Net: Despite the fact that user generated ratings and reviews have been a mainstay of the internet since at least 1999, many large businesses fail to provide an easy way for customers to provide feedback and do not monitor and respond to customer comments on the Web. I recently experienced this first hand from the Hotel Monaco in Washington, D.C. It is the first experience bad enough to earn a ” CHU Un-recommends.”
In our page Six Web 2.0 Imperatives for All Businesses, we emphasized the following points under Imperative Four: Build, Activate and Support your Communities:
- If you don’t provide a place on your site for customers to ask questions, it is highly likely that at least some of them will go to a third party site where they will be prime targets for your competitors’ marketing efforts.
- Whatever you do, make it incredibly easy for employees, business partners and customers to provide feedback. And go the next step by proactively asking for feedback. Then, make sure you authentically respond to their feedback.
A few months ago in the post “A car for a car, a coffee for a coffee, $10 for free porn?” I wrote about several positive experiences where businesses seized the opportunity to turn service failures into brand building recoveries. This post is from a different perspective.
A few weeks ago my wife and I were planning to attend Rhodes Scholar and Oxford University reunions in Washington, D.C. I went to Hotels.com to find a hotel room for the weekend. They had what looked like a great price on the Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton Hotel in a perfect location. I have stayed at other Kimpton properties and always had good experiences, so I booked the hotel. [Hotels.com is a great business and will be the subject of a future post.]
I flew to Washington early in the day so I could take my fellow alum and Microsoft uber-lawyer Steve Crown to visit Year Up, the innovative work force development program founded and led by Gerald Chertavian, for lunch. We had a wonderful tour and Steve had a great session with several students, sharing experience and advice from his years of success and answering all of their questions. After our visit to Year Up, I went to check in at the Hotel Monaco. My wife Patty was arriving later in the evening.
The Hotel is in a beautiful historical building that used to be a famous Post Office and appeared to have all of the usual Kimpton features – cool lobby, interesting bar, water bowl for dogs, etc. I checked in and went to the room. Although we had reserved a “deluxe queen,” room, it was very, very small. It felt like there was less than 12 inches of space from the side of the bed to the window or the wall and a small desk was crammed into an alcove. The room was a fraction of the size of the rooms we have had in other Kimpton properties. Not exactly the venue nor the ambiance I had envisioned for a romantic weekend in DC without our kids.
No problem, I thought, I’ll call the front desk and get a better room. All seemed good when the desk staff offered to move me to a “deluxe King” on the “first” floor. It turns out that the first floor is subterranean, i.e. it’s the basement. My initial concern was that the room would be noisy, being so close to the street. The front desk clerk assured me that they were quite quiet, and it turns out that is true. But as I descended the stairs to the “first floor” I started to notice a bad odor. Despite my attempts to simultaneously act like a two year old and ignore the smell and try to convince myself that Patty wouldn’t notice, it was clear the first floor smelled like a damp basement with a mildew problem. Nonetheless, I powered on to the room. The room was actually nice, with a huge bed, high ceilings, decent bathroom, and more room for the desk. The architect had done a great job making the half-windows to the sidewalk seemed larger than they were and let in a lot of light. Best of all, the room was not noisy at all. I thought I could still smell something but rationalized that the odor was just coming from the hall. I cranked the AC on high, ran around the corner to get some candles to complete the romantic ambiance I was determined to create, and took off for the Rhodes event.
The event to honor Sir Collin Marshall, who was retiring as the Warden of Rhodes House, was held at the British Embassy and it was wonderful. By the end of the event, Patty had arrived, checked into the hotel and met me and several of my classmates at a Georgetown restaurant. The food was great, the company even better and we stayed at the restaurant until almost midnight. On the way back to the hotel Patty said, “Did you notice our room is in the basement of the hotel, the hallway smells like dog pee and our room like mold? ” I briefly considered returning to my two year old mindset, but chose to say something like “maybe a little, but I bought a lot of candles” and quickly change the subject.
