What I Learned About Customer Service from Marriott


go the extra mile road sign illustration designLast week I stayed at the Marriott Marquis in downtown San Francisco, and I was blown away by the nonstop, excellent level of customer service I experienced. What I learned is applicable to foundations and consultants, and I want to share six lessons learned with you.

1. Treat everyone like they are important (even when you are busy). This convention hotel must have been booked solid, with a Salesforce convention happening one block down the street. Yet my colleague and I felt like we were the only guests at the hotel. Front desk staff were attentive, friendly, and willing to take extra time to accommodate my colleague, who was on crutches and needed certain room accommodations. All staff were prompt, cheerful, and willing to help. Funders and consultants (myself absolutely included) can do a better job of being rapidly responsive to grantseeker inquiries, even when we feel inundated with e-mails, meetings, and voicemails.

2. Anticipate needs and offer solutions. Without our asking, front desk staff offered to take my colleague’s luggage to her room, bring her a bucket of ice so that she could ice her knee, and find her a room close to the elevator so she didn’t have to hobble too far down the hallway. Funders can think ahead about needs their grantees and initiatives might experience, and plan now to support them. For example, if you know that the executive director of a key grantee is near retirement age, offer strategies to help her create a transition plan. Consultants can identify and suggest resources a foundation client might need, even if they’re outside the consultant’s official skill set.

3. Communicate, even when you don’t “have to.” At 7:00 a.m., the hotel’s emergency communication system blared a message from the speaker in my room: An alarm had gone off in one area of the hotel, some people had been evacuated, the problem was solved, the hotel was safe, and everyone could return. Not having heard the alarm in the first place, I wasn’t concerned and felt reassured that the hotel was on top of it. Three hours later, on the way to the airport, I received an e-mail from Marriott explaining in detail the cause for the alarm (faulty sprinkler on one floor), apologizing, and offering to answer any questions. It was above and beyond what was necessary, yet it was a simple and low-cost way to communicate with customers and let us know they take our experiences seriously. I really appreciated it. We can all ask ourselves what changes are happening in our organizations that might be raising the anxiety level in others. From anticipated changes in staffing to potential new funding priorities to our vacation schedules – I am sure there are others who would appreciate being kept in the loop early and often. 

4. Enjoy going the extra mile. I forgot to charge my iPhone in the morning. I asked the valet staff if they could look in my rental car for the USB port. One young man literally leapt to help me and, after determining that no USB port existed, suggested I could buy a car charger at the Walgreens, two blocks away, for one dollar. I told him I was in a rush, so he offered to run over to Walgreens for me and buy it! In shock at the gesture and desperate to charge my phone, I agreed and reached for my wallet. At that point he took off running – running – down the street, calling back, “Don’t worry about paying me.” Minutes later he returned, smiling, with my charger. As funders and consultants, we can all think of a mind-blowing example of extraordinary customer service. Now think about how we can replicate that in our own work, and anticipate how much fun we will have doing it.

5. Empower employees to make decisions. The valet didn’t have to ask permission to run off to get my car charger. He knew that his job description was to go the extra mile for customers. He identified a solution and implemented it right away. Do our employees feel the same confidence this valet did? Do we ever engage in discussions about customer service in foundations? If not, we should. Together we can brainstorm ways to improve customer service and reassure employees that they can take initiative to implement them.

6. Ensure adequate staffing. None of this would have been possible if hotel management had not prioritized customer service and ensured that it had adequate numbers of properly trained staff. The valet would not have run to Walgreens if he hadn’t been confident there were valet staff to cover him. The room service staff wouldn’t have happily offered to return to the 23rd floor with a to-go coffee cup if the room service orders had been backed up. One way that foundations can free up program officer time is to provide them with adequate administrative support. If administrative staff can handle meeting scheduling, travel arrangements, note taking, and correspondence, the program officer has more time to think, plan, network, and develop new grant programs. What else can you do to adequately organize your team and their time for optimal success?

For more tips about customer service in philanthropy, read my article Who Is Your Customer? Improve Your Grantmaking By Improving Your Focus or my blog post Be Nice. Don’t Lie. 10 Ways To Improve Customer Service

Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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