A lesson in customer service: Pan Pacific Hotel, Seattle

by Melody on January 1, 2013

I hope you don’t mind a little story, and a break from Starbucks updates.  I was just thinking that great customer service means treating everybody that the business deals with as if they will be a great customer, whether or not they already are.  Last night after I got off work, I hopped on a bus to the Whole Foods at Westlake and Denny.  I did some grocery shopping.  From the Whole Foods, I always do the exact same thing every visit:  I walk up to upper level of that complex, and stop into the Starbucks for a beverage.  From there, I always walk outside looking for a cab.  I don’t have far to go, but I’m not keen on walking up a hill in the dark, with a bag of groceries.

That Starbucks is immediately adjacent to the Pan Pacific Hotel, so there are usually cabs coming and going.  If there is not a cab immediately available, I walk over to the young doormen at the hotel and ask them to call a cab for me.

I have done this same routine many, many times.  The young guys who work at Pan Pacific Hotel are astonishingly friendly.  Usually, they run to open the door of the hotel, and I then stop to explain that I am not a guest of the hotel.  Actually, sometimes the Pan Pacific Hotel guys are so friendly that they make the adjacent Starbucks feel a little gloomy in comparison.  (And they’re often handsome young men too!).  Nobody has ever said anything like, ‘you must be a hotel guest for us to call you a cab.’

Last night, with a bag of groceries in one hand, and a Starbucks hot chocolate in the other, I asked a Pan Pacific Hotel guy to call me a cab.  He said to me, “Where are you going?“  I told him where I live.  The young guy – John was his name – exclaimed, “Oh that’s not far at all!“  And then he walked towards the Pan Pacific SUV-type car, opened the passenger side door, and said, “I’ll give you a ride!“  I stopped just before climbing in the big vehicle, and said, “Wait.  I’m not a guest of the hotel.“  The young man simply said, “Don’t worry about it.  It’s a very short trip!“  The episode also reminded me of an article I read once (I can’t find it again) that said that great customer service knows when to bend or break the rules.

And then he gave me a ride home.  Of course I did tip him, in case you’re wondering.

I just thought that was amazing.  It seems like the guys at the Pan Pacific Hotel treat everyone as if they will be  a great customer, whether or not they already are.  Trust me, I’d recommend that hotel should someone ask me where to stay in Seattle!

My apologies for the very non-Starbuckian blog article.  I thought it was an interesting lesson in customer service.

Happy New Year everyone!

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Purple1 January 1, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Melody what a great story to read while I am now sitting at my local SB. Yea to all those folks at this hotel for such great customer service. This type of customer service would stick
With me for quite some time and this hotel deserves mention by you. Btw the customer service today at my local SB is outstanding. We were here in the am and the SM was here and very social
As well as all the partners. The same experience in the afternoon.

DadCooks January 1, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Smart young man.

You may not have been guest at the hotel, but he knows that when you give good customer service you will spread the word.

J. Rhadames January 1, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Kudos ! What a great service.
How can we / you summit an essay of this door boy and the Hotel?
This is why North America will stand up

Suzanne C January 1, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Just a nice young man doing something nice for someone else.

Becca January 1, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Great article Melody. This is so fantastic to see, employees ready to just say YES. Helping a person is service (frequently I find people in the service industry are unprepared for this to be their job). So far the service at the Monte Carlo has been top notch, though the rooms are getting tired. Happy New Year!!!

AmazonV January 1, 2013 at 2:45 pm

I love good customer service stories :)

I have decided I want to go to seattle this year, even if i can’t go to the tea festival. Perhaps I will stay there :) I will see the tazo store and the food/alcohol serving starbucks!

Paul January 1, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Where’s the “like” icon?

Deborah January 1, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Happy New Year! What a great story! Thank you for sharing it~I have enjoyed so many “feel good” moments from your blog…I don’t often let you know how much I appreciate all the energy you devote to your very special website. I happened upon it quite by accident awhile ago, but now I look forward to reading each entry. In fact, while having a nice conversation with an out of town customer at my store today, I told her all about your blog! I told her how much I have learned about Starbucks from you….and I’m a partner!
Thank you for your inspiration, Melody!
~Deborah
*I know the young man at the hotel stepped up, but I imagine you have magic moments like this all the time!

DaveZ January 1, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Hopefully blogging this doesn’t get the guy in trouble. ;)

Caroline January 1, 2013 at 4:15 pm

I enjoyed reading about common courtesy. We all should treat others the way we want to be treated. I do that everyday and it does not matter if I receive negative reinforcement. What I care about is I put my positive foot forward and did all I could for the people I come in contact with daily. We do not know what the other person is going through and where they are in their life. Just a kind word, offer to treat (if you can) or share something you have (bring extra).

