Friday, March 25, 2011

Groupon gets “IT,” The Whitney Doesn’t

I am a huge fan of Groupon. I often use their offers and I am always excited when I get a chance to try out new places and services.

When The Whitney, an elegant fine dining restaurant in Detroit, had a Groupon offer I snapped it up. I was once a loyal customer of The Whitney but it had been some time since I dined there. I was thrilled to get a chance to go back to one of my favorite places.

Well, my schedule became insane and I found myself approaching the expiration date of the offer. About a week before, I called and asked for an extension.
I was turned down. Although I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to use the offer, I gave it to some good friends of mine. When they tried to use it on the final weekend, they were told that there were no reservations available. Their request for an extension was also turned down.

As a result of this, The Whitney now has two very disappointed couples. I wrote The Whitney to tell them how unhappy we all were but I got no response.

About a month later I saw that they had a new offer up on Groupon. I called the Whitney again.

This time I spoke with Matt, the manager. Matt couldn’t have cared less that I was unhappy or that my friends were unhappy. He even told me I should have contacted him sooner. When I told him that I had called, that my friends had called and that I sent an email, he was unfazed and unconcerned. He told me that it was the Whitney’s policy that they do not offer any extensions. When I asked, was it his policy, Matt said no, it was the owner’s policy. When I asked to speak to the owner, I was told that the owner does not speak to customers. WOW.

This would have been the right time to apologize profusely and offer something, however small, to win me back. But NO. Confronted with his attitude and rigidity, it was clear that being “right”, at least in his mind, was of the utmost importance. He simply didn’t care if I was his customer.

In my mind, the ENTIRE purpose of a Groupon is to create an opportunity to get new loyal customers. Businesses never make money on the Groupon, rather it’s a good-will gesture to introduce or reintroduce your product or service. Wouldn’t it make sense to do everything you could to keep your potential customers happy? Why would you solicit customers and then, not only deny them the chance to experience your food and service, but anger them in the process?

So now I have a personal grudge against The Whitney, and I will be happy to give a reverse endorsement if asked, “Go anywhere BUT The Whitney.” At this point I can only expect that the service at the restaurant would match the service I got from the manager — arrogant, cold and indifferent — not what you want from an upscale dining establishment.

Now to be fair, he did say, “If you have a problem, contact Groupon.” So I did.

I visited Groupon’s website planning to send an email with the hope that I would get a response. Boy, was I surprised. Yes, there was a place and an email address to send a message, but there was also a phone number.

I called and spoke to Cameron. I told him my tale of woe about The Whitney. He immediately gave me a refund. He was warm, friendly and concerned.

Now that was great customer service. In fact he exceeded my expectations in every way.

So, what is the “It” I mentioned in the headline? Well, “It” could translate as “giving exceptional service”. With that definition in mind, Groupon certainly gets what giving exceptional service is all about — and The Whitney certainly does not.

But more importantly, is what the “It” is to me. The “It” is my loyalty. Groupon has won my loyalty and The Whitney has lost it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

United Gate Agent WOWS With a Simple Act of Kindness

I fly a lot. When I say a lot, I mean a LOT. This is not a plea for sympathy or an act of bragging. It’s just to give context to what happened to me — a simple act of kindness that I have never experienced in all the times I have flown.

I was sitting at a United Airlines gate waiting for my plane from Chicago to Detroit, when the gate agent called my name. This alone surprised me. Although I am an “elite” flyer on many airlines I am “nothing” to United Airlines. Usually you’re only called to the gate if you are going to be upgraded, which I knew was impossible.

I walked up to the gate agent, Liz Williams, who said to me, “I noticed that you were sitting at the back of the plane and I wondered if you wanted to move closer to the front? I have a window seat that you might find more comfortable.”

WOW! I was totally taken aback.

No one in all the miles I have flown has ever asked if I wanted to move my seat for my own comfort. There have been hundreds of times when I have begged a gate agent for a more comfortable seat. Mostly, I am treated as a bother. “Sigh” they usually respond, “Let me see what I can do.”

Sometimes I am upgraded when the computer spits out my name. And as much as I appreciate being upgraded, I appreciated this event even more.

I realized that it meant that I was no longer only a “filled seat”, no longer a bother. Ms. Williams thought of me as a human being with needs, wants and desires.

This act of one person helping out another person wowed me.

Wowing the customer didn’t cost Ms. Williams or the airlines a single cent. But it had a huge effect. It made me think, “Wow, maybe I should fly United more often?”

I translated her one act of kindness as an example of how United will treat me in the future.

What simple act of thoughtfulness can you do to wow your customer?