How could they miss that?!

How could they miss these obvious housekeeping issues? 

How could they miss these obvious housekeeping issues? 

I recently spent the night in a budget hotel. It had all the features you might expect such as a clean bed, a decent television, complimentary breakfast, and free WiFi. The room also had a number of housekeeping and cleanliness issues that really detracted from the experience. 

It made me wonder, how could they miss that?

Before I give you a rundown of possible explanations, check out my short video tour that highlights some of the problems in the room. (Click here to view it on YouTube if you don’t see the embedded video.) 

It’s obvious that these housekeeping issues shouldn’t happen, but they did. The real question is why? It’s important to understand the potential root causes of these types of service failures if you want to prevent them.

Here are some possibilities:

  • The housekeeper wasn’t properly trained.
  • The housekeeper doesn’t care about doing a good job.
  • Productivity standards make the housekeeper feel pressured to take shortcuts.
  • The hotel doesn’t have clear standards and SOPs for housekeeping.
  • A supervisor never inspects the room to observe the housekeeper’s performance.
  • Budget constraints are used as an excuse for letting little issues slide.
  • The housekeeper doesn’t feel it’s their job to report maintenance issues.
  • Maintenance waits for housekeepers to report maintenance issues.
  • The supervisor rarely if ever reminds housekeepers about the importance of cleanliness.

Those explanations are all plausible. Here’s one that’s not:

The hotel somehow assigned the only room that had housekeeping and maintenance issues to a customer service consultant who blogs about the root cause of service failures. 

I’m a big believer in the iceberg theory, which means that many other rooms probably had similar issues.

Sadly, the problems I highlighted in the video weren’t the only issues I experienced. My electronic room key didn’t work when I first got to the room, so I had to go back to the front desk after checking in. The television didn’t work either, so I had to call for maintenance. I showed the broken ironing board to the guy who came to fix the television and all he said was that he’d make a note of it. 

Gee, thanks.

Here’s one more explanation that reminds me of my very first post on this blog.

The hotel was in a small town and only had a few competitors. It’s possible that the hotel’s management didn’t feel it was worth their time to invest in luxuries such as removing hair from the bathroom since guests didn’t have many other options.

Whatever the explanation, these small issues could end up hurting business. Here are just a few ways this hotel might see profits take a dive:

  • Negative online reviews. Their online reputation is decent, but there are a number of complaints about cleanliness issues on Trip Advisor. That could be enough to encourage guests to stay somewhere else.

  • Corporate accounts. I was traveling to visit a client and this hotel was my client’s preferred lodging. My client is one of the biggest companies in town and no doubt a major source of revenue for the hotel. Too many complaints from people like me could cause my clients to send people to a competitor.

  • Negative WOM. Having a blog that three or four people read on a semi-regular basis gives me a platform for spreading bad news about a company. I won’t name this particular hotel because doing so wouldn’t fit my personal policy for calling out companies, but what if I did?

Do you really care how your customer is today?

For many customer service professionals, “How are you today?” is really just another way of saying, “Hello.” It’s a rote question where the expected response is “I’m fine” and the person asking is totally unprepared for anything different.

You can miss out on some pretty big opportunities when you ask a question like this without caring whether or not you get an answer.

Last week, I saw firsthand how powerful it can be when someone actually listens to how their customer responds. I was checking in to the Westin Portland where Liza greeted me at the reception desk. She recognized me from many past visits and said, “Welcome back!” in her usual cheerful way.

She then asked the question as she started the check-in process. “How are you today?”

The truth is I wasn’t fine. The tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon earlier that day had left me feeling sad for the city and enraged at whoever did it. I spent several years living in Boston, including two years just a few blocks from where the bombings occurred, so the scene felt particularly vivid. I was also worried because I hadn’t yet heard from all my family members and friends who live in the area or were there for the marathon.

I deviated from the script and told Liza the truth. “I’m sad.”

Liza asked me why and I told her I was thinking about Boston. We proceeded to have a very nice conversation where Liza’s empathy and attentive listening were comforting. It’s amazing how simple human interaction can lift our spirits. 

I went up to my room and dropped my bags before heading right back out for dinner. When I got back from dinner later that night I was surprised to find this waiting in my room:

The card contained a handwritten note from Liza letting me know that she hoped all of my family and friends in Boston were okay. It was an amazingly thoughtful and kind gesture and yet another reason why the Westin Portland is my favorite hotel.

Liza’s warmth and caring provide a great reminder that we should care about the answer if we’re going to ask a question like, "How are you today?" 

3 Ways Hotels Can Generate Loyalty on the First Visit

I recently had my tenth stay at two of my favorite hotels, the Napa River Inn and the Westin Portland. Both hotels recognized this milestone with a very nice welcome amenity in addition to the wonderful, personalized service they always provide. This special treatment made me look forward to my next ten visits, but it also got me thinking about how many other hotels I've stayed at where I don't care whether or not I return.

