11 April 2012

The Swissotel Sydney's $23 complimentary plate of fruit: A customer service story

When I am working interstate, I almost always stay in a four star rating, or above, hotel in the city’s CBD.

Although not a corporate account, I would think that my patronage would be worth some hotels doing something a little extra to keep me happy. And generally it doesn’t take much to keep me happy. But then again it doesn’t take much to make me unhappy, either. 

Let me give you an example.  

Last month I was in Sydney for two nights for the Recruiters Hub conference as well as to run a workshop with a new client. For some reason, all the hotels I normally book were showing nightly tariffs above $350, so for the first time I booked the Swissotel in Market St for a bit over $300 a night. This was more than I would normally pay but the promise, as articulated on the Swissotel website, was clear and compelling enough for me to make a booking; 

Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts is a distinctive group of deluxe hotels for today's discerning modern business and leisure travellers, combining the renowned Swiss touch with a fresh, modern and contemporary design.

Each Swissôtel offers personalised service with charm and efficiency.
   

Swissôtel hotels and resorts worldwide have won prestigious awards and accolades. 

When I arrived at the hotel reception, I was greeted immediately and efficiently. I was delighted to learn that I had been upgraded to a one bedroom suite. The room was excellent and I couldn’t have been happier.  

The following morning I noticed a little placard on one of the benches. It was offering me a choice of a complimentary food item or beverage item from a small list of six items. I could indicate which one I wanted and it would be delivered to my room. One of the offerings was a plate of fresh fruit. This was ideal as a few pieces of fruit is my normal breakfast. 

When I returned to the room that evening, there was my plate of fruit. Excellent! 

So far The Swissotel service promise was more than a slogan;  

'Quality in service is demonstrated through the diligent and entrepreneurial mindset of our people ensuring individual guest needs are anticipated and exceeded, that every detail has been thought of and executed in advance.' 

The following morning as I was consuming my fruit (very fresh and tasty) I noticed an envelope on the floor. It was my express checkout invoice. 

Included in the invoice was $23 for room service. As I had not consumed anything else I assumed this was my fruit plate, mistakenly added to my bill  (assuming ‘complimentary’ doesn’t mean something else in the world of Swissotels). 

When I went downstairs to checkout, there was a long queue so I just wrote on my invoice the details of the mistake and assumed a correction would be made. 

Wrong. 

My online credit card statement tells me that, three weeks later, no credit was processed. And no one from Swissotel called me to discuss the charge. 

However this wasn’t the worst of it. 

One week after my visit I received an automated email asking me to complete a customer service survey about my stay at the Swissotel. I dutifully completed this online survey, providing the lowest rating with respect to ‘were any issues experienced during your stay with us resolved to your satisfaction’. When asked to do so I provided specific details of my experience and dissatisfaction. 

I made it clear I was unhappy with both what had happened and the lack of follow up from anyone at Swissotel Sydney. 

And the Swissotel response? Well, I’m still waiting.

At the Recruiters Hub Conference, venture capitalist Bill Bartee spoke about on Start-Up Lessons for Recruiters. His fifth point was Legendary service works. The supporting slides for this message contained the following points;
  • People are used to crappy service
  • Surprise them
  • Fix it - - don’t talk about it
  • Figure out how you can do it better
I am not sure whether ‘crappy’ is fair but I would concur that the standard of customer service across most sectors in this country is, generally, not very high. 

Swissotel Sydney got off on the right foot by giving me an upgrade. Swissotel management (and maybe you as well) would probably think I’m being unreasonable by complaining about paying $23 for a plate of fruit when I received an upgrade worth $150. 

The actual amount of money wasn’t the point. I’m not that cheap. The point was that I communicated twice very clearly about my unhappiness and I received nothing back from hotel management. As Bill Bartee says ‘fix it!’. I don’t expect perfection (who does, really?) but if something isn’t to my liking then please talk to me about it and, preferably, fix it. 

