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Cynthia Clark | January 5, 2012

Discounts Should Be Accompanied By Great Service

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With the holidays over, many retailers are offering deep discounts to get their stock moving. But businesses need to keep in mind that slashed prices aren't an excuse for bad customer service, especially considering the cutthroat competition they're facing.

One organization that has retained great service despite discounts is the Ritz Carlton. A few years ago I came across a discounted rate during the holiday period for its Philadelphia property. After a great first experience, my husband and I have regularly stayed at the hotel around the holidays before visiting his family, who live a few miles out of the city.

This year was no exception and we drove up to the Ritz Carlton a few days before Christmas to be welcomed by the valet who took charge of the car. Before we walked to the front desk to check in, the valet had communicated our names to the associate at reception, who then welcomed us by name and had already pulled up our reservation on her computer. This personalized approach continued with the bellman, who repeatedly addressed us by name as he helped us with our luggage.

The great service made the experience wonderful, and continued even after we had checked out when the front desk associate herself came to help us with our luggage. The hotel didn't make us feel like discount shoppers, which differed immensely from the experience at upscale retailer Barney's.

Last summer my husband bought a half-priced suit from Barney's factory outlet at Woodbury Commons. A few weeks later we took it to Barney's Madison Avenue store for alterations. Instead of wowing us with great service and turning us into regular customers and promoters, the experience soured us to the store. Although the suit and alterations were fantastic, we felt that the staff members we interacted with were looking down their noses at us as soon as they realized the suit was "wholesale." They didn't even offer us a bag when we picked up the tailored suit; we had to ask for one.

Although we snatched a fantastic product at a great price, it didn't make up for being made to feel unwelcome. Barney's missed an opportunity to impress us with its service so that we'd want to return and potentially buy a full-priced item. Needless to say, I'm in no hurry to return to Barney's.

On the other hand, I already can't wait to go back to the Ritz Carlton next December. The experience was so exceptional that I would pay full price to stay there. Discounts don't make up for bad service. Instead, businesses should use them as to turn one-time customers into loyal followers.

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