Lifestylist® Suzanne Felber advises you on where to have a fantastic customer experience, and where you might want to avoid. As a lifestyle expert she can tell you where to go to have the time of your life!

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Does Marriott Understand the New Millenial Consumer?

What a crazy few months it has been! May started with us attending The MHI Congress and Expo where we were awarded Best Interior Design and Model Home Merchandising for a home that we did for Clayton Homes, A clubhouse that we merchandised for YES! Communities was named Community of the Year, and we gave a well received speech on how Clayton Homes of Desoto changed their approach and started listening to and appreciating their customers like never before and the sales that were a result of that.
We went from there to visit the Riedman Companies and saw their spectacular new community on the Erie Canal - The Residences at Canalside. While we were there we decided to go and visit  and FLX Weinery - both owned by Master Sommelier and Chef Christopher Bates that I was fortunate to meet at the TEXSOM International Wine Awards this year. All of these are experiences that I need to write about and share, but I haven't been at my computer long enough to get my thought on paper!
Something happened last week though that I decided needed to be written about sooner than later, and that's the mistake that some hotel chains are making when understimating the intelligence, wealth, and potential loyalty of millenials.
My sister and beautiful, talented niece needed to be in Austin with a group of her close friends for a bridal shower. All were either college grads with great jobs or were in graduate school, and the youngest was 24. They talked about staying at the Driskill Hotel - a hotel with lots of charm that I just saw is now run by Hyatt, but since my sister has been a gold Starwood member for over 10 years she thought it would be fun if they got the extra service that her status should provide, and they decided to stay at the Westin Downtown Austin. This was Memorial Day weekend, and when a few of them decided to check out the rooftop pool and bar to catch up, one of them was singled out and told that her Oklahoma license didn't look valid and told her he would have to take it to the police station to validate it. When he came back over 30 minutes later, he said they couldn't tell if it was authentic or not, and rule following, non-confronational ladies they are they decided it wasn't worth it and went back to their rooms.
This is when it gets odd - the hotel then delivered a bottle of inexpensive prosecco to her room that they all laughed about - their rooms were over $300.00 a night, and the quality of the bottle did not reflect the image of the hotel. When my sister found out about how they were treated the next day she was furious, especially since it was her idea to stay there. When she got a survey she made them aware of the issues and got this reply (names removed)
Dear ,

Thank you for taking the time to complete the Guest Satisfaction Survey in regards to your recent stay at the Westin Austin Downtown.

I understand your frustration about the situation and apologize for any confusion that might have taken place. You are right being diligent about underage drinking we take very seriously here at the Westin and have strict measures we take to ensure those that can properly and safely consume alcohol of which we can control do. I was the manager that took the ID not to the station but the police officer working 6th and San Jacinto to have him use his scanner to validate the ID. He was not able to validate the ID. The girls that were with her confirmed with me that sometimes Oklahoma ID's don't work properly as I trust and understand. They even asked if a second form would work and I said yes if she had one which she did not. I would like to point out there was at least one other girl in the group that was underage during this time. These scenarios prohibited us from selling alcohol to your daughter. I promise I was cordial and stayed with them to explain everything as I understand potential sensitivity however I cannot and will not risk our establishments reputation.

If you would like to talk further about this scenario I am readily available at your convenience. Upholding our commitment to provide a memorable experience with exceptional service, we hope to have an opportunity to better your experience with us whenever your travels bring you back to Austin.

Talk about throwing fuel on the fire! He wrote my sister's name in all caps which means screaming on social media, then he wrote his name using all lower case which I stopped doing in grade school. There were NO underage people in their party, and if he was so concerned, why did they then send a bottle of Prosecco to her room?
This is when my sister shared this with me, and I started seeing how a hotel presumes that younger guests are there to party and don't give them the respect that I only hope they extend to other guests. Before I wrote this I thought I would reach out to Westin and Starwood, but since they have been purchased by Marriott my request for their side of this went to them. Even though I told them I was on a deadline, I received no response from Marriott. I did receive this from the hotel manager that caused the issues:

Dear Suzanne,

Thank you for taking the time to reach out as Starwood and Marriott have connected me with you. I appreciate you reaching out so we can share more color in a story such as this.

