The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of (social) customer service


I have been doing a fair amount of traveling lately and had a couple of customer service experiences I thought I would share.

I share this to provide food for thought about your own customer service experiences. More importantly if you provide customer service, particularly through social channels, this is a cautionary tale (although true) to help ensure sure your organization doesn’t fall into the bad habits and experience I had.

I stay at a lot of hotels and lately have been inclined to stay at Hilton brand hotels. I have been receiving good customer service and they have a range of hotels all across the country (and outside the US as well). Here is my recent experience.

I am driving down the highway, it’s late (well actually it was real early, like 1:00am), and I make a phone call to 800-STAYHGI to make a reservation at a Hilton Garden Inn (HGI) hotel I know is not too far away. The following transpired at approximately 1:00 AM:

Customer Service (CS): “Hello and thank you for calling Hilton Garden Inn, how may I help you?”

Me: “Hello this is Mike and my HHonors number is xxxx. I am traveling on the road and know there is a Hilton Garden Inn up the road. Can you please make a reservation for me. I’ll be there in less than 30 minutes.”

CS: “Yes, we have rooms available, would you like me to reserve it for you?”

Me: “Great, I’ll take it.”

CS: “Sorry sir, but according to your profile the cc we have on file has expired”.”

Me: “I am on the road in an unfamiliar place, it’s dark, it’s very late; is it ok if I just take care of it when I get to the hotel?”

CS: “Sorry sir, I can’t make the reservation without a valid cc”.

Me: ”I am long term Hilton member and as I explained I am not in a good position to deal with this at the moment, can you just make the reservation for me, I’ll be their soon and provide the updated information then?”.

CS: “Sorry sir, I need a valid cc to make the reservation.” Please don’t say the “policy” word I think to myself.

Me: “So you are saying that even though I am an HHONOR platinum level member, stay dozens of times per year at your hotels and I will take care of it when I am off the highway and you won’t help me out?”

CS: “No, sorry.”

Me: “Well, alrighty then, I guess I won’t be staying at Hilton Garden Inn tonight.”

Fail #1 (the bad). Well, it gets worse.

Ok, so, let’s try a walk-in at the next exit. Being that I still prefer Hilton brands, even after the CS rep was not very customer friendly, I walk into the Hampton Inn. Here is how the conversation went:

Me: “Good morning, do you have any rooms available”?

Clerk: “Yes”

Me: “Ok, how much?”

Clerk, “$$$“

Me: “Wow, that’s pretty high, even higher than the Hilton Garden Inn down the road (which is most often a better/more upscale hotel). What’s your best rate?” Mind you this is about 1:30 in the morning.

Clerk: “That is our best rate.”

Me: “Really? Is there any way to provide a little bit better rate?” (I wasn’t looking for anything huge, just a matching rate with their other brand would have been fine).

Clerk: “No, sir, that is the best I can do.”

Again I mention I am an HHONORS member and that it’s almost 2 in the morning and I will only be in the room for a few hours at most, can’t you do a little better? Again, No.

Alrighty then, guess I won’t be staying at a Hampton Inn tonight. I go down the street and now try a Fairfield Inn, a Marriott property (isn’t competition a wonderful thing). I like Marriott’s for the most part, but had been avoiding them lately because they have been hit or miss on the hotel side of things (sidenote, they need a refresh across the board). Anywho, same schpeel as with the Hampton Inn, but guess what, the rate they quoted was already lower than Hampton Inn. “Perfect, I’ll take it”.

Customer Surprise #1 (the good). The clerk says, without any prompting from me, “since it’s so late, he would be happy to give me an additional 15% discount.” Yippee, I save some money and get some much needed rest. Now, that is customer service! It seems Marriott has empowered their customer service people to actually provide good (in this case great) customer service.

Marriott also has a frequent customer service program, Marriott Rewards, which I am also a member of. This clerk sees that in my profile and even though I am not their highest level, he went above and beyond and helping this particular customer. Use those CRM systems to your advantage!

It’s not over yet though (more bad). This is where Hilton had the opportunity to turn things around for me. So, I go to HGI and Hampton websites to find a contact form to relay my dis-satisfaction with the events above. I send a note via email to HGI and I get an automated response that someone will respond within 3 days. Really, it takes three days to reply to an email? I understand they have lots of customers, however, I help customers implement CRM on a daily basis. Even larger organizations can and do respond in less time. In this day and age three days is just too long to respond to customer issues.

So far I have encountered three channels with Hiltons, the phone, in-person, and their website. Being a pretty mobile guy, I decide to try their social channel. I send this tweet. “@HGI_INNsider #customerservice #fails. Called while on road and rep refused to help this long term member make a res. Went to Marriott.”

And this one to Hampton “@hamptoninn #customerservice fails. Walked into HI, am a Hhonors member best rate was way high, desk not flexible. Stayed at Marriott.”

Here is where the experience differs between the “same company”. I get a reply from Hampton Inn asking for more details within an hour of my tweet. I send my phone number and within 5 minutes of that I get a call from a service rep. Longer story short, he apologized on behalf of the hotel, he offered to add some points to my HHonors account and said a regional manager would call as a follow up (he did). Ok at least they finally responded in a customer friendly way (the good). So, two steps back, one step forward. At least Hampton Inn is actively monitor their social channels and responding with good customer service. If you are going to have a presence on social media, this is how it should be! Otherwise, don’t bother as it will hurt you more than it will help you.

The Ugly

I don’t quite understand this one because one would expect similar service across the Hilton brands. Unfortunately, HGI on the other hand, crickets are still chirping…no response at all. It’s now been 3 weeks later and still no response, not even the promised three day response. (Fail #2 and Fail #3)

So, moral of the story is it’s important to be diligent in how your overall brand is managed. This seems to be both a process and a system failure. Customer service is not empowered to service their customers and their applications are not configured to flag issues. The CRM systems today can be configured to monitor multiple channels and provide alerts to ensure good (and proper) customer service. In this particular case, I see this as a Hilton-wide problem, not just a HGI problem. As a long term customer I at least expected a follow up, like their automated email said they would. So, where do you think my loyalties will be next time I need a hotel room…which will be very soon.

Do you have a similar experience? Have you checked on your own customer service responses? It’s a good idea to periodically be one of those mystery shoppers to ensure the experience of your customers are as you expect as a brand and service. Otherwise you risk losing business and customers; and, often you never know why.

If you need help in any of these areas, let us know. Pick any channel you want and I will respond!

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Posted in CRM, Mobility, Tips

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