Eric Karjaluoto

The Turnaround

Gary got the call on Tuesday. The clerk noted, “We’re terribly sorry… there’s a problem with your scheduled stay.” He went on to explain that the power company had an upgrade scheduled. This involved ripping open the adjacent street. As a result, the hotel would be without power for several hours.

Having planned this weekend some while in advance, Gary felt disappointed. He and his spouse, Amber, planned to see a concert, visit some good restaurants, and shop. Before he could dwell on this, though, the clerk continued, “We can refund your deposit if you’d like. Or, if you prefer to stay, we’ll give you a 20% discount.” Gary realized that a few hours without power wasn’t a big deal, and accepted the discounted rate.

Things go wrong. When they do, you have a couple of options. You can avoid your guests and hope they’ll eventually go away. (Not a great approach.) Alternately, you can take ownership, and apologize. The Victorian Hotel did the latter, and they even did one better: they gave Gary the option to choose which solution he preferred.

They didn’t stop there, though. On Saturday, the night of the power outage, Gary found a surprise in the lobby. There was a humming in the air—from a generator running in the back lot. It powered a set of decorative lights strewn festively about the space. (Guests received flashlights to use while making their way to their rooms.)

A TV was also plugged into the generator, and turned to the Comedy Channel to entertain visitors. Around it congregated a gaggle of guests. They all talked, and got to know one another. Meanwhile, the hotel manager took the evening to chat with folks like Gary—and share stories about the hotel business, and such. Additionally, staff members provided guests with complimentary champagne. Gary describes the evening as strangely joyful, almost like a special occasion.

Should that have been an ordinary night, I bet Gary and Amber would have retreated to his room to watched TV on their own. They would have had a fine visit, but never spoke of it again. That’s what’s so notable about what The Victorian Hotel’s people did. They turned an unplanned interruption into something rare: a memory.

Gary took 10 minutes, during our next meeting, to tell me about this experience. And now I shared it with you. This wasn’t a campaign. There was no Like Button. The hotel didn’t ask anyone to retweet anything. Instead, The Victorian Hotel gave Gary something worth mentioning—so he did.

Every marketer is happy to promote when all is well. However, when something goes wrong, they tend to fall silent. This is a mistake. It alienates customers, and allows others to control the narrative. Worse yet, it strips the marketer of an opportunity to show that they’re there for customers—in thick or thin.

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