The impact of one negative experience

Home Column The impact of one negative experience

By Steven Feldman

Let’s start the new year off with a story. A true story. A story that I think every one of our readers can learn from.

We all try to create positive experiences for our customers, right? And I’m sure almost all of the time we succeed. But what about when we don’t? What about when we do everything right, but someone in our organization has a misstep? What does that do to our business, to our reputation? A recent personal experience sheds some light on the subject, and I think the answer to those questions lies in how we handle the damage control.

Here’s the story: When I travel to Florida, my guilty pleasure is a nice, relaxing massage. About four years ago, I stumbled onto a place not far from Palm Beach. It was a high-end operation called Eau Resort. I realized I had been there about 20 years earlier when one of the investment firms that cover the flooring industry held a conference there. The property was a Ritz Carlton back then.

Anyway, I immediately fell in love with this Eau Resort. It was picturesque, sitting on the Atlantic Ocean. It was classy. The restaurant was suitable for a once-a-year special dinner with my (now) ex-girlfriend. And the spa? It consistently appears on Top 10 or Top 50 Spa lists by national magazines such as Travel and Leisure and websites like Needless to say, a place like this prides itself on customer service and experience. They have to be (for what they charge). A typical visit for me and my ex would entail a massage for me, a facial for her (with add-ons that cost more than the facial itself) and lunch outside by the pool bar. She would also walk through the boutique and somehow come away with a “souvenir.” Bottom line: Over the course of four years, I probably could have fed some third-world countries for what I spent there. But I kept coming back because of the experience.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. I took my son and his girlfriend to Florida right after Christmas. I decided we would start the new year off right after the fiasco that was 2020. I took them to Eau. It was my son’s first massage and his girlfriend’s first facial.

Well, shortly before the treatments my son’s girlfriend learned of the passing of her grandfather. Needless to say, she was distraught but went ahead with the facial. When she was done, she called my son. The two of them got dressed in their respective locker rooms and proceeded outside. They sat down on a chair in a remote area near the pool. She was bawling her eyes out and my son was consoling her.

One of the pool boys came over and asked for their room number. My son told him they were not staying at the hotel but rather were guests of the spa. The pool boy then told them that only hotel guests were allowed in this area and they would have to leave. “Hotel policy.” My son’s girlfriend told the worker that her grandfather just passed and asked for a few moments to gather herself. The pool boy, showing the compassion of an attack dog, said she could have a few seconds but then would have to leave. He then hovered over them until she felt so uncomfortable that she and my son just retreated to another area of the hotel.

When my son told me what had happened I went berserk. I summoned the manager on duty. We hunted down the pool boy; it took every ounce of restraint for me to not throw him in the water. (Sorry, I’m protective that way.) He was shaking and called over his supervisor, who, upon hearing the story, remarkably was even less compassionate.

I proceeded to send an email to the director of public relations. Here was his response: “I am back in the office and have already shared the unfortunate experience you and your family had with Tim Nardi, our general manager. He has spoken with the associates you mention. The takeaway and teachable moment here—so that this never happens again to another guest with a similar set of circumstances—is that of empathy. I apologize for this unfortunate experience and send my condolences on the passing of the grandfather of your son’s girlfriend. We appreciate your business and loyalty and hope you will give us another try.”

Was that enough to make me want to return? Should Mr. Nardi have reached out? Should they have offered to buy lunch? I don’t know. Right or wrong, I still have a bad taste in my mouth. But it just goes to show that in business you can do everything right 99 times out of 100, but if an associate creates a negative experience, the ramifications can be severe.

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Jan. 4/11, 2021