The unpleasant surprise in my hotel bed and the lesson it teaches about customer service

When planning your next trip, remember that the most important thing you need to bring is a sense of humor. I was reminded of this as I crawled into my deluxe king-size bed in a well-appointed and highly rated hotel in Manhattan.

This hotel has catered to the best and most discriminating travelers over the years, including the Beatles and “The King,” Elvis Presley. It treats its guests very well.

As I lay my head on my pillow, I felt something digging into my rib. I recalled the story of “The Princess and the Pea” as I started trying to figure where the bump was coming from.


“What might this mysterious object be?” I thought. I fantasized about a diamond Tiffany bracelet or perhaps a small bag of gold coins left behind by a wealthy guest.

Then I found it — right under the top sheet. I got out of bed and carefully slid my hand under the tightly fitted sheet until I had a hold of the object.


Carefully I pulled it out from under the sheet and my fantasy quickly turned to disgust when I realized I was holding a retainer from someone else’s mouth.

Grossed out, I dropped it. Then I washed my hands and chuckled. Of all the things to find in one’s hotel room bed. You can’t make this stuff up.

I wrapped the retainer in a plastic bag and the next day I stopped by the front desk with my “treasure” in hand.

My intent was not to get something free by complaining about my between-the-sheets surprise, but rather to make management aware of it.

Having been in the hospitality business myself, I appreciated it when guests told me about a problem so I could make it right rather than have them speak negatively about my business without giving me the chance to correct the problem.

That was the case with this hotel. I quietly explained to the women at the front desk what had happened and her response was exactly as it should have been. She acknowledged the “yuck” factor, apologized and immediately went to find the manager.

He was as gracious as could be. He handed me his business card and apologized, saying, “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We need to know when these sorts of things happen so we can be sure they never happen again.”

Then he said, “What can we do for you?”

There they are — the words that are the difference between good and exceptional customer service.

I replied, “I’m very happy with my experience at this hotel. I don’t want you to think I’m complaining in order to get something. I just thought you should know.”

With that he thanked me again and handed me certificates for the hotel’s restaurant and insisted that I enjoy a meal on the house. I handed him the retainer.

What can we learn about “retaining” customers from this experience?

Things will go wrong in your business in spite of your efforts to ensure everything goes well. When a customer has a problem or a complaint, be sure to listen and acknowledge the issue. Thank them for bringing it to your attention. Let them know how you plan to make it right and offer them something for their trouble.

If you’re a customer and you experience a problem, bring it to the attention of management. Do not immediately post how unhappy you are to social media. Give the business a chance to make it right first.

I do plan to return to this hotel. The true test of how a business delivers service is how it deals with a customer who has a problem. The hotel exceeded my expectations in every way possible and turned a “wrong” into a “right.”

But one problem still remains. Somewhere out there, someone is missing their retainer.



Deb Neuman

About Deb Neuman

Deb thinks Maine is a great place to do business and loves telling the stories of Mainers proving that it can be done! An entrepreneur at heart, she enjoys helping others with the same drive to create and innovate!