What You Can Learn From “The Pickle Principle” In Action

With a Small Gesture, an East Kentucky Hotel Gains a Raving Fan

“Big doors swing on little hinges.” – W. Clement Stone

The $11 Decision
A Small Customer Service Story

I needed some shirts laundered in London, Kentucky. It was the middle of a multi-week road trip, I was in a Hampton Inn, and it was time.

I knew the drill — the laundry form is always in the hotel room closet. Fill it out, bring the laundry to the front desk, and it’ll be back the next day.

I glanced at the form — $4.50 per shirt, two shirts, $9.00 total. I stuffed the shirts in a bag and brought them to the front desk.

They came back the next day, and I didn’t think of them again until I looked over the statement at the end of my stay.

The hotel had charged me $20.

Photo by Andy Dean

Photo by Andy Dean

I sent an email to Michelle Baldwin, the manager of the Hampton Inn London North, asking her to credit me $11.00 for what was —  obviously —  an overcharge.

She wrote back quickly, and as I began to read her response, I felt myself entering my Outraged Consumer state:

“The dry cleaners that we use decide the charge and bill us for that amount, then we bill the guest on their stay. There is a minimum charge of $20.00 that is highlighted on the laundry request sheet. That minimum charge is due to the delivery and pick up.”

This was outrageous, I thought. The dry cleaner, in cahoots with the hotel, had pulled a fast one on me. I was 2000 miles away, with no way to look at what I’d signed.

In my mind, I started writing an angry retort. Until I read further.

“I will go ahead and adjust account to reflect only the $9.00 because I know you weren’t aware of the policy. I will also send you a new receipt reflecting the change. Thank you for staying with us and I hope you enjoyed your stay.”

A couple of weeks later I was back in the Hampton Inn London North. After I checked in, I opened the room closet and took a peek at the laundry request slip.

The $20 minimum was right there on the ticket, in letters plenty big enough for me to see.

I’d missed it.

The hotel had been right the whole time. I was 100% in the wrong.

Photo by closertoinfinity

Photo by closertoinfinity

I thought of Bob Farrell and the pickle.

The Pickle Principle

Farrell, who ran the very successful Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor chain, used to tell the story of a letter he received from a customer. The customer complained that had asked for an extra pickle to go with his hamburger… and the waitress tried to sell it to him.

The letter launched what he called The Pickle Principle:

I had a chance meeting with [the letter writer]  years later and I thanked him in person for his letter because it became the “war cry” of our young company, “Give ’em the Pickle.” When something happens with a customer and you’re not sure what to do? “Give ’em the Pickle!” Do what it takes to make things right!

Michelle Baldwin at the Hampton Inn could have just pointed out that the mistake was mine, and that she’d had to pay the dry cleaner in full. She could have told me to bug off.

Instead, she took the hit to make a customer happy.

The $11 refund was a small gesture… a pickle. I could’ve handled the loss, and so could she.

But big doors swing on little hinges. With this $11 investment, a hotel gained a raving fan.

I don’t often make it back to London, Kentucky — but when I’m there, I’ll go out of my way to stay at the Hampton Inn London North.

Question: What’s the most memorable small gesture you’ve made for a customer? What’s the most memorable gesture someone’s made for you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


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