How to Lose a Customer in the Blink of an Eye!

58% of "Lost Customers" will never use that company again! Can you afford that? Of course not. Read on the learn from the mistakes of others.

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How to Lose a Customer in the Blink of an Eye!

I hadn’t intended to write about the subject of losing customers this week. However, over the past several days I just may have become one of those “lost customers” for a large and theoretically sophisticated business. My experience and subsequent reaction to the treatment my family and I received (or didn’t receive based on your perspective), served to remind me how tenuous a business – customer relationship is and how very quickly it can be lost.

I have preached for years how guest service has become worse and worse, and as a result our expectations for how we should be treated as customers is probably at or near an all time low. Putting on my “business shoes”, I coach my clients that if they can provide even “good” service to their guests, it will create meaningful competitive differentiation for them. Move that up to “very good” or “great” service, and any business can and will stand out from the pack.

So, I get it. Service today is generally fair at best. But even given my relatively low set of expectations, I shift from being disappointed in and discouraged by a business to deciding to avoid that business (and tell my friends) pretty quickly. Before I get to that point, however, I always attempt to give the people responsible for my disappointment an opportunity to resolve the issue(s). It’s only when that fails, I decide to move on.

Here’s what happened.

My son was moving into college as a freshman. My wife, son, his older brother, and I were making the 6-hour trek to get him situated. I reserved 2 rooms in a pretty new, somewhat upscale hotel close to campus. I booked two rooms for the stay. As a side note, I stayed in the same hotel when touring the school and we were without A/C. Not pleasant but I wrote it off as an anomaly as I frequent this chain’s hotels with pretty good results.

Apparently, this was a mistake.

Upon arrival, the hotel’s system was down. We could not be checked in using the normal process, but the staff had a workaround that took only a bit longer. We could only get one “emergency” key per room, but I was told we would be informed when we could get additional keys once the system was up. No problem, except we were never informed as promised and given it was move-in week for the University, there were always lines at the front desk when I went to check. We decided to live with this, no big deal.

I had requested extra pillows and towels in advance of our arrival via the hotel chain’s website, using my premium guest access. When we got to the room, nothing had been delivered. I figured it was due to the system being down and again decided it was no big deal. I did try to call the front desk to remind them, but nobody picked up the phone, it just rang and rang. Again, their team was probably swamped with the system issue.

The rooms were nice, but several bulbs were burnt out in the bathroom and main room. The fancy clock radio was unplugged and therefore I had to figure out how to reset the time (successfully I might add but can someone please design a clock radio with fewer buttons!). Neither issue was huge unto itself, yet they certainly were unrelated to the system being down and in retrospect, they were indicators of a lack of focus on detail and ensuring a pleasant guest experience by the hotel leadership.

The next morning, we left at 9:15am to begin the dorm move-in process. We made sure to remove the do-not-disturb signs from both doors. For the next 12 hours we got my son settled (in 95-degree heat) and returned to our rooms about 9:30pm looking forward to showering and relaxing. No such luck. When we got back to the rooms, we found neither one had been cleaned/made up. Dirty towels, unmade beds, empty amenities, you get the idea. I tried to call the front desk, and again got no answer. But in this day and age hotels use tech to communicate as well and this one offered real-time chat right from the chain’s mobile app. So, I typed out the issue, and guess what? No reply. I could have gone to the lobby to complain and then theoretically wait for someone to hopefully make up the rooms 30-60 minutes later, but we were too tired, and we just went to bed. As an aside, when we left the hotel that morning, we saw at least 3 different housekeepers on our floor, so we were dumbfounded how both of our rooms were missed. Where’s the check and balance process? To top the night off, the hotels TV service went down, and we were left with black screens on out large screen TV’s.

