"I've come to take away your VIP gifts!"...

29th Jul 2021
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"I've Come to Take Away Your VIP Gifts!"... Recovering from Service Failure
Dr. Graham Hill

Service failures are inevitable. If they happen, you should recover them with style and grace.

This is a true story. It happened to me!

I always like to stay in boutique hotels when working away from home on client projects. They are invariably more friendly and more attentive, and usually much better than chain hotels.

A few years ago I was working on a project with Lufthansa at Frankfurt Airport. I stayed at a boutique hotel a 15 minute shuttle bus ride from the airport. One of my colleagues, Anne Catherine Fitzsimmons, asked if I would move for a few days to the Marriott in Frankfurt, so we could go through some critical project details in the evening. Anne, said she would make the arrangements.

Arriving at the Marriott after a long Monday, I was looking forward to a slow bath before meeting up with Anne to go over the project. But I had hardly put my bags down in my room when there was a knock at the door. A young man in Marriott livery stood there, and without any hint of expression on his face said, "I've come to take away your VIP gifts!"

Somewhat taken aback I asked, "What VIP gifts?"

"The flowers and the bottled water", was his matter of fact reply.

I looked around the room but I couldn't see any flowers, let alone a bottle of water.

"I don't have any flowers or water", I replied to him.

Looking past me into the room as though he didn't believe me, he said, "Someone must have taken them away already".

He then turned around and walked away.

I don't use the Marriott all that often, (although it is a great hotel chain), so I knew I was not a VIP. But I didn't expect to be treated so insensitively. And even though I was not a VIP, my colleague Anne was. She had stayed at Marriot's on hundreds of nights and was an Ambassador Elite, the top level in its loyalty programme.

I told Anne about my VIP gifts over dinner later in the evening. She was not happy and went to talk to the Director. A few minutes later, Anne returned with the Director in tow, who apologised profusely. I had the run of the hotel facilities for the rest of the week. The following week, I was back at my boutique hotel near the airport.


  1. Make sure you design a coherent service and staff are trained in its delivery. If I shouldn't have had VIP gifts, they should have been taken away before I got there.
  2. Make sure customer-facing staff are selected for empathy, particularly if they have to deal with difficult situations. The young man who came to take away my VIP gifts was as empathetic as a stone.
  3. Know which of your customers have influential friends. Anne arranged for me to stay at the Marriott. She was an elite guest. They should have known I would talk to her.

What do you think? How should a company, like Marriott, recover from a service failure?

Original LinkedIn post: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/grahamhill_servicedesign-cx-servicefailur...

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