First, let me start off by saying that this was not the initial topic that I wanted to blog about for this week. In fact, I am almost done with the blog that I initially started writing about when I decided to shift topic after a disappointing hotel experience yesterday. Yes, I am deviating from my politically charged blogs this week to give way to a more “learn from experience” blog.
I seldom blog about bad customer service in length because, being in the customer service industry, I have learned to be understanding of situations that involves meeting customer expectations. I have had my own share of clients, handling concerns from the tame ones to the really rude ones, so I am aware of the things that happen when these kinds of situations arise. I always put myself in the shoes of the staff to make me see what is viable among the “solutions” that they present to me and to make me calm down.
But yesterday’s experience was definitely one for my books.
Let me kick it off by sharing with you what happened. On the last week of January, my wife told me that they were going to have their annual conference in Marriott Hotel in Pasay City. Just like in her previous physician conferences, we always tag along with her so I decided to book a room near the venue. I know that these kinds of conferences are well-attended that it was imperative that I book way ahead of time. I did book a room at Belmont Hotel because it is close to the venue and it has a swimming pool.
My wife checked a day ahead in the same hotel and I asked her to confirm our room reservation for the next day to which the hotel staff confirmed our booking. I asked her to make a request for an earlier check-in time to which the same staff said that they cannot guarantee it but she will give Jeh a call if it was possible. She did give her a call on the day of our reservation to inform us that our request cannot be accommodated due to the volume of hotel guests. I understood the situation.
So we arrived at 3pm.
To my surprise, I was turned over to the manager-on-duty and I was told that I cannot be accommodated in the hotel because the electricity supply got cut-off in one of the floors rendering it “uninhabitable”. I perfectly understood the situation but after being told that it was out for a week now, I was asking as to why they confirmed my booking and denied my request for an early check in considering that they had a situation? All that she could do was apologize and they did give me options – be transferred to another hotel, about three blocks away, or to another hotel along Roxas Boulevard.
My wife insisted that we stay there as it would be a hassle moving her stuff from one hotel to another and we told her that we were willing to wait. The manager-on-duty said that even we were to wait the whole day, there is no room available. Jeh then said that why did your staff confirm with her yesterday? Again, all she could do was apologize. She also verified that rooms are assigned to guests only upon check-in.
I gathered my thoughts and weighed the options. I was looking into transferring to the hotel three blocks away but remembered that the reason why I did not book in the hotel was it has no pool. So I told the manager that I wanted to be transferred to a hotel with a pool. She gave me two options – transfer to the one on Roxas Boulevard, which is far from the venue, and use their hotel pool. Funny that she would ask me to walk three blocks just to use their pool and just imagine having to walk back dripping wet – such a hassle.
Here comes the clincher – her fellow doctor comes in, 15 minutes after us, and was able to check-in to a room. I also observed some guests coming in and were being given rooms. We asked as to why she and the others got a room and she explained that there are rooms that were checked in from the day before. How can somebody be checked in from the day before when obviously she just arrived? It was then that I got upset and made my demand that they find me a room in the hotel or an alternative hotel in the area with a pool at no extra cost.
In my frustration, I blurted out that I was a travel blogger with my own website. I saw the change in her face and asked for a moment. She went inside the office and in less than 5 minutes, take note… 5 minutes, she comes back to us and informs me that we can now check-in.
I asked her to help me understand as to why suddenly they have an available room. She quipped that it was because of a late booking cancellation. Two things came into my mind – luck was on our side that she came in just right in time for a room availability or the hotel was just simply a f*ck up and was giving me a convenient excuse. Save your conclusions for later.
We were able to check-in 50 minutes later after we arrived.
What did I pick up on these “unique” experience?
WHAT YOU SAY MATTERS TO YOUR CLIENTS
We have always heard that what you say does not matter, it is how you say it.
This statement only holds true IF you are being honest and transparent to your clients. However, if you give false information and, through the process, your client figures it out, no matter how nice you give your justification, you simply tarnished your brand. It will then affect how your customer will deal with you during and after the rendering of your service. In short, what you say and how you say it will determine whether your client will trust you or not.
Let me be transparent with how I processed the information that was being relayed to me and how it affected the whole “Belmont” experience:
Belmont Staff Statement: You are only assigned a room once you check-in.
My thoughts: With this statement, I easily figured that they overbooked and the hotel is already at maximum capacity. Why then was my wife’s colleague able to check-in considering that we arrived 15 minutes earlier before her? We had the same case, we were booked on the same day and yet a room was assigned to her immediately.
Belmont Staff Statement: Even if you wait for the rest of the afternoon, no room will be available.
