Hotel Fire, Business Processes and Customer Satisfaction

“Service isn’t something you can turn on and off.  It requires a great product, training and giving our associates the tools they need to serve our guests.”  -Bill Marriott

I don’t know of any frequent business traveller who likes leaving on  a Sunday.  It pretty much takes herculean self-control not to be in a slightly depressed mood.  Leaving at “zero dark thirty” on a Monday morning is fine, but not Sunday travel.  So, after a very long Sunday flight from London to Washington, D. C., a connecting flight to Burlington, Vermont, then renting a car and driving I finally arrived at my hotel, very tired and somewhat grumpy (missing my Sunday evening family time at home).

I pull into the parking lot of the hotel, one of the many Marriott chains, only to find that there had been a fire, in fact, the firetrucks were still parked around the back. The smell of smoke and wet carpet was overpowering.  My “Mood Elevator” is about to hit the basement. Just what I need!

But as I was getting out of my car, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a group of four couples having what seemed like a very good party.  But I was focused on my upcoming problem of where to find a room for the night, so i ignored their shouts to join them.  I had important issues to deal with and I WAS FOCUSED!

What could have been a customer satisfaction nightmare turned out to be a memorable and positive experience. The hotel staff had set up a small desk in the parking lot that served as the registration and information station.  A very friendly staff member guided me over, explaining about the fire but that everyone was okay and that I would be well taken care of.  As I reached the makeshift office I realised I was dealing with experienced and well-trained staff.  My name was on the list.

“We have been expecting you, Mr Childress.  Sorry for the inconvenience.  We have booked you a room at another Marriott property only a mile away.  And of course, the hotel costs will be fully taken care of by us. Again, we are sorry for the inconvenience”.   They even had a map for me and one of the staff was a mobile phone talking with my new hotel at that very moment, telling them I was on my way.

What could I do other than smile and thank them?  They had everything figured out in advance.  They obviously had a procedure and were well-trained.  I wondered; “If their disaster recovery processes is so meticulous and well executed, imagine what their normal customer service must be like?”

On the way back to my car I again was hailed by the group having a party at the other end of the parking lot.  So, seeing food and beer and people having fun, I walked over.  A cold and much appreciated beer was thrust into my hand. This group had been staying at the hotel for a week before the fire, and they decided to have a party as they waited for their new hotel assignments (individuals staying one night are easier to place than a group of ten staying a longer period).  But they had been treated well by the hotel staff and so a little party, complete with BBQ chicken and lots of beer seemed like a no-brainer to them.  I arrived about four beers behind.  They told me how well the staff of the hotel had taken care of them during the ordeal and how everything was going to be just fine (optimism among guests after a hotel fire?). And as things do at parties, the topic of conversation soon got around to fishing, but that’s another story for another time.

How well trained are your staff on all possible customer service scenarios?  It matters, big time, not just in emergency situations, but in the thousand points of customer service opportunities every day.

Here are Bill Marriott’s 12 Principles for Success in the Hotel and Service Business:

1. Continually challenge your team to do better.

2. Take good care of your employees, and they’ll take good care of your customers, and the customers will come back.

3. Celebrate your people’s success, not your own.

4. Know what you’re good at and mine those competencies for all you’re worth.

5. Do it and do it now. Err on the side of taking action.

6. Communicate. Listen to your customers, associates and competitors.

7. See and be seen. Get out of your office, walk around, make yourself visible and accessible.

8. Success is in the details.

9. It’s more important to hire people with the right qualities than with specific experience.

10. Customer needs may vary, but their bias for quality never does.

11. Eliminate the cause of a mistake. Don’t just clean it up.

12. View the problem as an opportunity to grow.

What positive hotel experiences in challenging situations have you encountered?

Thanks for joining the dialogue.

John R Childress

Senior Advisor on Corporate Culture, Leadership and Strategy Execution
Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid


PS: John also writes thriller novels

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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2 Responses to Hotel Fire, Business Processes and Customer Satisfaction

  1. mimijk says:

    What is so remarkable at Marriott is that this legacy of outstanding service has passed from generation to generation and now to Arne Sorenson ( who I used to work with at the firm). This is really their highest priority and will not compromise that mission – regardless of which level of Marriott hotel is involved. Same thing with The Four Seasons (but I have rarely stayed in a top tier hotel and not gotten excellent service, so I don’t think it’s as remarkable). When I was in Japan, I was ‘checked in’ in my room, where there was hot tea and a cool washcloth waiting as well. I loved that process, instead of waiting in yet another line to check in. Worst service? Getting bedbugs in a very reputable hotel in Paris (qualifier – I love Paris, it is one of my favorite cities in the world), and being told that it was my problem, refusing to move me to another room or even debug the mattress…


  2. Dorris says:

    I really admire Bill Marriott’s 12 Principles, if applied in the business everything well go smooth for sure.


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