Firstly we were delighted to have the party stay with us. We understand how exciting a bridal shower can be!

At check in we are required I.D. the person who is on the reservation; however once we have confirmed that an adult is present the legal requirement is fulfilled. At the time there was no reason to question if age verification for Ms. R would be in need.

As I’m sure you can appreciate, the welfare and safety of our guests is extremely important. There were a number of groups and individuals at the rooftop bar at the time in question. The group was engaged with was with a number of others who confirmed that they were underage and were not looking to have drinks from the bar. Although it can sometimes be very easy to identify individuals when they are frequent guests of our hotels it is not always abundantly clear within a social space.

The reason why my bartender and then i asked about her I.D. is because we’d prefer to be safe than sorry. Because our guests and the service the receive is important I took the extra step and did took the ID to a police officer with a scanner to read ID’s to confirm the validity. Whilst I was there the police officer was unable to confirm its validity and recommended that the hotel not serve R. The police did say that the I.D. should be returned to her as they could not verify if it was valid or not. If it was identified as invalid they would have confiscated it. Unfortunately we do not have the same access as the police department and therefore could not check the ID ourselves. This is why I physically left the hotel to seek advice. Upon my return, the group shared their concern about if the ID would be accepted elsewhere while I could not confirm if other establishments would upon their request I offered to take other ID’s just to make sure they were valid. The group did deny the need however.

We do take our responsibilities extremely seriously; this includes our service to all our guests. We accommodate a number of guests and are proud to have the flexibility to meet the needs of those who walk through our doors. It is therefore extremely disappointing to understand that the gestures extended to the room did not meet with their expectations. It should be noted as well I did not send a bottle of Champagne to their room nor do we have record of a bottle being delivered to their room that evening.

With respect to the greeting and signature these are design options which was created and supported by the Westin brand after a guest of the hotel fills out a satisfaction survey. This is very good feedback however and as you can see below this is our normal and standard signature that we have.
Not to be the grammar police but Marriott is letting this person speak and write for them? It's so unprofessional I don't know where to start. There were no underage people in their party, and someone sent a bottle of Prosecco to their room - it would seem like they should be able to figure that out.
It never had to get to this. All manager "N" had to do was say we are so sorry to inconvenience you, please accept our apologies and move on. Instead they underestimated how all of these professional women could be the people who can afford to stay at their hotels and share a great experience with their friends for years to come instead of remembering the weekend where they took my license and did who knows what with it for over a half hour then sent "champagne" to my room. I'm thinking these up and coming millenials will be loyal to a brand that respects them and their buying power, and all that Marriott had to do to keep them was to say I'm sorry.

Has American Airlines Given Up on Their Customers?

Unfortunately this has happened to all of us, but it's rare that we see the issue so eloquently presented as Jackie Johnson did.

We've known Jackie for a long time and she is one of the most caring people we have ever met. American Airlines lost a great customer with this experience. Here's what Jackie shared:

