Recently, I was conducting a workshop in northern Ohio. The workshop was scheduled to run into the night and rather than share miles and miles of two-lane country roads with drunk hillbillies, I chose to spend the night in a hotel.
As luck would have it, our timing was rearranged at the last minute and the workshop ended a few hours earlier than expected. The good news was that I could drive home with little or no chance of a drunk hillbilly encounter. The bad news was that I had already checked into my hotel earlier in the day.
I approached the front desk clerk and told him that I would not be staying after all, but I realized that I might still be charged. Since I had not even touched the room, I asked him if there was any way I could get a refund or even a credit toward another stay.
The young clerk looked around in every direction the way you do when you're about to tell a secret to somebody...just to make sure nobody could hear what he was about to say.
"The boss just left," he whispered, "so I can pretty much do whatever I want."
He then proceeded to erase all evidence of my existence in their reservation computer. I felt like I was in some kind of spy movie, only without any danger, weapons, or sexy women hanging around. In fact, the spy feeling went away pretty much immediately when I climbed into my minivan.
Now before you begin to think of this front desk clerk as a schmuck who does bad things behind his boss' back, I'll tell you that I think he WAS the boss. I didn't ask, but I'm pretty sure he was the night manager and actually had the authority to make the decision to let me go.
But even if he wasn't the boss, he still performed amazing customer service. I not only appreciated the fact that he saved me almost a hundred bucks, I also appreciated that he recognized my situation and took full advantage of the opportunity to create an extremely satisfied customer...even if I wasn't spending any money. This is a guy who "gets it."
Here's the lesson:
Bosses, use your authority to create great customer experiences every chance you get. And give your employees permission to "act like the boss just left" every chance they get.
If you're thinking, "I could never trust my employees to do that, they'll give away the farm," you need to do one of two things: 1) Fire your employees and hire ones you trust, or 2) Be crystal clear with your employees on how far they can go to serve a customer. By the way, number 2 is a much better (and generally cheaper) option.
If you're an employee, always act in favor of the customer. If you get in trouble for doing that, the company or boss you work for stinks and you deserve to be in a better place anyway. That said, if you're unclear at all about how far you can go to serve your customers, step up and ask your boss for extreme clarity in this area.
I debated whether I should give the name of the hotel in this story just in case the front desk clerk really didn't have the authority to do what he did. I have a feeling he won't get in trouble though, since I just told thousands of people what a great experience I had at the Hampton Inn in Sandusky, Ohio.