Carefully Crafted on July 05

How Customer Service Saved My (Almost) Travel Disaster

Recently, I was traveling for client meetings. I was booked in a hotel that had so-so ratings on Yelp. (Lesson #1: Trust Yelp.) But, my client booked the hotel and I figured they wouldn’t lead me astray.

As I was walking to the hotel, I could feel that it wasn’t the best neighborhood — an instinct confirmed by the front desk staff who advised me to avoid being out past dark to only turn right out of the hotel. The other direction? Far too dangerous, even during daylight. Fantastic. (<– sarcasm) I had a bad feeling, but I took my bags up to my room, only to find Hair. On. The. Bedsheets. That was enough for me. (Granted, I’m a bit of a germ-ophobe anyway, but hair on sheets?! No. Way.) Less than 5 minutes after checking in, I promptly returned to the front desk to checkout.

Thanks to, I was able to quickly find a hotel in a much better (read: safer) part of town. So, I walked the mile or so to the new hotel and was greeted by a lovely man who opened the door for me. As I was checking in, the hotel clerk asked me how my day was going. A bit frazzled, I just needed to tell my crazy hotel story to someone. And, that’s when the magical customer service at the Westin began. The clerk listened to my story, commiserated and then proceeded to offer me a free drink ticket. Of course, I gladly accepted. A glass of wine sounded fabulous right about then. But, he didn’t stop there: He upgraded my room to a Starwood Preferred Guest room. For free. For four glorious nights, I was on the 36th floor of the Westin in downtown San Francisco. A phenomenal view — and more importantly at that time, a clean and safe room.

They didn’t upgrade me because I tweeted about them or because I’m a blogger. (They had no way of knowing that.) No, instead, they recognized a person in the midst of an awful travel experience and saw an opportunity to “surprise and delight.” Now? The Westin and Starwood earned a customer for life. I had a incredible stay. From the moment I arrived to the morning I left, they went way above and beyond to make sure my visit to their city was positive.

That’s called customer service. Customer service has to be more than placating influencers, responding on Twitter or answering questions on Facebook. It’s about living your brand — whether someone has 100,000 Twitter followers, or not. It’s about finding opportunities to go above and beyond to create lasting impressions. That approach has always been good for business, but it’s even more important in today’s ultra-connected world. Because now, any customer has the power to share their experience — positive or negative — with the masses.


  1. […] time when it was desperately needed by Heather Whaling. In her blog post at prTini, she details her recent travel disaster and how the Starwood Westin in San Francisco came to her rescue. Enjoy, and hope everyone has a fantastic […]

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