Damaging Your Customer’s Loyalty


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For nearly two decades, my family and I have been repeat guests at a beautiful inn on the Chesapeake Bay. Disappointing Stay We were very loyal fans, until our recent stay during the holidays.

I can no longer recommend this inn to others, which is something I’ve been doing enthusiastically since 1996… and we are not sure we will return.
How could the customer experience have been so bad?
On a personal note: based on our previous 18+ visits, my family has many great memories, (our kids describe it as their “second home”) so I will not identify the inn by name. But I do want to provide marketers of all industries with this cautionary tale.
Our difficulties began with the room cleaning staff’s decision to take a box full of our holiday gifts– which did not look remotely like garbage, and was left at least twenty feet away from the nearest garbage can– and throw it out!

For an example of a company which managed the customer experience beautifully, read this story:
Build Positive Emotional Equity with Customer Care
A Culture Problem
The initial error of trashing our family gifts was serious, but on its own, it was evidence only of a serious training problem with the housekeeping staff. But the failure to respond with proactive care and concern for a valued repeat customer who received less than their very best is evidence of something far more serious, and of concern to every marketer: a culture problem.
We saw an early glimpse of the very different culture during the first few moments at the property. Contrary to our 18+ previous visits, our repeat guest history was never acknowledged when we checked in.
As we came to learn, the cultural changes permeated our guest experience. I am sharing this story because these types of cultural issues apply to all marketers, not just those in the hospitality industry.
Damaging Our Loyalty
The problems we experienced were many, but included:
? It took numerous calls and visits to the front desk by my wife and daughter, to create a sense of urgency about looking for our valuable missing gifts. Finally, the manager was good enough to get into the garbage dumpster and begin to search.
? However, in spite of my wife’s repeated requests to the front office staff that the manager search for multiple missing items, this message was not communicated. As a result only one of the missing gifts was found.
? An inability to apologize. Some front-line staff acted put upon, and as if they were doing us a favor by resolving a troublesome problem we had created.
? A manager’s disrespectful attitude the next day, when my wife reminded him that additional items were still missing. When my wife explained that we were not sure which, and how many, gifts were missing, as our 6 family members had exchanged many gifts, but would try to find receipts when we returned home, he snapped: “You should know what the other gifts were; I certainly would!”
? Failure of the General Manager to return our phone calls about the problem, or indeed to reach out to us in any way. As of the posting of this blog, 3 weeks after our visit, I still have not heard from the General Manager, (who was on property during our stay).
We left feeling betrayed. While we received monetary compensation for our problems in the form of five nights of free lodging, and reimbursement for $160 of missing jewelry, there was no recognition or acknowledgement of the upset or inconvenience this caused us. We left feeling that we were viewed as bothersome guests who should have labeled the gift boxes in our room more clearly.
We don’t know if we will return … because the culture of the place we loved has dramatically changed.

Marketing Takeaways: Four Critical Points:

For any industry, identify the points of weakness that might allow your team to:
    1.     Develop an attitude that “the customer is probably wrong”.
    2.     Not recognize and acknowledge a very loyal, repeat customer — and treat him or her accordingly.
    3.     Allow management to be so removed from customers that they do not feel the need to quickly and proactively seek them out to offer assistance and apologies.
    4.     Have no process for follow-up contact with a customer after a serious mistake.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ernan Roman
Ernan Roman (@ernanroman) is president of ERDM Corp. and author of Voice of the Customer Marketing. He was inducted into the DMA Marketing Hall of Fame due to the results his VoC research-based CX strategies achieve for clients such as IBM, Microsoft, QVC, Gilt and HP. ERDM conducts deep qualitative research to help companies understand how customers articulate their feelings and expectations for high value CX and personalization. Named one of the Top 40 Digital Luminaries and one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing.


  1. What an interesting story this is! I have heard many horrific customer service gone wrong stories in my career, however this one is up at the top for sure!
    As I was reading your post, I wondered if management or owners changed. That seems like the only logical explanation.

    As a guest who has returned many times, management should greet you upon arrival and welcome you as if a friend was visiting. You should be made to feel special, especially in this economy.

  2. Kathy,

    This was a difficult blog to write because we have been so fiercely loyal to the property for 15+ years. It’s hard to describe how personally betrayed our (grown) kids and we, felt.

    You asked a good question. However, the property has been owned by the same company for at least the last 10 years.

    Thanks for your feedback.



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