If Meeting Expectations Is Hard for the Best, Imagine What It's Like for the Rest
I recently stayed at a Ritz-Carlton Hotel for the first time. It was just what I expected--and it wasn't.
Many years ago I wrote an article about the Ritz-Carlton experience. Learning all about the intense focus on service, attention to detail, and of course the luxurious accommodations, made me want to stay there. However, being at the beginning of my career at the time, budget was an issue.
In the ensuing years I heard plenty of stories about the Ritz-Carlton's famed experience, edited several articles about it, and even attended a presentation given by one of its trainers at the North American Conference on Customer Management. Each occasion would bring back my longing to experience the Ritz-Carlton firsthand.
Fast forward to this past Monday night. I finally get an opportunity to stay at a Ritz-Carlton; the property in Miami's South Beach district. Varolii was hosting its annual customer conference there and I was moderating a customer panel on Tuesday.
As I stepped out of the cab, a bellperson asked my name. She introduced me to the associate at the registration deck. I liked the "warm handoff" and using my name certainly made the experience more personable.
The amiable associate who checked me in informed me that although it was already after 3 p.m., my room wasn't ready. No problem. I would get a quick bite to eat before my 4 p.m. meeting and by the time I was done the room would be ready.
But wait... They would to bump me up to a better room with a great view, she said, if I didn't mind waiting until 5 p.m. to check in. Terrific! Although I was only staying one night, I love a room with a great view.
The associate took my cell phone number and said she'd phone me when my room was ready. I was surprised to get a call from another associate just prior to 4 p.m. to say that it was.
When I went back to the registration desk at 5 p.m., I received two keys to a room on the 4th floor; I was originally told I'd be staying on 10. I was going to ask about it, but thought I'd go up and check out the view first. I also noticed that the gentleman checking in next to me was asked how many keys he wanted; I wondered why I wasn't asked--especially because I only ever ask for one key when I travel alone. The Ritz-Carlton, as I recalled, is all about understanding and meeting customer preferences, and number of keys is as basic as it gets. I didn't mind getting an extra key. What caught my attention was an unexpected inconsistency in a standard process.
The registration associate (the third involved in my check-in) arranged to have my bag sent to my room, so off I went. I got to the room and neither key worked. So I hoofed back downstairs, rushing so I'd get back up before the bellman got there. The same associate asked the gentleman she was assisting if he would mind waiting a moment so she could help me. I thought that was really nice--and equally nice that he said yes.
I mentioned that perhaps the keys didn't work because I was supposed to have been booked in a room on 10. The associate said the room on 4 was ready first and that whoever was in the room last didn't shut the door properly, so I should make sure to pull it closed tightly and then the keys would work. But just in case, she reprogrammed them. I wondered to myself if perhaps it was time to upgrade to doors that shut tightly on their own.
Back on 4 I pulled the door shut as instructed and the keys worked. And, I got there the same time the bellman did. So that was all good. But the view... Not so good. I had a close-up of the wall of the hotel lobby. And not to be nitpicky (yeah, OK, I'm already being nitpicky), but I wanted to stash some water in the fridge, but was never offered the minibar key. What happened to the Ritz-Carlton's famous attention to detail?
Now let's step back a moment.
I'm in a beautiful room at a beautiful hotel where everyone has been gracious and welcoming. Being that my work is all about customer experience, I tend to be hyper-sensitive to service issues, so I thought I should just let it all go and get on with my stay and enjoy all the good stuff. I'm mean, geez, I'm only staying for one night, after all. But what really bugged me wasn't the fussy door or missing minibar key, it was the unmet expectation. The first associate told me I was getting a room with a great view on 10, when in fact I was stuck with the wall view on 4.
Sure, I could have complained--I probably should have, instead of complaining to you now--but at that point I just wanted to unpack and check email before the event's welcome dinner. Plus, I was less-than-confident that they would switch my room or care about the unmet promise--especially for the one-night stay of a guest with unknown current or potential value.
When I checked out on Tuesday, another registration associate asked how my stay was. I said, "Great," and left it at that. But in reality I didn't have the Ritz-Carlton experience I expected from the stories I heard, from the article I wrote, from the articles I've edited since, and from the expectation set at check in.
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