Dear American Airlines,
On Sunday, April 17, 2016 after a wonderful weekend in Las Vegas for my nephew’s wedding, I arrived at McCarran Airport 2 hours early for my direct flight to DFW. About an hour before the flight was to leave, the announcement was made that weather delays at DFW made it necessary to cancel the flight. Everyone was asked to stand in line to rebook their flights. Of course the line was nearly 200 people long. An agent passed through the ranks and distributed a customer service phone number. I promptly called the number and was informed that the wait time to speak to an agent was one hour and 23 minutes. With only 2 gate agents tasked with rerouting an entire plane full of passengers, it appeared as if the wait would be no shorter in line. I was correct. By the time it was my turn for rerouting, the only thing available was a flight the next day at 10am connecting through Phoenix. The gate agent would not even entertain the possibility of putting me on another airline. So, I accepted the flight 1584 even though it meant spending another night in Las Vegas. Now, I know that Mother Nature sometimes intervenes and weather cancellations can be inevitable. But how about having more than 2 agents available to help those customers that you say you care about? Maybe you could provide faster service by having a few more customer service representatives available on the phone. Or, what about offering another airline?
Of course, because weather cancellations are not the fault of American Airlines, I was refused compensation of any kind – not even cab fare to a hotel. One of the largest conventions of the year started that day, so hotels that did have availability were quite expensive. My cost for this weather cancellation was approximately $300.
On Monday, April 18 I again arrived at McCarran Airport anxious to get on those planes that would take me back home. Since I leave for Alaska before dawn on Wednesday for 5 months, there are many things that I must do and now I have only one day (instead of 2 ½ days) to do them. I breathed a sigh of relief as I boarded the plane and took my seat. The flight was completely full. All passengers were encouraged to check their bags. Mine was already checked, so I was good. As passengers began to board and stow their luggage in the overhead bins, someone knocked into the ceiling mounted emergency exit light, releasing it from the ceiling. There is was, hanging by the electrical cord like a pi├▒ata. Maintenance was called, and about the time we were scheduled to depart, he maintenance worker appeared. The light was obviously above his pay grade because another maintenance worker was called. He could not fix the dangling emergency exit light either. At this point it was 30 minutes after our scheduled departure, so the captain made the announcement that he was required by law to inform us of the delay. He said that the door was still open, the jetway was still attached and we were welcome to deplane and see the gate agent to change our flights if we chose to do so. I was the 3rd passenger off the plane. I was not going to be in the back of another line and get stuck one more night in Las Vegas! Nor did I wish to stay on the plane, miss my connecting flight in Phoenix and have to stay the night there.
Now this is where the fun really begins. When it was my turn to see the gate agent (and there was only one assisting all passengers) I was greeted by a very pleasant agent who truly seemed willing to help me. As she was checking for flight alternatives for me, everyone began to deplane. The flight had been cancelled because the emergency exit light could not be fixed as easily as first thought. The helpful gate agent rebooked me on a direct flight to DFW that was leaving within the hour. Hallelujah! She said that she could not guarantee that my checked bag would make it on the flight. I immediately told her that it was not a problem. At this point I was willing to replace everything in that bag just to get home. Next comes the announcement that the light could be fixed and the flight to Phoenix would be delayed another 15-20 minutes. What did I care – I was going directly to DFW on my newly booked flight. When my truly helpful agent inquired as to whether my luggage could be retrieved for my new flight, she was immediately chastised by the customer service manager, Wendy Brown, for rebooking me and told to put me back on the flight to Phoenix. I carefully explained to Ms. Brown about my experience the day before and how desperately I needed to get home. She told me that I had to stay with my luggage and my luggage was not coming off that plane. She told me that she didn’t care what I wanted to do, I was to remain on the Phoenix flight. I asked her what I was supposed to do about my missed connection, and she told me that I could check on another flight once I landed in Phoenix. Really? So you strongly encourage passengers to check their luggage on a full flight. Yet, when luggage is checked flights cannot be changed. Wow! The Captain makes the announcement that we are welcome to deplane, see a gate agent and change flights, yet the customer service manager won’t allow me to change flights. Let me tell you about this customer service manager, Wendy Brown. Not only did she tell me that she didn’t care what I wanted, she also berated the gate agent for trying to help me by changing my flight in the first place. Doesn’t American Airlines train their customer service managers in customer service? If so, she desperately needs to be retrained. On a satisfaction scale of 1-10, I give her a minus 5.
Several minutes later, once I was out of the line, I happened to notice baggage handlers removing bags from the cargo section of the plane! Incredible. About 45 minutes later, everyone reboarded the plane. The light was back in place but the flight attendants couldn’t quite get the count correct. The Captain apologized and said that he was embarrassed that they couldn’t get this little detail right. The flight lifted off exactly 2 hours and 35 minutes after it was scheduled to depart.
While I was waiting for the flight attendants to account for passengers on the plane, I received a call from a dear friend of mine who maintains Executive Platinum status with American Airlines. She facilitated a conference call with her customer service agent. (I guess Executive Platinum customers don’t wait over an hour to speak to someone.) This helpful agent placed me on standby on a flight from Phoenix to Dallas in the afternoon and booked me on the red-eye, arriving DFW at 2am on Tuesday! Upon arriving in Phoenix I had missed my original flight and the standby flight. I ran as fast as I could to the customer service counter to get ahead of the entire plane load of others who had missed their connections because of a broken emergency exit light. That is where I met the most helpful person of my entire trip, Ms. Nancy Guirguis. She was sympathetic to my plight and acted as if she truly cared. She was able to get me on the standby list for a flight to DFW that was about to board, and confirmed me on a flight leaving earlier than the red-eye. I raced to the next set of gates (no easy feat in Phoenix). When I checked in at the gate I was #6 on the standby list of 21. The gate agent informed me that I would be the next one called if a seat opened up. As I stood at the gate and waited, other names were called for standby. The list displayed at the gate and on my mobile app showed that I was #6. But 5 people after me were cleared for standby. When I asked the gate agent why I was being passed over, she informed me that the electronic list was not her list. She told me that platinum and gold status passengers would be given preference over me. How many times can a passenger be insulted by American Airlines in a single day? I understand loyalty better than most. Preferred customers should get perks not given to others. But where does loyalty begin? How you treat someone when they are not frequent flyers will certainly determine whether they will ever be. If the standby list that you publish is not in the order in which you clear passengers, perhaps you should list them alphabetically so that it does not appear that you are profiling. Doesn’t a passenger whose trip has been delayed for over 24 hours have any status at all? After my inquiry I was cleared for the flight and arrived at DFW 31 hours after I was supposed to.
So what has happened to American Airlines? When did they stop caring? Was it when you merged with US Airways and became the largest airline in the world? You now call yourself “One World”. I find that world to be devoid of the simplest of common courtesies and customer appreciation. It is a world that will now be my last choice when I take to the skies. I will fondly remember the American Airlines of old where I mattered. Excellent customer service was not dependent on the frequency of my travels. Flight attendants and gate agents used to make me feel like a welcomed guest. Now they appear as oppressed as they make me feel. Thanks for the memories, American Airlines. New ones will be made elsewhere.