The candles and the AC helped cover up the smell, and we decided to not try and change rooms again given that the front desk told me the hotel was sold out with two wedding parties. The next day, Patty discovered there was mold on the bottom of the shower curtain. A definite first for me in a “four star” hotel or for that matter, any star hotel. In addition to the smelly hall and room mold problems, the on-demand movies in our room were very fuzzy and the engineer on duty could not fix the problem. And whoever cleaned our room on Friday night forgot to remove the mold, but did remove our wine glasses and did not replace them. All in all, a pretty bad experience.
One of the good things about blogging about customer service is it can change your perspective from “this is terrible” to “this is great material.” I don’t think Patty shared my enthusiasm for the experience, but she is a great traveler and never once mentioned how badly I screwed up picking this hotel.
But this is not really about our experience with the room, it is about what happened – or didn’t happen – next:
1) I looked all over the room for one of those, “comment cards” where guests are encouraged to offer feedback on their stay. Couldn’t find one. Lost opportunity number one.
2) I went to the front desk and asked if they had a comment card. Again no luck, but the nice lady brought me a piece of Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton Hotel stationary. She wasn’t trained to ask if something was wrong with my room. Lost opportunity numbers two and three.
3) I went to the Kimpton Hotels web site and looked for a customer forum, request for feedback, or any place where I could share my experience. Couldn’t find one. Lost opportunity number four.
4) In order to get free internet access, Kimpton requires you to join their rewards program. This is an interesting approach and I have no problem with it, as you can opt out of program and hotel emails. I did not opt out, in part because I was expecting to receive an email asking for feedback on the stay. Over the past two weeks, I have received several emails from Kimpton, but none asking for feedback on my stay. Lost opportunity number five.
5) I did receive an email from Hotels.com asking about my stay. Finally, someone out there gets it. I responded to the email, explaining the problems we experienced and almost immediately received a response apologizing for the experience and encouraging me to post a review of the property. I am assuming that Kimpton has not asked their third party booking partners like hotels.com to share feedback with them. Or if they do, no one from Kimpton responded. Either way, missed opportunity number six.
6) I posted reviews, including pictures of the moldy shower curtain, on tripadvisor.com and hotels.com. Still no response from the Hotel Monaco or Kimpton hotels. Missed opportunity number seven.
Maybe the eighth time’s the charm, but I won’t hold me breadth that they will ever find or respond to this post the way that both Dell and the Mayo Clinic have.
In addition to not heeding our advice to proactively ask for feedback, Kimpton is ignoring the second of our Six Web 2.0 Imperatives for All Businesses:
Listen and understand your business’s and your competitors’ presence on the Web.
I am sure that the decision to invest in cool physical plants, hip curtains and bed spreads, great bars and large dog bowls were deliberate decisions made by Kimpton executives to create their brand. But they need to understand that the world has changed and the impact of bad customer experiences and word of mouth are no longer limited to the few people an unhappy guest might tell. For many businesses, your brand is being shaped – positively or negatively – in conversations on the web. I am fairly certain that investing in asking for customer feedback, monitoring conversations about their properties on the web and responding to customer concerns – both online and offline – would be far less expensive than all but the dog bowls and equally, if not important than their other initiatives to build and maintain their brand.
As a related aside, I couldn’t but help notice that two other enterprises I recently interacted with proactively asked for my feedback. Both Toronto’s YYZ Pearson Airport and the TSA security check points at Boston’s Logan Airport prominently post signs asking for customer feedback. Pearson goes even further by providing wired laptops staffed with enthusiastic young people in their terminals and giving customers a $5.oo Tim Horton’s certificate for completing the survey. Interesting to note that both of these are government owned monopolies.
Questions for you:
- Are you more like Kimpton Hotels or the TSA and YYZ?
- Do you make it easy for customers to alert you to problems and give feedback?
- Do you monitor what is being said about you on the Web?
- Are you authentically responding and seizing the opportunity provided by the crisis of a customer service disaster?