Upgrade!

I’ve been dying to tell you about my recent trip to Florida. My wife and I snuck away last week for a romantic 2-day getaway in St. Pete Beach.


First, I have to tell you about my experience with Hertz car rental. While I love nice hotels, I could care less about rental cars. On this trip, all I needed was a car to take us from the airport to the hotel and back. So, being the cheapskate that I am, I rented my car on Hotwire.com. Hotwire is one of those websites where you can get crazy low prices on airfare, hotels, and rental cars, but you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get until you commit to purchasing. In this case, I got a rental car for $19.95 per day. I was pretty thrilled by that. After all, a rental car is a rental car, right?

As luck – and Hotwire – would have it, I would be renting my car from Hertz, the #1 car rental company in America. I like Hertz. They always seem to be on the ball. As we approached the counter, we were greeted by a big smile attached to a nametag that told us the smile belonged to Mary Alice. Mary Alice proceeded to check us in, ask us where we were from, and what we were doing in the Tampa area. Very nice. Really enjoyed chatting with her. She seemed to genuinely like her job. She also seemed to really enjoy the fact that we were celebrating our 19th anniversary on this trip.

“You’re going to have a great time here in Florida,” said the very tan Mary Alice.

“I’m sure we will,” said the very pale author from Columbus, Ohio.

“Oh, I KNOW you will, starting right now,” Mary Alice chimed as she handed us our keys. Ok, she seemed a little too perky at this point, but we said thanks and headed out to the rows of rental cars and spot A33.

I glanced down at the keys in my hand. The keytag said “Mustang Convertible – Red”. Sure enough, in spot A33 was a shiny, brand new, Mustang convertible. I think I may have unconsciously uttered a swear word of surprise under my breath. I can’t remember. I was in shock.

I don’t know if you know much about Florida, but the sun shines there a lot. And when you visit from Columbus, Ohio, you try to squeeze in as much sun as possible when you’re there. A convertible is a really, really great way to do that. So, ignoring the fact that I looked like a guy with a mid-life crisis, I hopped in the shiny convertible sports car with my hot, young wife and drove off into the Florida sun.

As if that wasn’t awesome enough, when we arrived at the hotel, we had another amazing experience. The front desk clerk wasn’t available, so the concierge checked us in. She instantly upgraded us from a room with no view to a corner room with a view of the gulf. That meant we had an amazing view of the water and windows on two sides. Easily one of the nicest rooms we’ve ever stayed in. And we didn’t even tell her we were there for our anniversary!

Why did both Hertz and our hotel (The Don Cesar Hotel in St. Pete Beach, by the way) both upgrade us? Was it karma? Had we recently done something extra good and the universe was rewarding us with a cool car and an unforgettable view of the Gulf of Mexico? Maybe, but I suspect something else was happening. It was September in Florida. We were pretty much the only ones on the beach. It’s a slow time for Florida and there is extra rental car and hotel room inventory pretty much everywhere. Hertz and “The Don” (as the locals call it) both took advantage of their extra inventory and used it to create a better experience for us.

The convertible and the corner room were both sitting there unused. It really makes no difference to Hertz if we drive a compact or a convertible if they’re both sitting unused. It really makes no difference to the Don Cesar if we sleep in a standard room or a room with a view if they’re both sitting there unused. You could make the argument that a convertible costs more to maintain and replace than a compact, but I’d argue right back that the impression you can make with an upgrade like that is literally priceless.

Think about your business for a minute. What is your “inventory”? Do you have a range of products or services that typically cost different prices? Almost every business does. Even if you’re a service business, you charge for time. The longer it takes to perform your service, the more you charge, correct?

Now think about how you can “upgrade” your customers by using your excess inventory. Can you give them a slightly better product for the same price? Can you provide them longer service without charging more? What kind of “extra” can you provide that really doesn’t cost you much, if anything? This should be especially easy right now as many businesses are slow and have extra inventory of nearly everything.

Make no mistake, this is not charity nor a selfless act. This is a way to build loyalty AND a way to give your customers a taste of something better than they chose this time. What a great way to effortlessly encourage them to purchase your better product next time. If it’s worth it, there’s a high likelihood they’ll go for it when they come back to you.

As we drove away from the airport with the wind blowing in our hair, I looked at my wife and said, “Who does that? That’s brilliant. It didn’t cost them a dime extra and look how happy we are! I mean, who DOES that?”

She replied, “You do.”

She’s right. At sparkspace, we have always “upgraded” our customers to the best room we have available. If a group books our smallest room, but a larger room is available when they arrive, we offer to put them in the larger room at no additional charge. The way I see it, we’ve got to clean and restock the room either way, and it truly is no extra work for us. And it’s always a much better experience for our guests. Why wouldn’t we give them the best room we can? This one’s a no-brainer to me.

Have fun with this one. You’ll enjoy the response you get from your customers, I promise.



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