The Coolest Cooler is So Not Cool

In 2014 on the eve of my birthday I was online and read about the Coolest Cooler - the coolest thing to ever hit the tailgating scene, especially since it was being crowd funded by Kickstarter. Trend follower and Lifestylist I am I thought I'd give it a try.

Here we are almost 2 years later and this doesn't seem like such a great idea any more. No cooler, the company is out of money, and promises aren't being kept.

So what is a Coolest Cooler? According to their website "It's the Coolest." We beg to differ with them, but they go on to say that It's a cooler that also features a usb charger, Bluetooth speaker, LED Light Lid, bottle opener, and of course a blender. Sounds too good to be true doesn't it?

We kept getting promises, excuses, manufacturing problems, then it became clear that they pretty much just ran out of money. To make matters worse word got out that they were selling the cooler on Amazon (see above) and you could get one immediately even though over 2/3 of the 56,000 backers on Kickstarter (including us!) still had no end in sight as to when we would be receiving ours.

When I contacted the company with my concerns they said it would be possible to get a refund but when I said that was the recourse I wanted to take I was told that was no longer an option, then I got the news that until they got new investors, no more of the Coolest were being produced.

And then they made another huge mistake - I got an email that stated for $97.00 I could pretty much jump the line and get "expedited shipping" of my cooler. If they ever ship. Now the company is saying they need approximately $15 million to complete the existing orders, this is over and above the original $13 million they collected.

So what very expensive marketing lessons have we learned from this?

1. Do your homework. Sadly it's sounding like they took a cool idea and sold it, but didn't do the research to understand how much this was really going to cost.
2. Honesty is Everything. They have come back to backers numerous times asking for additional money for TShirts, extra batteries, etc now just to even get a cooler. Learning what I now have I have a feeling this money was going to overhead and they knew how much trouble the company was in. Don't tell me a can get a refund when in reality I can't. Would love to see where all of the original $13 million really went. If they have shipped 20,000 coolers using the original $13 million and they are out of money that means each of those 20,000 would have cost them at least $650 to manufacture.
3. Promises, Promises, Promises. As the saying goes, under promise, over deliver. We have had so many promises that haven't been kept it's hard to believe we will ever see what we paid for. If we were given realistic expectations from the beginning I would probably be cheering them on.

