A view of the industry through the
eyes of independent and chain retailers.
We'd Shake Your Antennae But We're Too Tired
Has your business ever bugged a
customer? Here's what not to do.
by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (September 20, 2010)
Have you seen the movie, Joe's Apartment? It’s
about a guy named Joe who moves to New York City from his home in
Iowa. Joe’s broke, unemployed, and apartment pickings are slim, but
he eventually makes his home in a NYC rent-controlled apartment.
When Joe moves in he realizes that he's not alone, he has millions
of roommates – singing and dancing and talking cockroaches. These
happy roaches sing over the opening credits as they fly over the
"Welcome to Joe's Apartment!
It's our apartment too!
We've been around for a hundred million years,
and we'll be here long after yooooooooooooou"!
No kidding. A few years ago, a few thousand of Joe's
roommates made the move to a Florida hotel just about the time we
checked in. We thought it was nice that the lights were on in our
hotel rooms when we arrived -- we were about to find out why.
Georganne: "Around 12:30 am I was woken by a
telephone call from Rich: 'George? Wake up. I want you to turn on
the lamp next to your bed. Try not to touch anything else.' I hit
that switch and started screaming. Almost every surface of my room
-- including the bed and me in it -- was covered with cockroaches.
As the light flooded the room, they ran for cover."
Rich: "I was awakened by something walking on my
face. I turned on the light and was horrified at what I saw."
Our rooms were right down the hall from one another;
so we met outside while our rooms cleared. They cleared all right --
a herd of cockroaches joined us on the balcony.
George called the front desk and explained what was
happening. The clerk apologized, but said he had no other rooms
available so he couldn't do much to help us out. "You have no other
rooms?" George asked.
"How about a can of RAID?"
A big N-O there, too. We called the desk three times
hoping that the clerk would come up with some way to help us.
Wishful thinking. At the time, we've been speaking together for 15
years, and we'd stayed in our share of properties far worse than
this one, but we’d never encountered anything even remotely like
We couldn't get out of town fast enough. At the
airport we tried not to think about what had happened, but twenty
minutes into the flight we had a flashback when George opened her
handbag and a big, old roach sauntered out. The well-heeled woman
next to George gasped in horror. Try explaining that to someone who
doesn’t know you!
We sort of knew what to do with our luggage when we
got home because we’ve seen enough hotel horror stories on the local
news. We knew we had to unpack outside, and we knew that we had to
immediately clean all of our clothing, and wipe off our shoes and
toiletries as well (those crafty little guys keep their population
numbers high by dropping eggs as they walk). Even the papers in our
briefcases had to be wiped off. But we had no idea what to do with
We called the hotel, explained the situation, and
asked what to do. The staff on duty couldn't help us, and the
manager wouldn't be in until the following day, so there was really
no one else we could speak with. This hotel is part of a family of
hotels, so we called customer service hotline for advice. Several
times we were sent right to voice mail, but we kept trying until we
got a live person. This customer service rep was appalled but had no
idea how to help us either. She promised to have someone return our
call as soon as possible. FYI. No one ever did.
Georganne called the parent company and asked to
speak with the chairman of the board. She eventually got on a first
name basis with the CEO's personal assistant. We weren’t looking for
a cash settlement, and we weren’t looking for a lifetime of free
hotel stays, we just wanted someone to tell us how to fumigate our
luggage. No such luck, so we called the nice people at Orkin who
were more than happy to help us out.
In the end, we spoke to the hotel manager who was
mortified about what had happened. She comped our rooms and offered
to pay for our dry cleaning and luggage fumigation. And yes, she did
offer to put us up for free anytime we are in town. We politely took
her up on her first two offers, and passed on the third.
A solid contingency plan is a good idea for every
business, regardless of what you sell. You should have one, too. You
need a plan of action in case of an in-store emergency. In the end,
we coached the hotel manager on what her staff could have done to in
1. Someone should have come
up to see for themselves how bad the bug situation was in our rooms.
2. In the best situation,
they could have moved us to other rooms, but even though no other
rooms were available, someone could have helped us move out of our
bug-infested rooms and into the lobby, or another hotel, for the
remainder of the night.
3. Hotels are likely to
have a myriad of problems, including bugs, at one time or another,
so it’s a good idea to have an employee manual handy to advise
customers on what to do should an unlikely situation arise. These
unique situations are perfect role-playing topics for staff
4. The desk clerk we first spoke with should have
called the hotel manager at home, and alerted her to the situation,
allowing her to respond to us in a timely and professional manner.
It’s been awhile since our night at the roach motel
and we haven’t quite recovered from our harrowing experience. We’re
not alone. We’'e shared this story with a handful of retailers who
told horror stories of their own, and some of them were even worse
than ours. Two stars or five star properties, we diligently check
every nook and cranny in each hotel room we find ourselves in. Our
roaches weren't as talented as Joe's. They didn't break into
elaborate Busby Berkley-like song and dance numbers, but then again,
we didn't hang around long enough to give them much of a chance.
(Note: Rich and Georganne will be speaking at
the Collins Group Fall Conference on Sept. 26. Visit
They will also be speaking at the iHobby Expo Oct. 21 Visit
www.ihobbyexpo.com which has a video from on the on the front
page. Finally they will also be speaking at the Quilt Market
in October ("Are Your Promotions Causing Commotions?" and
"Re-Imagine, Re-Create, and Re-Invent Your Retail Store." They are
also offering complimentary consulting sessions on Fri., Oct. 29,
2:30-4:30 and Sat., Oct. 30, 10:00 am-3:00 pm. Visit
Meetings & Conventions
magazine took a survey of meeting planners asking them to name their
favorite speakers/keynote presenters – and Kizer & Bender make the
list, along with such luminaries as Dr. Stephen R. Covey, Mike Ditka,
Bill Gates, Rudy Giuliani, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jay Leno, Colin
Powell, and others.
To read previous columns, click on the titles in the right-hand
KIZER & BENDER Speaking!
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