Over the years I have spent a lot of time in hotels. I train in them, teach in them and stay in them. I spent over a year working with Telewest as their National Sales Trainer. It meant that I flew from London City Airport on Monday morning to Edinburgh and back on the Friday night. The following week I flew from Stanstead on the Monday morning to Newcastle upon Tyne and back on Friday night. I did that alternating routine for eighteen months. When I flew back from holiday in Cyprus the flight attendant gave me a form to fill in with the usual questions: what newspaper did I read, where did I book my holidays and, surprise, how often had I flown in the last year?
I thought about it for a while and did the math. Allowing for the occasional one-day return, it worked out at 123 times. It was more than the flight attendant I think.
I was always booked into a Hilton or the Holiday Inn. I was always welcomed and greeted like royalty, just like the other guests were. Efficient, nothing too much trouble and caring. They understood the rules.
Paying customers are great but repeat or returning regular customers are the lifeblood. When I first arrived at the Hilton in Edinburgh they didn’t know me from a hole in the road. I was treated as if I had stayed there before every week for the last five years. It was comfort all the way.
The thing about great service is that you tell five or ten people. The thing about bad service is; you tell fifty!
I was told one week that I would be staying at a very exclusive hotel near Edinburgh. It was an old manor house in landscaped grounds. I liked the sound of that.
I landed at Edinburgh, picked up my hire car, and drove through the snow to the big gates of the Hotel and as I made my way along the drive I looked up and saw the sign: The Dalmahoy Hotel and Country Club. As I parked the car a doorman in a long coat and top hat came out and carried my suitcase into the hotel.
As I stood in the foyer I looked around at the décor. Yes, very classy and very gothic with a touch of the stately home about it. Behind the reception was a big sign. It said: Marriott. Then I noticed a big picture of old man Marriott smiling at me. It was a strange smile and made me feel uneasy. Like a turkey that had just caught Bernard Matthews grinning at it. I soon realised what he was smiling about. He was smiling at all of the gullible suckers that book into his hotels. Like PT Barnum is WRONGLY attributed as saying, ‘Theres a sucker born every minute’, old man Marriott must be thinking ‘Theres a sucker checking in every minute’. There was another sign on the wall next to it that said: We Are Dedicated To Your Service. Very funny.
The girl behind the desk looked up and greeted me by saying: ‘Yes?’
That was the customer service over with.
I told her my name and handed her the fax booking details with the reference numbers that stated that I was booked in for four nights in a suite on a company account with all meals and drinks included. Any other bills accrued by me were to be added to the company bill and charged to the company. The ‘company was ‘Telewest Communications’. Nevertheless, I tended to pay for my drinks in the bar myself as they only amounted to one beer a night or possibly more if I was watching football on the TV. In all my time in hotels, having presented a paper of authority like that it has been good enough, the hotel is not going to be stiffed and I am whisked away to my room and left to my own devices to get on with the job in hand.
‘Excuse me?’ I thought she had asked me for my credit card for a second.
‘Credit card. Do you have a credit card?’
‘Why not?’ she asked.
‘What’s it got to do with you?’ I answered. ‘In any case why would I need a credit card?’
‘We have to swipe your credit card to activate the premium TV service, activate the telephone and release the mini bar.’
‘Why, what's the mini bar done? Was it locked up for being drunk?’
‘The mini bar has a security door, electronic, which is released by us by taking a swipe of...’
‘Yes I get the picture. No, I do not have a credit card. If I did have a credit card I wouldn’t give it to you to swipe. You have a fax confirmation requesting that any and all charges I incur are sent to my company which, I think you will find, include activating TV channels I will not be able to understand, allowing me to make a phone call and giving the mini bar parole.’
I think it was her general demeanour and ‘I hate my job’ attitude that clinched my dislike of her. I had a credit card but I was damned if I was going to give it to her when I didn’t need to. I don’t like credit cards in any case and I see them as an emergency only item. I am and always have been a cash person. I have been standing in line when I have seen someone buying a can of coke and two bars of chocolate on a visa card. I have wanted to smack them over the head with the till.