I am a senior of age and low income and do not have much, but i do give everything I can and regularly. Some people think I am trying to but their friendship, etc. I do this for strangers (they just do not know me) the people that do tell me I have a giving heart. I have done this as a young girl (I watched my Father do it all of his life).

Melody January 1, 2013 at 4:51 pm

DaveZ – Don’t even say that! Bite your tongue! LOL
Deborah – Thank you so much for that comment! Mark Twain supposedly said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” I am set for 2 months now! And I like how you called it a ‘magical moment.’ Right on.
@J. Rhadames – Welcome to the blog! Hope you’ll “like” it too. I somehow doubt this will get back to the Pan Pacific Hotel – they’d have to be hardcore Starbucks fans too. ;)

Glad everyone got a smile out of this like I did.
~Melody

ensanguin January 1, 2013 at 8:44 pm

I love reading about great customer service. I hope I’ve touched at least one of my customers or potential customers in the same way.

Melody January 1, 2013 at 8:55 pm

@ensanguin – I bet you have! ;D

bmommyx2 January 1, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Awesome post & if I’m ever in Seattle I will check them out

MagicKat January 2, 2013 at 12:33 am

After a long conversation this afternoon with my ASM about world class customer service and owning the customer experience, this article really hit home for me. Thanks Melody. As always, you make me think and I love you for it.

Kurt January 2, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I know that Starbucks! I stopped into that Whole Foods during my Seattle visit. (Curious store, odd layouts). The Starbucks up the stairs seemed a little gloomy and out of place. Perhaps because it was dusk and they were closing. If the hotel management reads the blog I hope that they would praise that guy for his customer service and initiative.

Leslee January 2, 2013 at 5:14 pm

HAPPY NEW YEAR Mel!!!

I love to hear/read about great customer service stories!!! Gives me hope for us all…

purple1 January 11, 2013 at 9:22 am

I thought about this blog post this morning while at my local SB. One of the semi regular patrons came in and we have chatted before and he sat down by me. He remarked that in the last few weeks this store has not opened on time because the partner with the keys has not been on schedule. One day in particular when he and about 4-5 other customers were waiting outside (he said some of them were regulars) there was no acknowledgement by the staff inside that they were running late or no sign on the door explaining the delay in opening. He said one of these customers got really annoyed that there was no customer service. Certainly, there are times when this happens but here is a case where one of the partners could have stepped outside and offered an explanation. Simple gesture but would have gone a long way!

denise r January 15, 2013 at 6:40 am

I really didn’t know where to put this comment so chose this older thread about customer service. I really wanted to share an experience I had yesterday. I was at an older (for the Chicago area, one of the first) Sbux, and one I used to visit every day on my way into work and often on my way home. It’s a really small, nothing special but great store…I always loved this place and they still have the stools at the window bar like they did 20+ yrs ago. I went to the POS and ordered a ‘dark” tall…it was about 1:00P and they were no longer brewing. The partner I was ordering with spent a bit of time trying to get me to have the brewed BLONDE. I repeatedly said: No, thanks…I’ve had it, you can do a pour over, right?’ She kept telling me how she’d just become a ‘blonde convert’ herself that day and how (I’d said: well, I’ll give you that it’s better than the pond water of PPR) She continued on how she didn’t like PPR either but this (Blonde) was really good. I knew from the beginning what I wanted, it was not gonna be a cup of Blonde so I kept saying I’ll just have a pour-over dark please. Finally another partner who was on bar asked me “what sz” and started the pour over. That was all ok with me, slightly too long but tolerable, But, the man behind me also wanted a dark tall and she started on the same speech with him. (I turned and smiled at him), he just immediately insisted on the dark and went and sat down to wait. The partner then eventually brought his pour over to him and when he wanted to hand her his card she said, ‘no this one is one us’. That was nice I guess but where is the difference here? What determines that she’s comping him and didn’t me? It’s really not about the price of a tall coffee….its about the ‘aggressiveness’ with which this partner was forcing the blonde and then the inconsistency of comping one person for the same experience and not the other.

