Are the people who touch your customers most often empowered to make good service decisions on your behalf?

The other day I was in a parking garage, attached to a hotel, which had an automated payment machine.  I put in my ticket and my credit card, and should have been charged $8.00

When my receipt came out, I was charged $23 for two hours of parking.  And while this may be the going rate in cities like New York, Chicago or LA, this is quite a bit more than we typically pay for a parking spot in Indianapolis, Indiana.  And so, knowing I had been overcharged, I took my ticket and my receipt and walked inside the hotel to secure a refund.

I approached the registration desk and explained what had happened to the woman behind the counter.  She looked at me as if I had landed from another planet.  Clearly she was unaware there was a parking garage attached to the hotel in which she worked and was absolutely clueless as to what she should do about my problem.

After a few moments, I asked if there was someone else who could help me.  She went off, and found someone who was aware of the parking garage.  The second woman took my credit card, and wandered off again.  Despite the fact that they had several credit card terminals at the desk, and a cash drawer, my $15 refund had to be processed elsewhere.

At this point, I had invested more than 20 minutes for a $15 refund, and I was beginning to wonder if it was really worth the continued wait, but she had my credit card, so I stayed.

She returned, with lots of paper work, my credit card, and a new ticket I could use to exit the garage.  While I should have been grateful for her efforts, under this incredibly stupid system, I was just annoyed.  With lots of downtown parking, it is unlikely I will choose this garage again.

What about you?  Are your systems designed to allow your front line to respond to customer requests quickly?  Do they know how to handle unusual situations and keep customers coming back?