We decided the next day was a new day. Despite the issues at the hotel, we were psyched to start fresh! We were ready to finish the dorm move-in and hit the road home. But no so fast. The (fairly expensive) buffet breakfast was a disaster (for the record, it was fine on our first morning). The buffet had more food trays empty (used and never refilled) than available (no bacon, bread, bagels, English Muffins, butter packs, Danish, on and on). I wasn’t going to eat all of that but scrambled eggs and potatoes for $16 is disappointing. I walked into the back to ask for refills but was dismissed with a “they will be there soon”. The empty tables were filled with dirty dishes, coffee urns were empty, it took 20 minutes to bring us 2 OJ’s, etc. A manager finally showed up after 30 minutes to clear tables and a second manger joined in 10 minutes later. Too little too late and what really surprised was that neither manager engaged with any of the diners to ask if they needed anything or simply to apologize for the mess.

While leaving the hotel, we saw a housekeeping supervisor and asked her about our rooms not being made up. Her response was “I don’t know, I didn’t work yesterday”. She took no responsibility or accountability even though she was a supervisor. So, we left, disappointed and unlikely to return. My son is a freshman which means we will probably book some hotel in the area 4-6 times a year for 4 years. It probably won’t be this one. With business travel resuming, I am also question if I should frequent this brand regardless of location. There are consequences to poor service, and this is simply one example.

So, what could have been done to mitigate the impact?

  • Plan Ahead: move-in week for the school (30,000 students) was no secret. Dates were set months ago. Had the hotel planned properly for prepping the facility and staffing, the risk of issues would be reduced greatly. Stress-test the system, review processes and procedures, stock-up on supplies and food, retrain employees, etc.

  • Set & Review Processes for Critical Failures: in this case the hotel had a partial contingency plan for a system crash. However, it either was not an end-to-end process (get us our extra keys as an example) or it wasn’t executed against. Did plans exist in case of a power failure? Sprinkler system malfunction? Covid outbreak? Air-conditioning breakdown? Have a worst-case set of procedures ready to go and reviewed with the team before a problem occurs.

  • Basic Process Review: the hotel was most likely going to be busier than it had been for months. Some team members may have never experienced such a rush of guests. Were all processes understood by all? How about a check & balance for cleaning rooms daily? Reacting to guest requests on a timely basis? Be prepared!

  • Inspect What You Expect: a huge week ahead. Many new guests. A great opportunity to make a superb first impression. Part of preparing for this opportunity, in addition to the points above, is inspecting the facility, in detail, to ensure you are putting your best foot forward. Is everything clean and well organized? Are stains off the carpet and all light bulbs lit? Was every room walked in preparation for this busy week? If it’s a large facility, split up the inspection responsibilities but don’t give them up.

  • MBWA: management by wandering around. While the point above is inspecting in preparation for the rush of guests, it must continue during “game time”. Get out of the office or from behind the desk to roam the facility, ask team members and guests how things are going, and identify opportunities to better serve your customers. I wonder how management of this hotel was not aware that room conditions were lacking, rooms were not being cleaned, and breakfast was out of control?

  • No Excuses: during the breakfast mess, another guest was told by the manager that they had been struggling with hiring issues. Probably true, but those staying at the hotel expected a certain level of service regardless. We were certainly being charged for that level of service! We would have preferred to hear how the issues were being fixed, along with apologies, rather than excuses.

  • Call for Help: teach your team to call for assistance before an issue gets out of control. I saw 6-8 people manning the breakfast mess, yet they were losing control. Despite the challenges, they apparently never reached out for help. It wasn’t until 30 minutes later, when another guest complained, that management showed up to take charge and assist. A simple request from any team member could have helped address many of these issues much sooner.

  • Apologize: I did not here “I am sorry” one single time during our stay. Does this mean that management didn’t care about out issues? While I don’t believe that to be the case, it sure can be interpreted that way. Apologize, apologize, apologize!

Coincidentally, I returned home to read the following tweet about an unrelated hotel experience. I blacked out the name as my view is that guest service issues are pervasive in service, hospitality and retail businesses. It’s not about one specific company but it does seem as if these businesses are trying hard to disappoint their guests.

Perhaps just make the customer happy, refund the $40, and apologize?


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