Disclaimer: Normally I would light a fire against a company when I’ve received poor service, but I’ve decided to hold back the establishment’s name publicly, for two reasons: The company I work for has a personal relationship with this business (I have informed them of my experience) and secondly, I think this example is more common than we realize in a greater sense when talking about Customer Service.
I had to make a trip to Seattle to take care of a personal matter recently. I knew I had an early appointment, so I fired up my favorite search engine to find a place to stay. After determining that I didn’t want to pay most of the rates, I thought I would give Priceline a whirl. I put in my criteria (mostly for a laugh): a cheap rate, 3+ star hotel, in Downtown Seattle. As luck would have it, they found a rate for me. HURRAY! I was suddenly booked at a hotel I had heard great things about, that’s billed as super decorative and very trendy, and came well recommended from some good friends.
I made my trek to Seattle on Sunday and got there about eight in the evening, homework in hand, looking forward to relaxing in my hotel room and taking care of my school work. When I got to the hotel, I parked on the street and went to check into the hotel. I checked in with ease. The front desk staff was friendly and accommodating. Then I asked about parking my car.
“We’ve only got the Valet parking,” I was told by the front desk.
I blinked. “What? You mean I can’t park my car?”
“You could park it on the street, but you’d have to move it before 6 AM,” was the reply.
I was incensed. I didn’t want to leave my car to a valet, nor did I want to leave my car on the streets of downtown Seattle, only to have to wake up at the crack of dawn to find a place to move it. I mentioned this to the front desk staff. The gentleman at the front desk said that he would talk to the valet and see if he could work something out and would call me in my room.
Their solution? They cleared a parking space in their garage for me and I could park there, but they would have to keep my keys. Great. Whatever.
I parked my car, went up to my room, and signed on to their internet service, which was paid internet. Now, if I have to pay for internet, especially at $12.00 a night, I expect the internet to be high-quality service. My home internet costs me 2 bucks a day, at the most, and it’s blazing, with my laptop, phone and desktop computer all connected to it. Sadly, the paid internet at this hotel was painfully slow, I needed internet to access my homework, so I tried to do it. I struggled to do homework on the slow bandwidth while sitting at their very small desk before finally giving up. I laid down to watch the news, only to drift off to sleepy-land.
The next morning, I dutifully got up and got ready for the day. My shower was a stand up shower, which was about 3 foot – by – 3 foot. I was annoyed. This was not the “lap of luxury” that had been described to me previously, but that’s not the issue.
When I finally got my stuff together to check out of the hotel, I went back down to the front desk, informed them I was ready to check out and was told there was a parking fee. I blinked. “Parking fee?”
“Of course, there is a 30 dollar fee for the valet service.” She replied.
“There was no mention of a parking fee when I checked in last night. Also, your valet never touched my car. I parked it myself, in your garage.”
“Our fee is comparable to other downtown Seattle hotels for valet services.”
“But you didn’t valet park my car, I did.”
“There’s nothing I can do about the fee, I’m sorry”
I paid the fee, got my receipt, and went to get my car. I loaded my stuff and hightailed it out of there. I was fuming.
On my way to my appointment, I expressed my displeasure on my favorite bullhorn: Twitter. I got a response from the hotel’s social media person pretty quickly, telling me that I would hear from someone if I would provide them my email address.
On my way home, I called the friend who had raved about the hotel’s service. I replayed the evening and the morning conversation to her. She was surprised, as she has had multiple dealings with the hotel and is the one who, on many occasions, recommended this hotel. She promised to reach out to her “go to person,” and relay my experience.
Then I got home and fired up my computer. I checked my email, and this is what I saw:
I apologize if the valets overlooked communicating to you that there is a fee for valet parking as all downtown hotels when the vehicle is parked for a guest. We would have welcomed your feedback upon departure this morning so we could have reviewed the charge with you.
We will re-energize the staff to insure the guest understand the fee.
Thank you for the feedback,
Mr. General Manager”
I stared at my computer for a second. Wait… What? I am someone who works in and evangelizes good customer service. I am passionate about customer service. And I’m growing ever sick and tired of management blaming staff and customers for lack of action.
Not only was I appalled by the response, but the insinuation that I didn’t say anything while I was there or that the staff needed to be (insert buzz word of the week here).
I responded as such:
“Thank you for your response. This omission was overlooked by your Front Desk staff when I asked about parking, and your valet staff when I parked my car myself, and was only mentioned when I checked out of my hotel room this morning. I did bring up the fee when I spoke with your front desk person this morning when I checked out. That was the first mention of any fee for parking services. I note also, there is no mention of this fee on any of the pages of your website. I appreciate your message and your time, and since your hotel came to me so enthusiastically recommended, I’m rather disappointed.
I appreciate you taking the time to communicate with me and I sincerely hope, in the future, that others are made aware of this so they may make an informed decision. As for me, I know now and I’ll be seeking another choice of lodging for my frequent trips to Seattle.”
That was the end of my dealings with Hotel X. After my friend had a conversation with her connection at the hotel, I received a message informing me that the hotel was sorry for all the confusion, that they were considering disclosing their parking situation on their website, thanks to my suggestion, and they would be crediting me back my parking and internet service fee.
The outcome is great for me. I appreciate the final efforts. What makes me sad is that I get my fees back because I knew people who knew people. Not because it was the right thing to do in the end. My only hope is that this company continues to be proactive in their communications with guests and that management stops “re-energizing” their employees.
It’s sad that I paid the same amount in fees that I paid for the room. It shouldn’t matter where the room was booked through, in this case, and in many cases, it does. No matter where your customer comes from it’s an opportunity for your hotel, service or brand to shine. It’s the best opportunity to create a return customer, an evangelist for your service, or an opportunity to make a friend. In days, I’ve told so many people about my horrible experience, it’s soured me on the whole opportunity to give them a second chance.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. That may be a little cliche, but in your customers’ eyes, it’s the truth. In this case, even being mediocre or unremarkable would have been better. Instead, it’s a beaming example of what not to do, which is why I wanted to share it with you.