April 25, 2013

How to win friends and lose customers

Home Depot is roughly a $70 billion company. Hilton Worldwide is about $7 billion. It takes a lot of nuts and bolts and lumber and home improvement items to get to 70 billion. It also takes a lot of rooms to get to 7 billion. In the past few months, I've had the opportunity of having something go wrong with each of these companies. With very different results. The story starts below. The narrative is in the form of emails that I exchanged with each of the companies, so the details are in there. My comments are sprinkled in between.

Home Depot

I came home on a Friday evening, very discouraged by a call I had earlier that afternoon regarding a window project that we had gotten quoted on through Home Depot. It was continuing to bother me, so to just release my frustration, I emailed the Senior VP at Home Depot in charge of Installation Services. Here is the text of my email:

Hi xxx,

I wanted to send you a quick note on my first experience with Home Depot installation services. We were looking to put in some replacement windows in our house. Home Depot was not even in my list of contractors to call, but a friend of mine recommended you, and I made the call. The gentlemen I was referred to was out on medical leave, and he spoke with his manager, and another salesman was sent out to our house. John introduced himself as a seasoned salesman, with 15 years with Home Depot. After several hours in the house with all the dimensions taken and the options talked over, he gave us our price. With a current sale of $1,250 off for purchases over $5,000, he gave me my price of $4,095. This price beat out my other bids, and both my wife and I were extremely pleased that not only were we getting a great price, we were also doing business with a great and trustworthy company. I called the Home Depot credit card and upped my limit to pay for the job.

This morning I get a call from John saying that he had mispriced the job, and the actual price was $5,500.

I am quite sure you can understand the reason for this email. For Home Depot to claim that it is a company that can be trusted to do business with
• I expect that trust to start at the sales process, and continue through installation, and the life of the product
• I expect when a salesman gives me a quote, he instinctively knows whether he is 35% off the price
• I expect that when Home Depot makes an error, it honors its written commitments and not pass them on to the customer

This job is chump change in the huge volume of business that Home Depot does. But what this experience means to me personally is that I can’t ever trust another Home Depot salesperson to give me accurate information. I will not make a good recommendation of this service to anyone. My friends on Facebook will read about this. I’ll send out a few tweets to the @HomeDepot hash tag. It’s really left a bad taste in my mouth. There was plenty of opportunity at our dining table for the correct numbers to be presented. If John was in a hurry to get out, then he could have phoned in a quote. This bait and switch really bothers me, even though it is unintentional.

I’ve left John’s manager a few messages but have not gotten a call back. I was told that there isn’t any recourse to this. Which is technically fine because there isn’t any intentional malfeasance. I just expect better from Home Depot. The company should stand not only behind its products, but also its employees when they make a mistake - so that to the customer there is never any harm or ill will.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.


Bipin Sen
Now this was at 6:30p my time (7:30p in Atlanta where this gentlemen is). At 6:45p my iPhone dinged. I saw this email

Hello Mr. Sen, just wanted to confirm that I received your message tonight, and that I will investigate the matter.   I'm sorry you've had this experience and I'll see what I can do.   Thank you for bringing it to my attention, and for the shot at winning your business.

You will be hearing back from me or a member of my leadership team.

Sent from my iPhone
My jaw pretty much hit the floor. Never in a million years did I expect to get a response, let alone 15 minutes later. About 20 minutes later, I got a call from a regional manager in Cincinnati who apologized for the situation, and said that if I still wanted to do business with Home Depot, they would honor the original price. Of course I wanted to do business with Home Depot! The rest of my exchange with the VP is given below for the sake of completeness...

On Jan 11, 2013, at 9:50 PM, Bipin wrote:
Hi xxx,

Just got a call from xxx xxx. He very graciously took care of the problem. I want to thank you so much for responding so quickly to my problem. I feel very much cared for and valued.

Have a great weekend!

On Jan 11, 2013, at 10:21 PM, xxx wrote:
Thank you for your patience and understanding, apologize we didn't get it right the first time !   We will do our best to do a fist class job for you.

Thank you for your business !

Sent from my iPad
On Apr 24, 2013, at 10:29 PM,  Bipin wrote:
Dear xxx,

Oftentimes you hear of just the complaints, and not the follow-up. I just wanted to drop you a quick note to let you know how happy I am with the service that I got from Home Depot, and with our installation and products. Thank you again for taking care of me personally – it’s a gesture I can’t repay, but can only thank.

I wish you all the best.

Best regards,

Bipin Sen
On Apr 24, 2013, at 10:43 PM,  xxx wrote:
Thank you for taking the time to let me know...and I'm so glad we could recover from the earlier problems we caused.  Thank you so much for your business, and choosing Home Depot.
 Please let us know if there is anything else we can do.
 All the best !
Sent from my iPad
Hilton Worldwide

Now we come to a company with the diametrically approach to customer service. The details will be made known in a minute. The email chain starts with this (I'm going to leave these names in because these guys have done nothing to warrant protection from my scorn).

