Customer service disaster non-recovery; Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco doesn’t get Web 2.0, earns first CHU “Un-recommends”

May 26, 2009 by chu 

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.

A Beautiful Building

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.

 

 

The King Room

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. [Read more]

Customer Service Disaster Recovery: A car for a car, a coffee for a coffee, $10 for free porn?

March 24, 2009 by chu 

Let’s assume that most companies want to provide good if not great customer service.  But even those who aspire to greatness occasionally screw-up and end up with a customer service disaster.  We look at customer service disasters as a “crisis” in the way that some interpret the Chinese character for crisis as being comprised of the symbol for danger and the symbol for opportunity.  No business wants to be on the creating end of a customer service disaster, but how they react and recover is what separates those who capitalize on the inherent opportunity of the situation from those who will certainly lose the customer on the receiving end.  Increasingly, poor customer service will also cost you the business of the customer’s friends, relatives and others as user generated reviews grow and become a major part of the consumer purchase decision making process.

You screwed up and clearly have the customer’s attention, now what?

Customer service disasters – as long as they are infrequent, recognized, and acted upon – can be opportunities for increasing customer loyalty.  A few recent examples:

A car for a car.  After snowboarding all day at Waterville Valley on one recent busy Saturday, my nine year old son/boarding coach Myles and I headed down to the valet parking booth to retrieve our car. I gave the tag to one of attendants and we proceeded to hang out and wait for the car to arrive.  After 20 minutes, I sensed something was wrong and approached the valet booth.  My hunch was heightened when I saw several employees frantically searching the premises – including the trash cans – for something.  “Is everything OK with my car?” I asked.  “Well, not exactly, we seemed to have lost your keys,” they replied.

Because the valet crew, headed by a great guy named Andy, have always been incredibly nice and helpful to us, they had a lot of points in the emotional bank account.  I was more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they would find the keys.  So, I gave them my cell phone, told them I was going to take Myles home on the bus and asked them to call me when they figured out what happened.

About thirty minutes after returning home, my iphone rang with a New Hampshire area code.  I answered, expecting to hear Andy’s voice with good news on the other end.  Instead I heard, “Craig, this is Tom Day, the General Manager of Waterville Valley.  I am terribly sorry that we lost your car keys.  This has never happened before and will never happen again, but right now, we want to make sure you are not inconvenienced in any way. I am going to bring one of our cars to your house for you to use.  And if the keys don’t show up by tomorrow morning, we will send someone to Boston to get another set.”  As promised, a few minutes later Tom showed up at our door with the keys to a 2009 Volvo Cross Country.  Wow.  Luckily the keys were found the next morning in another vehicle and all was well.  Actually, all was better as I remain incredibly impressed with how they handled the situation.  The service brand image of the mountain moved a few notches up in my mind.

A coffee for a coffee. A shorter, less expensive example can be seen occasionally at Starbucks.  On a few occasions when either the wait for my coffee has been longer than usual, or – I think this happened once – the baristas made a mistake with my drink, the Starbucks employees have handed me a coupon for a free drink.  Quick, easy and brand building.  Also a good way to get me back in the store ASAP.

We had a similar program when I was CEO of AIR MILES Canada.  Our customer service agents were empowered to give bonus miles to Collectors who had experienced a service breakdown.  We gave the CSR’s guidelines for the number of miles they could give out.  The number of miles available for service recovery increased with the Collector’s profitability to the company and our CSR’s had Collector profitability information on their screens.

$10 for free porn? If you lived in Tucson, Arizona and watched the Super Bowl on the Comcast network, you might have seen an unexpected interruption to the celebration following Larry Fitzgerald’s touchdown reception that put the Cardinals ahead with less than three minutes to go in the game.  [Read more]