When you travel a lot, you start to notice some of the little things hotels do (and don’t do) that make your trip a more pleasurable experience. And if you’re anything like me, you probably ignore most of it unless there’s something sufficiently awesome (or irksome) that warrants taking time out of your schedule to offer feedback in the form of an online review, guest comment card, or customer survey.
As everyone’s heard too many times to count, customers who have a bad experience are roughly twice as likely to share it with others. But unless a product or service is guilty of an egregious offense, my boyfriend and I are both usually too lazy to write a review. Instead, we opt for the path of least resistance and either complain about it to friends or resign ourselves to avoid it in the future. (Sometimes both.)
However, as was recently the case when we traveled to Portland, a lot of negative feelings can be quickly alleviated by making the customer feel valued, even (and especially) after they’re disappointed with their experience. We were staying at The Nines, part of Starwood Hotels’ Luxury Collection, and although we’d had a pleasantly uneventful stay during a previous visit, this time around the whole experience was a bit of a misfire. The hotel was swamped with guests for the Portland Marathon, and understandably, things were taking a bit longer than usual. Unfortunately, the chaos of a fully-booked hotel seemed to ooze its way into our stay at every single turn, and basic things like a bed sheet or the luggage they offered to bring up to our room ended up missing or severely delayed.
It wasn’t anything major (the room was clean and the hotel itself was actually quite nice, although one member of the front desk staff was decidedly unfriendly and curt), but when you’re in a competitive environment like hospitality, it doesn’t take much to make a customer look elsewhere. And, that was exactly our intention upon checkout. We crossed The Nines off our list of potential hotels for our next visit, and that was that.
A couple days later my boyfriend received the standard email asking him to review his recent stay. If it had been an uneventful trip he probably would have deleted it, but he was sufficiently annoyed by the myriad of minor inconveniences (a total first world problem) that he decided to take a few minutes to complain about the disappointing service. That very same day he received the following response from the hotel:
If you can’t read the email very clearly, the Executive Assistant to the General Manager (I know, it reads like a The Office-style job title) apologized for the subpar service, took the feedback as “an opportunity to improve operations of [the] property,” and offered us a free one-night stay including parking for a future visit. From a customer satisfaction (and rep management) standpoint, we were impressed. For a low incremental cost they’d instantly converted us back to a potential customer. And, in reality, we’re going to end up spending more money there because it’s unlikely we’d stay for only one night. In this particular instance, the hotel was confident the service we experienced was an anomaly and not the norm, so they were willing to bend over backwards to win us back as a customer. The Nines smoothed over a perceived failure by rapidly addressing our negative feedback.
This specific example involves the hospitality industry, but it could easily be applied to any other highly competitive product or service. If you’re truly confident in your product, it’s often worth giving something away in order to win a customer back. Obviously this sort of thing only works as a one-time fix, and if the customer’s complaint isn’t rectified the second time around, it’s unlikely any amount of freebies will win them back. Still, no matter what level of service you’re accustomed to providing, there will be times when things break down and customers are left feeling disappointed. In those instances, having a policy in place to promptly solicit and address customer feedback can go a long way toward protecting your online reputation before the person even has a chance to write anything negative.