Would I participate in crowd funding again? At this point, sadly no. This had so much promise, but after going through the process with The Cooler I think I'd rather save my money and bet on a sure thing.

What's Mine is Not Yours: Intellectual Property

Seth Godin is my guru. He is so no nonsense but funny at times, intellectual but down to earth, and what I really love about him is that he can get a point across faster than anyone else I know. His Purple Cow book started me on a new road to being more involved in marketing and social media so I'm forever grateful. When I worked on the Purple Cow House Campaign with Patriot Homes I made sure to get permission from Mr. Godin, and we credited him for the phrase (and gave out his Purple Cow Book).

Today I got a great post from him titled "Simple Thoughts About Fair Use". So timely, and as always so well written. In this new blogging, social world I'm always stunned to see how many people are using other people's photography, ads, brands, and stories without permission. This article is a must read for anyone who is even thinking about posting on Facebook, Twitter, or a blog and using someones text or images.

I'm fortunate enough to have access to a very talented photographer - Lisa Stewart of Lisa Stewart Photography. The images you see in my blogs, on my Lifestylist Design Facebook page and on my website have been shot specifically for my use. I do that so I'm not using other people's work and having copyright infringements.

Lifestylist® is a term that I successfully trademarked in 2002 - my registration number is 2583235. I'm very proud of this because I thought I had a good idea and made the extra effort do "do the right thing" and spend the time, effort, and money to trademark it. You would be amazed at how much time I've had to spend since them protecting my mark because people haven't bothered to do their homework and see that it's trademarked before they use it in their own businesses.

Before you decide that you have discovered the next great phrase, or "borrow" a photo from someone else be sure to read Seth's post. Wondering where to learn more about these topics? The US Patent and Trademark Office has a great site, and it is also where you can search trademark registrations and applications.

Sears Manager Wants Me to Call Him Master

Just when I thought I had heard it all.

We've been trying to get into the holiday spirit and since many of our friends and family are out of state I've been embracing buying online. We are busy compiling the Lifestylist® List which is full of our favorite gift ideas for this year and we've been spending a lot of time trying to find the perfect products.

I've had some wonderful experiences - can't be beat, especially with their new Amazon Smile program where you can shop and a percentage will go to the nonprofit of your choice.

In the spirit of giving, Shared Housing which is one of our favorite nonprofits were in need of some televisions so we gave them all of ours and got online to buy a few more. We had some Sears gift cards to use up so we went to their site and found one that would suit our needs.

Here's where things went really off track. First of all, with all of the talk this year about people stealing your information, fake sites and viruses, I was concerned when I went to the and saw how many things were misspelled -often a sign of a fraudulent site. I did some checking and it seemed to be authentic even though I was having trouble with it and made my purchase, and a few minutes later I got a call from someone who said they were in fraud prevention and needed to ask me some questions to verify I made the purchase. Really, really strange questions so I got cold feet and said cancel my order.

A few days later I decided to call Sears and try to order the same item. They said they were honoring their "Cyber Week" pricing all week and when I talked to Mr. Jhon he said he could honor that pricing - he would just need to credit the difference back to my credit card at the end of the transaction.

Then I get another crazy call wanted to confirm personal information including my ex-husbands birthday and date of birth! At this point I just wanted to get what I ordered and be done with it so I complied. Go figure - after checking my credit card balance the credit was never given so here we go again.

After wasting over an hour with people this morning trying to resolve this, they put me through to a man who said their name was Master and that's how I should address him. And that no matter what I was told and promised I wouldn't be getting the credit on my credit card as I was promised, but they would be sending me another gift card.

I had stopped buying from Sears years ago because they never honored a very expensive warranty they sold me on a range - today I'm remembering why I swore that would be my last purchase.

Remember the Sears and Roebuck catalog when your word meant something and it was an American company based on integrity. Days like today really make me miss the qualities that company and so many others were built upon. And Master - best of luck with your career, you might want to find a new profession.

The Cost of an Unhappy Customer

There was a great article in Design Taxi that shows how much an unhappy customer can cost a business. It states that customers are 3x more apt to share an un happy experience than a positive one, and it takes 12 positive experience to make up for a bad one.

Proof that it's always easier to do it right the first time.