two experiences aren't indicative of the company as a whole.  And to be honest, based on how she and her team handled our situation, I’m inclined to believe her.

I believe that there are still people out there who just want to do the right thing.  These people are clearly NOT at The Sheraton in Springfield, Massachusetts.  But these values ARE in this particular manager and her team.

These values are in the businesses that came to the social media training seminars at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

They are in the husbands and wives and employees who came out on cold Tuesday mornings to learn about how they could grow their business.

They are in the small companies that want to expand and hire local employees.

They are in the owners asking questions at the seminar like, “how can I make sure to take good care of my customers?”

The big takeaway for me?  Whenever possible – buy local.  Stay local.  I’m proud to work in a community of business owners who care and take pride in what they do.

I was honored to have worked with the businesses that attended these seminars – and I hope you're as excited to do business with them as I am.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Steve February 06, 2013 at 07:37 PM
Being a franchise, that Sheraton IS in essence a "local" business (unless the franchise is owned out of Timbukfive). I've seen this repeatedly as a shortcoming for franchise operations as they no longer feel the need to meet corporate standards nor have the corporate management looking over their shoulders. I'm not sure whether they were corporate of franchise operations, but I have had similar experiences at Hampton Inns (Hilton) and Fairfield Inns (Marriott). I also know individual, private, local companies (non-hotel) who amaze me that they are still in business because their customer service stinks, just like the story told here. It all seems to get down to the individual people involved and the attitude of their immediate boss. That individual is the attitudinal kingpin of the operation. His/Her approach will quickly permeate the entire company. If they are a rotten apple, they will spoil the bunch.

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