Dear Mr. Sen:

We thank you for choosing to stay with us at the Hampton Inn Times Square North. We hope you had an enjoyable stay and we look forward to welcoming you back on all future stays in New York City.

In the next few days you may receive a survey from Hilton about your experience with us. We strive for a “Perfect 10” in each category and we welcome your feedback.
We look forward to welcoming you back during your next visit.

 We love having you here!

Best regards,

Katherine Gonell R.
Guest Service Manager.

I forwarded this to the account manager who was assigned to handle my case.

My email to a representative who emailed me...
Hi Ms. Gonell,
I am in fact quite unhappy with my visit to your hotel. I am a frequent business traveler with Gold status. When I checked out this morning, I was quite shocked to find that my rate for my second night was almost $380. When I had made my reservation online, all I saw was the rate of $198. As a frequent traveler, I don't usually review all my confirmation emails. Even during check-in, the front desk staff didn't point out the large rate change between the two nights.
I don't expect such bait and switch tactics from a Hilton property. I am very dissatisfied with my whole experience.
Bipin Sen

To which I got the response

Dear Mr. Bipin,
Thank you for contacting the Guest Assistance department in regards to your past stay at the Hampton Inn New York/Manhattan-Times Square North.
As I understand you are upset because of the higher rate on the last night of your stay.  I see that when you original made your reservation it was booked the same as when you checked out. On your reservation details is states that a rate of 379.05 will apply on 4/23/13. I have resent the same e-mail to you so you can see that it states that in your confirmation details.  I hope this information helps. If you should have any other questions or concerns please e-mail me at Frances.Grady@hilton.com
Frances Grady
Senior Guest Assistance Specialist
Social Media
Is my problem apparent so far? No? Ok.. I explain it more.

Dear Frances,
Thank you for your response. I wonder if you read my original email. I travel at least 2-3 times a month, and stay in Hilton properties. I've been exclusively staying with Hilton for over 10 years. With my frequency of travel, I don't bother to check the details in my confirmation emails. I just make sure I get them, and that tells me that the reservation went through. When I booked my reservation for New York, I looked at the page that listed all the hotels with available rooms. Hampton Inn TSN showed a rate for $198 for my search for a two night stay. In EVERY single booking I have done within the last year, this rate has ALWAYS been the rate for each night I wish to stay. I have never had to check that the rate changes from night to night.
While you are correct in saying that my confirmation email lists my rates, my response is that it was deceptive of Hilton to show a "teaser" rate of $198 when my search was for two nights. Under no circumstance would I have booked Hampton Inn if I had known that the average rate for two nights was going to be close to $290/night. In fact, I had canceled my booking at Hilton Garden Inn where I had a rate of $238/night to book the Hampton because I thought I was getting a better rate. You can verify this under my account activity.
I would like some consideration from Hilton towards me as a long standing customer and honor the rate of $198 for both nights for my reservation of two rooms. At the very least, I would like a discount from the exorbitant rate of $379/night for the second night.
Thanks very much.
Bipin Sen

To this, the door finally gets slammed in my face.

Mr. Bipin,
I am sorry that you were not able to review your email before arrival at the hotel but when you checked in the hotel and you signed your registration card at check in it does have your rate on there as well.  I am sorry but we will not be able to refund you a difference for anything at this time as the rate was stated as 198.55 on 4/22/13 and 379.05 on 4/23/13 and you signed for that at check in.  I hope this information helps and if you should have any other questions please feel free to contact us.

In the case of Home Depot, they were out much more than a few hundred dollars. Yet, they responded to me quickly, efficiently and "took the hit" to gain my confidence, loyalty and goodwill. Hilton? Sorry Mr. Bipin  - you didn't look, you're out of luck. In the meantime, we will make sure our website continues to be deceptive so that people like you can keep making these mistakes. Kudos to the guy, by the way, for looking up my name and getting the salutation right - not.

I will leave you with the email I sent to senior management at Hilton. Unlike my experience with Home Depot, my iPhone still has to ding. The difference between the two companies is ten fold - literally and figuratively.

Hi yyy,
In the world of automated systems and strict rule enforcement, there is little room for companies as large as Hilton to work with customers when issues like the one I've gone through below happen. I've traveled with Hilton for over a decade, and I don't see myself stopping. But my experience of giving my business to a company that doesn't really value me back as a customer, and is not willing to cover a mistake of mine when I unintentionally make it, will be far less enjoyable. For the price of a few hundred dollars, your company is losing much more in brand loyalty.
Sorry to bother you with such a minor issue - but sometimes it's good to know what happens at the bottom level. After all, its road warriors like me that have helped create the huge success Hilton is.
With best regards,
Bipin Sen

On April 26, I got an email from the "Executive Escalations" office who wanted me to call her back. When I called her, she said she wanted to verify my address. Why? Hilton is sending me back a check for the difference of the room rate. The hotel refused to refund any money. Hilton corporate is sending me money through their system because I'm a long time customer. Somehow this doesn't feel like a win to me. The lady I spoke with was abrupt, didn't apologize for anything, and pointed it out again that they are refunding me money even though it was my error. Ok whatever.