Welcome amenities at the Napa River Inn for our 10th visit

What can hotels do turn first-time visitors into loyal guests?

I spoke with a few hospitality professionals to get their ideas and reflected on my own experience to come up with three simple suggestions. I'm sure there are more ideas -- so please add your own as a comment to this post.

Sign 'em up!
Many hotels have loyalty programs, especially the larger chains. Why not encourage first-time guests to join? This should be standard procedure at check-in, but in practice it doesn't consistently happen.

A few years ago, I checked in to the Hilton Garden Inn in Henderson, Nevada. The friendly front desk associate invited me to join the Hilton Honors loyalty program and even offered to use the information they had on file to complete the application for me. It cost me nothing in terms of time and effort, but over the next year I found myself staying in several hotels within the Hilton family and soon reached their first level of status. All else being equal, points and status will influence guests' decisions, and I recently booked a stay at a Hilton over another brand I wasn't loyal to.

Smaller hotels without a loyalty program can simply collect email addresses and send out periodic newsletters. For example, the Napa River Inn sends out a special discount code just for returning guests. 

I stay in a lot of hotels, but I don't bother to join their loyalty program if I don't think I'll be coming back. It often takes a simply nudge from a helpful associate to get guests like me to join, but when they do, they might start feeling a little more at home.

Engage at Every Opportunity
Quick question - which associates have the most guest contact? In a smaller hotel, it's likely someone at the front desk, but in a larger hotel it might be the valet staff, housekeepers, or even the engineers. All associates, regardless of their position, should be trained to engage guests at every opportunity.

They can start with a simple question, "How is your stay?" In my experience, most of the hotel associates I encounter in the hallway or elevator rarely go beyond saying "Hello." An associate once asked me how my stay was going, but when I said, "Eh," she wasn't sure where to go from there and missed an opportunity to turn a mediocre experience into an outstanding one.

The associates who do get it right can make all the difference. For example, an associate named Darryl took time out from a painting project to engage my wife and I when we stayed at a resort hotel. He asked about our plans and then gave us inside tips on how to best enjoy ourselves. Darryl even encouraged us to come find him if we needed anything and he'd personally take care of it. (Read more about Darryl.) 

Follow-up
I've recently had a four night stay at three different hotels. One was the Napa River Inn and the other two were clearly not. At the Napa River Inn, I frequently encountered associates who were friendly, helpful, and outgoing. At the other two hotels I hardly had any contact with associates after checking in. I found myself feeling very disconnected from these properties, despite the long stay. 

Why take chances? Someone from one of the "other" hotels could have called my room halfway through my stay to make sure everything was going well. They could have sent up a free bottle of water. Perhaps one of the hotels could simply have responded to my repeated maintenance requests instead of ignoring them. Anything to check in and say, "Hey -- we know you're still here." Instead, nothing. No contact, which means no connection. I've already forgotten about them.

The service power of fully engaged employees

My wife, Sally, and I recently spent a few days relaxing at a resort hotel in Phoenix. One of our best customer service experiences came from an unlikely source: an associate named Darryl who was doing construction work to help renovate some of the hotel's rooms.

Businesses often focus customer service initiatives on employees whose customer service role is obvious. At a hotel that might be a front desk agent, bellman, or valet. However, anyone who comes into contact with your customers, whether directly or indirectly, is in the service business. Darryl was a great example of how one person can make a big difference.

We ran into Darryl while walking through the hotel. He greeted us with a warm smile and asked us if he could help us find anything. When we told him we were touring the hotel, Darryl told us about some of the renovations they were working on. He spoke with obvious pride about how the hotel was working to make itself even better.

Darryl then asked us if we were enjoying our stay. We told him we were, especially the time spent lounging by the pool. Darryl gave us a few tips on which pools were best at different times of the day.

Finally, Darryl asked if there was anything he could do to make our stay more enjoyable. We told him no, but Darryl encouraged us to let him or another hotel associate know if there was anything we needed.

Darryl created a positive experience for us because he knew he was in the service business. Do all of your employees know they are in the service business, even if "service" isn't in their title? Are they fully engaged with your organization? Try to imagine what you could achieve if you had more Darryls!

Ignoring little red flags is a big red flag

Someone who is passionate about customer service should always be on the lookout for red flags in their organization. Here’s a red flag from a hotel that I recently stayed in:

This room service basket sat in the hall for two days.

Specifically, this is a room service basket that sat in the hallway for two days. It was a little surprising that it sat there for that long, but it didn’t do a lot to diminish the quality of my stay. 

However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was one of many small signs of poor service. A front desk agent breached etiquette by verbally announcing my room number when she checked me in. The bellman passed me in the hall several times without making eye contact or saying hello. The housekeeper made up my bed with a duvet that had a stain on it.

In the big picture, all of these red flags combined told me the hotel's staff wasn't passionate about service. And to think, I probably wouldn't have thought about all of this if I didn't have to pass by that basket everytime I left my hotel room.