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A view of the industry through the eyes of independent and chain retailers.

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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 Manhattan skyline:

"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 this before.

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 our suitcases.

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 her absence:

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 meetings.

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 www.thecollinsrepgroup.com/Spring2010/Spring2010FRONT.html. 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 www.quilts.com.

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 column.)

KIZER & BENDER Speaking! 

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