Real customer service is about when it breaks

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Back in the 90s, a Sun engineer, if I recall correctly, wrote a paper arguing that the true test of a system is how it behaves during failure, not during success. The paper's primary focus was tech systems, of course. If there is an error, a user-friendly error message is far more useful than the infamous Microsoft Blue Screen if Death (BSOD), filled with unintelligible hex characters.

Last night, I stayed at the Tarrytown House Estate hotel. Upon checkin they offer to have you prepay breakfast, a 40% discount over morning rates. A good deal, I accepted.

In the morning, I went to breakfast, and got there at 905. I discovered that breakfast finishes at 900, and they aggressively clean up at 900 on the spot, with nothing left. Of course, the breakfast coupon clearly states that no refunds will be given for missed breakfast.

The experience left a bitter taste in my mouth, which I mentioned politely half hour later at checkout.

To my surprise, and without being prodded, the desk clerk immediately apologized and refunded the prepay with a smile. I left happy and impressed.

Two lessons:
1) in the service business, as well, customer service is about handling failures much more than successes.
2) Give your customer-facing employees as much leeway as you can, and then some; they will almost always impress your customers.