I realize maybe they’ve been told to do this big ‘blonde’ push but once you’ve made your choice known? accept it. In any store that I would go in where they know me, this would never happen. They know what I want and wouldn’t try to get me to have something I don’t care for. Just a bad example of customer service, I feel.

purple1 January 15, 2013 at 7:01 am

Denise your last comment really hit home for me. I just cannot believe they did not comp you as well out of courtesy if nothing else. As you mentioned, you have received comp drinks before as have I. I go to my local SB more times than I can count and every so often they will give me a free drink. Even this morning I was joking with a partner about what happens if I change my order (as I do not even have to open my mouth to order my drink) and he laughed and said well we will just have to remember the new order! Had a very nice convo this am also with the SM about customer service and suggested it would be nice to do a focus group with regulars. This small store BTW sounds very nice.

denise r January 15, 2013 at 7:11 am

@purple1: Thank you!!! (just got your email, too sweet and so appreciated!)

Melody January 15, 2013 at 8:26 am

@Denise – I am sorry that happened to you! What a weird thing. It seems as the register barista has just been coached to try to convert people to blonde. It would be better to respond to what the customer actually wants!

That is so weird about the customer service recovery coupons. It’s true that the two of you were in the same boat. Sometimes it seems like there is no rhyme or reason to when the recovery certificates are given out. The last time I received one was a bit ago, and nothing like that situation. I do think they’re still a very nice touch. I got one during the height of a morning rush when everything was nutty in the store, and later – like 2 days later – I went back and told the store manager a big thank you and called out that the shift supervisor had been really great – just so he knew her good customer service. Sounds odd written out like that and I’m in a rush, but I wanted positive feedback back to that SM (Jon Gores you rock).

But yeah, I’m sorry that the barista couldn’t see when she was being pushy and that you had to endure that. Not right. And it seems like if he got one, you should’ve too.

DadCooks January 15, 2013 at 3:32 pm

@denise r – I am noticing the same Blonde push going on here, IMHO it is to the extreme.

And then this morning a non-regular customer comes in and specifically asks for Blonde. Well the urn is empty (somebody not paying attention). No offer of a pour over or to wait until a new urn is brewed, just a stubborn “we have Pike and Gold Coast”. The customer said “I like Gold Coast, that will be fine”. As the barista starts to pour a cup another barista hollers out “wait, that is Komodo”. By this time the customer had lost patience and said “I am going to Barnes and Nobel, maybe they know what they are doing”.

I have another observation to put out there, and please no flames. I have observed that the baristas are generous with recovery coupons for men and very seldom one for women. @Denise, you may have run into that situation, and again I have seen that obvious bias occur just like it did to you.

Rebecca January 15, 2013 at 5:17 pm

I think it’s really interesting to hear perspectives on the ‘blonde push’ as you call it. Totally helps me when I coach my team :). I’m sorry you had to deal with a less than legendary experience – most of the stores in my area brew dark until at least 4 pm, some of us until close – you should move, hehe :)

It is still standard to try to read the customer, and help suggest something that would add value to their experience. From reading your comments here, Denise, I’d be letting you know if we got a pastry in that tasted similar to the brown sugar walnut tart, or offering to make you a good French press of a dark coffee. I don’t think it’s wrong to ask about the blonde roast, or even share that I was a recent blonde roast convert (haha, I’m not, but this girl seems to have been), especially since she didn’t know you, but after your ‘No thanks’, a good customer service person would’ve realized that you weren’t interested and prepared you what you wanted efficiently. I feel this messaging gets muddled by the time it gets down to baristas – I absolutely have some who won’t ever mention new things and say ‘oh, the customer was giving me the cue that they weren’t interested’ and I call BS :). And I have others that I have to repeatedly remind that it is NOT good service to ask everyone the same thing, or push products to people that won’t add value to their experience/life.

@DadC – no flames here. I’ve never noticed that, but I do know that my partners feel worse about their mistakes when customers don’t comment, or are just silently upset, you know? And in my experience, this is more true of my male customers. So it might mean that partners are not deliberately NOT handing them out, but are not intentionally watching for favouring a certain type of customer, if that makes sense?

DadCooks January 15, 2013 at 6:34 pm

@Rebecca – you made some good points in your post, and yes it makes sense to me.

One of the things that separates a Barista from barista is that ability to “read” a customer. It is a skill that some Baristas naturally have and it can be learned.

denise r January 16, 2013 at 2:45 am

@DadC……yes, I have definitely experienced that ‘gender bias’, too often. (and more often created by women……) Nothing new I guess, but I appreciate everyone’s comments. (I did call Customer Service about the whole incident btw, and they were very ‘helpful’).

Bill n DC February 6, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Love the Seattle Pan Pacific!

Matt March 15, 2013 at 8:40 pm

This is awesome to hear Melody! I know Jon personally… I may or may not work at the hotel ;) Its his birthday today and I linked the article to his facebook.

Melody March 16, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Matt thanks for dropping by the blog – I am a little bewildered you found this blog article. Happy Birthday Jon! Keep up the great work!

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