"The Navigator" News Blog

An Epic Customer Service Fail

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”  It refers to a moment of almost complete success that turns into a moment of complete loss.  I have, of course, seen it in sales and service, but rarely have I experienced it to the degree that I did last week.

A week ago, I was in Las Vegas for a conference on video marketing (for a change, I was attending and not speaking).  It was a great conference, and I learned a lot about marketing with YouTube.  I had planned to check out of my hotel and fly home on Monday, but some changes to my schedule led to me rebooking my flight (no problem there, thank you, Southwest).  I needed to extend my hotel stay by a night, and I figured I’d just wait and do it on-site.  That’s where the trouble started.

I was staying at a popular casino on the Strip.  Let’s call it Harrah’s, because that’s what it was.  I’ve stayed at numerous Harrah’s properties in Vegas and elsewhere and always had great experiences, but this was different.  Harrah’s now offers an ‘expedited check-in’ process whereby you fill out an online form and then you can just use a kiosk to get your room assignment and key.  So far so good, I’ve used these at other Harrah’s properties.

I arrived at about 2 PM, used the kiosk, and found out that my room wasn’t ready, but that they would send me an email when it was and I could return to the kiosk.  Great.  Except by 3:30 (check in time is 3), I hadn’t received an email.  I went back and used the kiosk again, and again got the same message.  I considered getting in line for check in at the desk, but the line was long and they only had two people working at the desk.  I waited for the email that never came.  Finally, at 5:15, I returned to the kiosk (the line was still long at the desk), and the kiosk gave me my keys.  I was annoyed at the late check in and the fact that the email didn’t come as it was supposed to, but it was no big deal.  I still planned on visiting the front desk to extend my stay at some point when the line was short.

The problem was that the line was never short at any point.  Nor did they ever man more than three of the ten stations for check-in, at least when I was walking by. There seemed to be no urgency toward getting guests checked in.

On Sunday night – my last scheduled night to stay there – I returned from the conference to find a letter on my bed inviting me to extend my stay by one night for free.  All I had to do was call the number on the letter, use the promotional code, and they’d extend my stay.  Great!  This way I could get the extra night I’d planned on, get it for free, and not have to mess with the desk.

So I called the number, used the code, and the person put me on hold.  After five minutes on hold, my call was disconnected.  I called back, explained to the NEXT person that I had been disconnected, and was again put on hold.  This time, after seven minutes on hold, I was informed that they could not extend my stay via the phone (so why have me call?), and that I should take the letter to the front desk and perhaps they could help me.

I got in, yes, another long line with only two people working the desk.  In twenty minutes, the line barely moved.  By now, I was checking rates at other hotels on the Strip, and discovered that for the Monday night that I needed, rates were very cheap.  Specifically, the night at Treasure Island (one of my favorite places on the Strip), the room would be $49.  It would be, at the current rate, at least another 45 minutes, if not an hour, to get to the desk, and I figured my time was worth more than that.  I reserved the room at TI, got out of line, and went back to my room.

In the elevator, I saw another man with the same letter.  I asked him about his experience, and he said that they had told him that they couldn’t keep him in the same room – thus, to get his free night, he’d have to check out at 11 A.M., wait, then check back in at 3 P.M.  He’d had a similar experience to me at checking in, and had no faith that he’d actually even be able to get his room at 3.  We agreed that it wasn’t worth it, and in fact, we both said we’d never be returning to that hotel.  We were actually more disgusted with how badly the ‘free night’ offer had been handled than if we’d simply tried to pay for another night.

I realize this has been a long story, but there are some lessons to be learned in it.  Harrah’s screwed up, big time, and made a negative impression while trying to make a positive.  I’m serious when I say that I will never stay there again, and I’m a frequent visitor to Las Vegas.  Multiply that by the hundreds of other people who likely got that letter and tried to take them up on their offer, and they’ve put a lot of bad impressions in the marketplace.  So, how did they mess up so badly?

  1. They relied too much on technology. The first bad impression was at check-in, with the fiasco with the emails that weren’t sent and the late room assignment.  They were clearly pushing as many people as possible to the check-in kiosk and understaffing the front desk as a result in order to save money on personnel.  The problem is that the kiosk wasn’t working correctly, and a kiosk can’t answer questions.
  2. They made an offer they weren’t prepared to fulfill. This is crucial.  When a hotel offers an extra night for free, the logical assumption is that the guest doesn’t have to pack back up, check in and out, or do any of the other silliness involved with redeeming the offer.  For whatever reason, they weren’t prepared to back this offer up.  The offer actually made their impression worse.  If I’d had to go to the front desk to extend my stay a night (paying for it as normal), I likely wouldn’t have stuck it out in the long line and would have gone to another hotel – but I wouldn’t have been nearly as disgusted and might have considered returning.
  3. They don’t care about the customer. Anyone in Harrah’s management could have seen that they needed to plug in more people at the front desk.  People were angry and disgusted by waiting in the line, and I’m sure that they were giving the employees an earful when they finally got to the front of the line.  Logic would dictate that a hotel manager, seeing that, would have found another couple of people to expedite check-in.  Not doing so was basically an upraised middle finger to the guests.

The story has a happy ending – for me, at least.  I packed the next morning, went right up the Strip to TI, and within three minutes of walking up to check-in (no line to wait in), I had my room keys and had a pleasant night’s stay.  I highly recommend that hotel.