Mid range hotels are traditionally patronized by the business traveler who might be the guest, but is often not the person paying for the privilege of staying there. These customers are the reason why I believe eventually the dinosaur mentality of ‘business first’ will lead to the demise of this type of establishment. As the economy tightens, companies who allow their managers and sales people to claim out of town expenses are becoming increasingly careful about what they are reimbursing. For too long, the extra over the top expenses hotel chains have managed to get away with charging have gone unquestioned. This is changing and the business traveler as a result is becoming very discerning.
If you are a regular business traveler who has to justify expense claims to the scrutiny of your accounts department, you are going to soon start looking at costs incurred and start referring back to those friendly mom-and-pop places where things like WI-FI, parking, shuttle service bookings, local calls and filtered water are free.
It’s no surprise that these smaller establishments are more customer centric. After all, the front line staff are often closely connected – they may even be the same person – who take time to talk with their guests on check in. They like to personally understand the requirements of the regular business traveler as well as the tourists who have booked their own holidays. They therefore know what matters to the guests they see regularly and often get onto a first name basis with. By comparison, those who work in the hotel chains are usually trained in-house. When they travel they stay in the same chain or similar establishments, and their holiday accommodation is also usually provided by the same company. It’s therefore easy to understand that the receptionists or first level management for the large chain hotels are somewhat out of touch with the alternative accommodation options their guests have available to them.
The luxury brand options of large chain hotels are trained to consider the higher expectations of their guests because they cater specifically to them as a point of difference in relation to their 3-Star equivalents. However, while I acknowledge that it will cost me more to stay at a 5-Star establishment, I still find it disheartening that these places risk greedy over-the-top charging for things like internet connections, mini-bar convenience items, and worst of all, loading their overall charges with 2-3% credit card fees when checking out.
My own experience with accommodation extends to global travel with 3-5 Star hotels, big chains, as well as a variety of small boutique options – and as a professional speaker and writer, I belong to a special network of many people who have the same travel history and ongoing experiences. This means that where we stay and what we experience while traveling is the most commonly talked about topic when we meet up anywhere in the world.
This week I experienced customer service worth commenting on when checking out of chain hotel in Northern Queensland. When I’m regularly visiting a particular area I choose my favorites quickly and stick with that option – but this time I was booked into the central city Holiday Inn for two nights as I needed to be close to the training venue I was working in on Saturday. An $8 charge for a phone call was something I objected to as I explained that the call in question was made by their receptionist when I asked about the options for booking a shuttle to the airport the next morning. She called the number and enquired about a booking for me while I stood at the counter and she was then placed on hold for several minutes. I finally asked if she would like to just put the on-hold call through to my room so I could complete the booking rather than waiting, which she did. When I was accidentally cut off soon after connection, I dialed the number back. For this I was charged a staggering fee of $8. I should point out that I was not given the option of making this call myself on my cell-phone, nor was anything said about there being a charge for this ‘service’ of booking me onto a shuttle.
Doing the math, it’s easy to see why I place this objection which was referred to the house manager on duty and rejected, as a ridiculously short sighted customer service blunder on their part. $8 is after all, merely pocket change – but making me pay it, even after I made it clear that I was a visitor to their city for an average of four nights per month for the next 12 months (approximately $3600 worth of business for them over a year) is just absurd.
Training staff to understand the actual needs of their customers and ensuring they know their guests have options is the first step towards survival for hotel chains. Helping their staff to understand what really happens in this world of social media when a customer is unhappy with the service should also be part of their training. Word travels fast in this day and age, and customer loyalty is a highly sought after currency.
Is a reputation worth losing over pocket change?
What will happen to the big chains of accommodation providers who don’t recognize the need to step up to a higher level of customer service? Let’s check back on that question in a few years time.
It won’t take long to find out!