Listen up, hoteliers: Your Twitter helplines need serious repair

Twitter Fail
When you address a concern and no one cares, what does that say about your brand?

If you’re a major hotel brand and your Twitter handles says ‘assist’ right in the name, then, perhaps, you should, you know, ‘assist.’

More frequently, I’m finding a major disconnect between big brands and the Twitter handles designed to help customers. Instead, they’ve mastered meaningless but ultra-polite bromides. At first blush, they make you think they’re sincere, but in actuality, they are meant to placate, not problem solve.

It’s kind of like how politicians do a lot of talking about what they are going to do when they are elected without actually telling you what they are going to do. It may feel good, but doesn’t actually mean anything.

The more I come into contact with this inanity, the more I feel I need to warn major executives that the folks manning their customer-facing helplines may be letting them down more than the Chicago Cubs let down their fans.

Here's one example. I had an amazingly disappointing interaction with a leading hotel company’s helpline last week. While attending a major industry conference, I noticed the desk chair in my room was distressed. The faux leather covering had fallen off, making the chair look like an acne-ridden teen or a fresh pick from Sanford & Son’s junkyard (you’re humming the theme song now, aren’t you?).

The offending chair

The chair looked gross—as you can see in the picture I snapped. Let me be clear, it did not affect my stay even a single iota, but with the condition this thing was in, I would be crazy insane embarrassed if I was that hotel’s manager. The chair is symbolic of many property-level people not paying attention for a long time. As a guest, I cannot help but think what other things are they not paying attention to when asking guests to pay $200 a night.

So I said as much on Twitter and Facebook, and was asked to direct message the offending brand immediately. Which is good because when my initial post hit Facebook, wow, did a lot of industry people have something to say about that chair. None of it complimentary. I figured there would be a quick resolution to absolve the shame, but I quickly realized the helpline didn’t care; they are just well schooled in pretending to care.

So I direct messaged them with the specific hotel and room I was currently occupying, figuring they were on the case.

They responded: “Please be assured that we take feedback as a valuable tool in the evaluation and enhancement of the products and services that we offer our guests. We have documented and shared your comments with the hotel management team as a learning opportunity. Please let us know if there is anything else we can do.”

Umm, you never addressed my issue. Why did you ask me to DM you? Was this a learning moment?

I am not in 5th grade, and as a paying customer I am not looking to participating in your staff’s teachable moments. Perhaps at the next annual conference they’ll give the GM at this hotel a participation trophy, too. Everyone will feel good, but nothing will change.

So I responded: “Thanks for your note but it sounds like typical corporatespeak. As someone who is a hotel industry editor, I find it unbelievable no one has fixed this problem earlier. Though it is just a chair it is very symbolic of how this property is probably run. Housekeeping just walked in on me [too] though I have not yet checked out. What exactly will management learn? Not to have a gross, disgusting chair in a room when you are charging $200 a night? Something like this is basic and if the basics are not covered, then what else is wrong with this place?”

I think I laid that out pretty clearly, and with a dash of snootiness thrown in for good measure to show them I am an industry insider who knows better.

Here’s how they responded: “Thank you Glenn. We would like to assure you that your comments are important for us. We have forwarded your feedback to [hotel name redacted cause I am trying to be nice] and will allow the management team there 5 days to look into your feedback and contact you back. If you need further help in the meantime let us know.”

Five days?! They have a picture of the chair, my exact hotel and room number. I am starting to feel like I am the only one embarrassed here.  

I amped up the rhetoric:  Five days is a serious joke. I am leaving today, and someone else will have a bad experience in this room after me because 5 days = no one cares. I am very disappointed by your response. You can't say my comments are important to you and then give management 5 days to respond. I am now embarrassed for the hotel and [the Twitter assist line]. I contacted the manager direct and shared with him and had a nice chat. He is a nice guy who was shocked at this.

They responded: “We are sorry you feel that way, we do take your concerns to heart. Although we try to get back to our guests in as timely a manner, we might also need some time to properly look into, and address your concerns. We are happy to hear that you had an opportunity to speak with the manager directly to voice your concerns. We appreciate your patience and understanding.”

Remember, this is an issue I really do not care about. But they have managed to bungle this so bad I am using this platform to tell the entire industry about it.

That last comment really offended me as a hotel industry person. Saying you are sorry I feel that way is not an apology; it is saying my feelings are not valid. And why does it take “some time” to look into my concerns when I showed everything they need to know?

In an industry increasingly concerned with loyalty, taking a guest that was trying to do you a favor and making him feel the fool is probably not a wise choice.

Online and offline, properties and their brands must work in concert to maximize guest experience. Your guests want solutions now and do no care about anything else. Now is the time to redouble efforts in creating a cohesion between helplines and properties. If this happened to me when they could easily find out who I am, then what is happening to a guest that isn’t connected?

Imagine if this was your hotel brand and someone had a real problem, not a design crisis. Do you think your online help people have the right tools to show their guests they really care? Or are you just in the business of pretending to care?

As for the chair, the hotel’s director of style happened to have a basement full of new ones. Which I got a few minutes before I checked out. At least the next person won’t have the same experience.

Am I on point, or out of my mind? What would you do if you were in charge? Drop me a line at [email protected] or @TravelingGlenn on Twitter and let me know. If you need me for anything, I promise to pretend I’ll respond within a five-day period so you can forget everything and I can move onto ignoring other people’s concerns.