My thoughts: The staff stood her ground and held us up for 45 minutes but after I asserted my point and introduced myself further, a room suddenly became available in less than 5 minutes. I was given the reason that the room availability was because of a last minute cancellation. So I go back to the first statement – you are only assigned a room once you check-in. I definitely did not see anyone at the reception cancelling their room after they checked in.
The first two statement are both crucial as I lead to the third statement. But before I just do that, let me point out that at the time that we were having the “stand-off”, these thoughts were running in my mind. I was starting to doubt the integrity of the information being relayed to me. In simple terms, “niloloko ba ako nitong kausap ko?”
Do not get me wrong, the manager-on-duty were saying things in the nicest way she can but when a room suddenly became available, I started to not trust her and any of the staff from that point on so no matter what assistance they offered, like assisting me to the room, I blatantly refused. I simply did not trust them.
Which then leads me to the third statement.
Belmont Staff Statement: One floor does not have electricity so we have less rooms to accommodate guests.
My Thoughts: Throughout the duration of my stay, I made a mental note of the floors where people were going on and going off from the elevator. I had to confirm whether there was truth to what I was told. Guess what? All floors seemed to be occupied.
This was a case where the words spoken by the staff mattered to a guest and the conflicting statements had an adverse effect towards the actual guest’s experience. My whole experience became a “witch hunt” on the validation of what I was being told earlier on. It did not help that the conflicting statements at the start and as the whole experience progressed my doubts were being validated. In the end, I started to cast doubt on the integrity of every staff that even if they offered help, I simply turned them down. I simply did not trust them.
In short, be mindful of what you tell your clients because they will always find ways to validate the information you hand them. The honesty will determine the level for trust, or in my case - distrust, that they will give your brand and your staff.
MANAGE CUSTOMER EXPECTATIONS AND CONSIDER CONVENIENCE
It was also interesting to note that my Belmont experience also brought into light a very crucial element of service delivery – understanding the expectations and convenience of the guests or clients.
Understand that prior to us entering the premises of the hotel, our expectations were already set. We confirmed our booking from the day before and the turning down for our early check-in request was some sort of a confirmation on the hotel’s end that we had a confirmed booking with them. So you can just imagine the frustration of traveling for 2 hours from my point of origin only to be greeted with a “booking concern”.
If I were to take Belmont Hotel’s excuse that they had maintenance issues that has been running for a week, they should have had anticipated the problem. Remember that they had two opportunities of open communication to us prior to our arrival. And yet they still went through with the confirmation.
It was interesting to also note that they would inconvenience me to walk three blocks just to have access to the pool. It was quite obvious that they cared less about giving their guests a great experience. I got the impression that they didn’t care for their guests to even consider offering me pool access that was three blocks away. I couldn’t imagine myself walking the streets of Newport dripping wet.
Honestly, I did not feel the sincerity of the apologies of the hotel staff the whole time. They were simply trained to speak that way and they do not care less.
A great experience will always emanate from the value of caring for your guests. It is about managing expectations ahead of the actual experience. I have always maintained with my team that you anticipate and inform the affected client, way ahead, because it shows that you care for them. Furthermore, you always provide solutions based on their expectations and their convenience because it shows that you are not only addressing the inconvenience that you caused them but it also shows that you are taking that extra step to make the situation better for them.
It is simply showing that you care.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS MATTER
I have always shared that the first point of contact will determine how clients will evaluate the brand. A good impression will give a lasting one but a bad impression will make clients critical of everything. As an example, a client who had a bad first impression who sees a single candy wrapper on the floor will see your facilities as dirty.
It was the same case during my stay in Belmont Hotel. The initial contact created an “untrustworthy” atmosphere that I started being critical about the experience. I did not entertain any assistance from any of the staff. I found the room small. Worse, I got an impression that they do not really put emphasis on cleanliness after I saw an empty C2 bottle, from the previous guest, tucked inside the refrigerator. The housekeeping did not even bother to clean it out! It was gross that I did take a picture of it. As a result, we kept checking the complimentary water if it was sealed and was not previously opened.
The bad experience at the start magnified the small things. The usual stuff that I would have probably set aside on a normal day became noticeable and all these noticeable things defined my Belmont experience. And it all began because of a bad first impression.
As of this writing, I received an email and a reply on my FB feedback from a Belmont Hotel manager apologizing for the inconvenience and offering me a free room upgrade on my future visit. Honestly, I am no longer interested on staying at the hotel. My recent stay have clearly defined what I now call my Belmont experience and it was not a nice picture. It is definitely an experience that I do not wish to repeat.
My Belmont experience highlights an important lesson - building your brand boils down to experience. The experience that you give your clients will define your brand and the values that the brand stands for. The experience that you offer will make your brand stand out from the rest and it starts at the moment your client steps into your establishment.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.