Given their silence, I can only assume Swissotel Sydney don’t care enough about my first (and now last) experience at their establishment.    

I used to frequently book The Grace Hotel in Sydney until I left a large (and expensive) bottle of Issey Miyake aftershave (2/3 full) in my room. When I returned the next day, it was nowhere to be found. Despite a request to hotel management to look into it further, no follow up occurred and I’ve never been back to The Grace since. 

Memo to the management of Australian hotels: Please surprise me, I’m not that hard to surprise. 

How are you surprising your customers? 


Postscript: Less than 24 hours after posting this blog I received the following email
Dear Mr Clennett,
Thank you for staying  at Swissôtel Sydney and taking time to  complete our Market Metrix survey. Please accept my apologies for the error charged onto your incidental account. Our Room Service Department has misunderstood the order and unfortunately placed this charge onto your account. We offer many complementary items daily and this charge is obviously an oversight.

I have organised  a refund back to your credit card on file. In a show of good faith we have also refunded your Crossroad Bar charge of $13.00.

Swissôtel Sydney prides itself to be an honest hotel and acknowledge the initial charge should not have been placed onto your account.

Sukanya Fong
Guest Relations Manager
Swissôtel Sydney

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8 comments:

  1. Can't go wrong with Issey Miyake, Ross.

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  2. Customer Service is a dying trade. You don't really need it anymore as there are so many people in the world that if you lose one customer there is another one right behind them!! And in Sydney Hotels are so expensive that they probably are not too worried about customers leaving as they are raking it in. However when you do genuinely experience over the mark service it's so refreshing - and it's usually from the older generation. Gen y don't even know how to smile?! But don't get me started............

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  3. Well, well. Therein lies the power of the internet. Every business should be aware of search engines and search their own business name regularly. It takes only one blog post or comment for bad news and reviews to go viral. There's a lesson in this story for every business owner.

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  4. I used to work at the Grace hotel when i was much, much younger. Looks like their culture of drinking, smoking in the lobby, not washing their hands before returning to the kitchen and not caring about customers still reigns free 6 years later. Don't cross that Ex-Army security guard at the Grace either, as if he doesn't know your face, he will stop you and ask you if he can "help you". By stop you i mean, standing in front of your face and putting his hand out. GREAT service.

    excellent.

    As for Swissotel - Been there once on a work function where we booked out a conference room and had rather large bar-tab afterward. I remember receiving a weird feeling from the staff there, like they were zombies or just didn't care as much. My managers at the time, and my co-workers, all felt the same way.

    So Ross, what happened to you seems to be sufficient with their attitude of "not caring".

    Thus is human nature, and which is why we have found ourselves in a complex situation in a larger global sense.

    I recommend hotels in Singapore or Thailand, if you do travel, their service is impeccable dare i say, perfect, and so is the atmosphere.

    Cheers
    Anonymous.

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  5. Paul Darby12/4/12 9:20 AM

    I emailed them a link to your blog yesterday and suggested they might try to rectify the problem. Looks like they acted on it.

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  6. Thanks Paul, it looks like your action has got me a refund on my credit card, much appreciated.

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  7. I recently stayed at the Stamford Gran in Brisbane on private business. i responded to their e-mail survey telling them that the woman who attended to us at breakfast on Sunday morning was exceptional. She was truly gracious and pleasant. A rare treat it seems.

    I also suggested that the senior staff member in their bar needed a personality transplant.

    I heard nothing back on either comment. Why do they bother with these surveys. They have lost an opportunity to reach out to a customer and make me a return customer. Don;t most profits come from RETURN customers?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed, John. Why do they run these surveys when they appear not to do anything with the results? I have, on numerous occasions, contacted a hotel or restaurant after a visit, to provide praise to a staff member or team of staff. I just hope the feedback was passed on so the staff doing the right thing know that some customers appreciate their effort to provide excellent service.

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