A Case of Bad Hotel Service


You might think that providing good service came naturally in the modern hospitality business.

Judging by my recent experience at a small hotel in Stafford part of a local UK brewery chain I can tell you that any hope that the principles of Service Marketing and Service Dominant logic might have found their way into this establishment is a folorn hope.

For those of you who are looking for a micro case in Service Marketing please feel free to use the following and distribute widely.

The Occasion
Myself and half a dozen old friends had decided to have a Polytechnic re-union in Stafford. The first time some of us had seen each other for over 25 years. I was sharing a room with my old flat mate.

The Problem
When we returned late (1.00 a.m.) from our night out and a meal at Pizza Express my room mate and I found we couldn’t get our room key from reception. This meant we had to sleep ‘rough’ in the reception area until 7.30 a.m. when the manager arrived.

The Context
I booked in first in the middle of the afternoon and was given a key fob with the back door key and the room key by the manager. I went to the room to unpack, and then handed the key fob back to the manager who explained that the bar shut at 11.00p.m. and that the key would be needed to get in after that time.

I hooked up with my friends, and my room mate met us at the pub without checking in. This meant that our key was in the hotel. The other members of our party had their key sets with them and so we believed there would be no problem in getting into the hotel.

We all returned to the Hotel and we got in using one of my friends keys. It was at that point we realised the Hotel didn’t have a night porter, their was no way of summoning staff at reception and notices or signage to guide us as to what to do. I was certainly not informed of this possibility when I handed my key set back earlier in the day.

The only option was to sleep in the reception area. I slept roughly on the floor or sitting at the table. My friend slept on benches.

At half past seven the Hotel manager arrived and the situation went rapidly downhill on top of the previous six and half hours sleeping as best we could.

The Service Encounter
When the manageress arrived on duty I explained that I had been unable to get to our room. She was bemused and even a little amused at our situation. As you might expect we were not in the most amenable of temperaments. I asked why there was no system for getting our key if it had been handed back to reception. The manageress said that we were told that we needed a key to get in after 11.00 which was quite correct. By ‘get in’ I assumed get back into the hotel. I then started to explain why we didn’t have our key set with us.

Her response:
i) We were irresponsible for not taking our key sets with us.
ii) We lacked common sense.
iii) We were incapable of using ‘logic’ to solve our problem.
iii) Why didn’t we ring the back door bell to get attention.
iv) We were abnormal because this had never happened in her experience.

My response:
i) Her process for key management was at odds with common experience in hotels. I had travelled the world on business for many years and never experienced such a problem.
ii) There was no indication that the outside door bell was the way in which to summon night service at reception.
iii) It was a wrong assumption on her part to believe that once inside the building we would necessarily think there would be a problem getting our room key.
iv) There was no signage or information clearly visible on reception about who to contact with emergencies or problems.

The Experience
This was a terrible experience. A bad nights sleep and a complete lack of concern from the manager.

This was complete mismanagement of a ‘moment of truth’
There was no apology.
There wasn’t a sincere acknowledgement of our problem.
There was no sympathy for the uncomfortable night we had experienced
Her attitude was patronising and sarcastic.
She was unable to accept any part she and her management team might have played in the problem.
There no grasp of the customer journey and where problems might occur.
There was no value added atonement
She would not listen to alternative explanations
She was intellectually incapable of grasping ‘how’ the situation had arisen and ‘how’ her guest management process couldn’t account for the situation that happened.

Significantly this incident demonstrated the impact of interpersonal skills. As if the ‘content’ of of what the manageress said wasn’t galling enough, her body language and tone were not exactly placatory. The ‘meta message’ of her communication was essentially one of contempt, and you could speculate that her approach to customers was mirrored in her approach to her staff. This was clearly someone used to having it her way and not tolerating different view points to her own.

The Outcome
The manageress was contacted later that day on my return. She was asked for the name of the person she was accountable to and replied by saying that she wasn’t accountable to anybody.

My room mate checked out after me. She offered 20% of the bill because he apologised to her for our part in the problem. We regard this as unnacceptable.

A formal complaint to the retail chain is being made.

What do you make of this?

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One Response to “A Case of Bad Hotel Service”

  1. ma Says:

    My lips are sealed.



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