‘Well, we need a credit card.’
‘You do realise that you are at risk by letting me have a room in which you have disabled the telephone, thus preventing me from making a call in an emergency, like to a doctor, etc?’
This fazed her slightly.
She kept on about credit cards for a while but then gave up after I told her I was getting fed up arguing the toss with her when I had business to attend to. I asked her for my key which she handed over after telling me that although she would release the minibar, the phone and the channels on the TV it was only ‘this once’ and if I returned I would need to make arrangements for a company credit card or pay £75 up front to cover any hidden extras!
‘Whose the old guy in the photograph?’ I asked, pointing at the wall behind her.
She looked around at it. It was about four-foot tall by two feet wide so I was surprised that she appeared not to have noticed it before.
‘That’s Mr Marriott.’
‘Is it? I bet you don’t see that very often here?’
‘A happy face.’ I picked up my suitcase and walked off to the lift.
The room was okay and had a very old world feel about it. I couldn’t fault the food either. I sat at breakfast with the snow falling heavily outside eating haggis, neeps and tatties. I looked out of the window and a stag met my gaze. This was wonderful and my earlier problem with the sales prevention officer behind reception was forgotten, until I went back to my room and found a note under my door asking me to let reception have my credit card details, the mini bar door electronically locked, the telephone not working and no SkyNews on the TV.
I went down to reception and there she was.
‘Have you ever read that sign?’ I pointed at the wall and old man Marriott’s motto.
‘Yes?’ She told me.
‘Well where is the service you are supposed to be dedicated to?’
She just stared at me.
I tore her note up into small pieces and placed it on the desktop.
‘Switch it all back on in room 301. If there is any bill send it to my company as your head office has agreed. Who knows? Old man Marriott may invest in some staff training.’
By the time I got back to my room it was all back on. This scenario happened two more times over the next few days. The minibar had sensors inside that could tell what you had taken out of it and automatically notified the bar to replenish it and reception to charge you for it. I made their life difficult by taking all of the bottles out one evening and putting them back in the morning. As I went down to the car to drive to Dundee on Thursday morning I passed a waiter carrying a box of small bottles of booze on his way to replenish my minibar, only to find it fully stocked.
One evening I was sitting watching TV in my suite eating my dinner when the phone rang. It was a pal of mine whom I needed to speak to, hence the room service. As we spoke I absent mindedly opened the drawer in the bedside cabinet. In place of the usual Gideon Bible was old man Marriott’s book ‘Marriott’s way’. The subtitle of the book is ‘The Spirit to Serve’ and if ever there was a case for trades description it is that statement. I took the book and have it today still. It is a catalogue of how great he thinks Marriott hotels are.
Well, Marriott, I don’t think you are great at all. I don’t think you are good enough to be called mediocre. Your customer service stinks and from what I hear, it hasn’t got better since I stayed in one of your hotels last, which was in Newcastle a few weeks after the above incidents. They had a credit card fixation too and made people feel like criminals.
When I told the Sales prevention officer in the Dalmahoy that I didn’t think service was high on their priorities she made a noise. It was, ‘Hmmph!’
That was a very expensive grunt for you, old man Marriott, and each day that passes is another one that costs him. Neither I, nor my staff and friends have ever spent a penny in a Marriott since and he missed a lot of knock on business from my courses.
Over the years I have stayed in a lot of Hotels and I have run seminars and training sessions in them and in my terms and conditions I actually state ‘not a Marriott hotel’. I would rather cancel the job than stay in one of old man Marriott’s hotels. I made a calculation that over the years, the treatment I received on those two occasions have cost old man Marriott over three hundred thousand pounds. I could have hired conference rooms on numerous occasions. That would have made other people, delegates, stay there. That would have put hundreds of people at a time in the hotel restaurant and bar. Instead, now they avoid the place too.
‘We are dedicated to your service’. Hmmph!
Marriott’s way is not my way and, boy, am I glad about that!