How to win, and lose, customers in a flash

Unlike the Dude, Jeff Bridges' character in the cult classic “The Big Lebowski,” I don’t dislike The Eagles. (The Dude made the mistake of showing his disdain for the band during a cab ride; the hack ultimately booting him from the car for his musical opinion.)

Granted, they aren’t the Wu-Tang Clan, but you can’t argue with six Grammy Awards and five number-one singles. Plus, nothing pleases me more than to illustrate a point through music. In this case, I use The Eagles’ 1990 dirge, “New York Minute.” As the refrain goes: “In a New York minute, everything can change.”

It sure can. While the song’s construct is dark, the lyric rings true in any sense: one moment something is a certain way, the next minute, it’s not. Never is that more true than in hospitality. Here are three recent encounters—two good, one bad—I had that prove my point: Winning, and losing, customers can happen “In a New York Minute.”

1. Enterprise Rent-A-Car, August 7, 2016, approx. 11:15 PM

Rental car companies, for me, have always been about price: Why do I care where my Kia Rio comes from? Until now.

After a grueling five-hour drive that should have taken three, I arrived, haggard, at the Enterprise LaGuardia Airport. In my exhausted, peeved state, I forgot to fill up the gas tank. Rookie mistake. A tank that should have read full, instead read ¾. I knew I was going to get dinged for it. Then this: “Oh, you are only a quarter tank off. Close enough. Thanks and have a great night.” Those Enterprise commercials touting the company’s hiring of young, college professionals played through my head. What an unexpected relief. Enterprise: You have my wallet and my loyalty!

2.Sanxenxo, Spain, July 12, 2016, approx. 4:30 PM

For every great interaction, there is the opposite. To protect the innocent, I am not naming the hotel in question, just giving the facts. The venue is a resort hotel in northern Spain; after a day at the beach, I came back to the property to use its spa facilities. A one-time complimentary use is extended to each guest. With that in mind, is it good form or bad form for the front-desk manager to accuse me of furtively trying to use said amenities more than the one allotted time? If you chose bad, you win. But this is exactly what happened. Only after an embarrassing back and forth, did he relent. Do you think I’ll ever return to this hotel? Not a chance. Do you think I’ll write a scathing review on TripAdvisor? You bet I will.

3. Pret A Manger, July 28, 2016, approx. 3:15 PM

One of the last places you’d expect to find unanticipated joy is at a Pret A Manger, my go-to for afternoon coffee. On this day, I strolled in, poured my dark roast and, because I was having a rough day, snagged a mini brownie. Cashier: “One coffee, one brownie…you know what, take it. You deserve it.” Me: “Where am I?” Now, I don’t know if he was taking pity on me that day, but, darn, did he make my day! Of course, I am sure that management at Pret A Manger empowers staff to do those small wows once in a while (they do). Which is why when I need my caffeine fix, it’s off to Pret I go!

These three episodes all share one thing in common: the human element. That is what defines service industry companies and what will set your hotel apart from others. Too often we get bogged down on topics ranging from direct bookings and OTAs to loyalty programs and Airbnb. Concentrate on filling your business with great people, who know how to take care of guests and make them feel special. That’s how you win.