Learning Customer Service From a Bad Hotel Experience

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Learning Customer Service From a Bad Hotel Experience

Citing issues with a leading hotel reservation service, a Zone Leader asks if we are making similar mistakes in our area of expertise

· Agile Zone ·
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Hotels are not the place to learn about customer services...

Fall break was on the horizon. Our freshman college student daughter was ready to get away for the weekend in order to take a break from her first semester of studies.

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Since I had an account on a popular booking website and they have this cool thing where you can earn a night free after you book so many reservations with them, I decided to make the reservation for our daughter. Like always, I simply reserved the room and made sure payment would not be due until she arrived for her weekend getaway. I also make sure there is a free cancellation if her plans changed.

How a Hotel Website Failed Me

To avoid all of the details, I will summarize the experience:

Plans changed and we ended up canceling the reservation about three weeks before the original arrival date. By the email confirmations received, all looked great and the site indicated nothing would be charged to our credit card. When I checked the credit card statement online, I noticed that we were charged the full rate of the room the day I canceled the reservation.

When I called the website's customer service line, they indicated I must speak with the property on the reservation. The manager at the property told me that the website was incorrect and I would be charged for canceling the reservation. When I provided written proof from the website, the manager still failed to honor the agreement I entered for this reservation.

Contacting the parent company of the hotel provided no resolution. I then started the process to dispute the charges with the hotel. At the same time, I reached out to the site who's billing department had already failed to provide an update after 60 hours — when a response was promised after 24 hours.

In the end, the online representative I spoke to was able to convince the manager at the property to honor the original agreement. Five days later, the charge was reversed on the credit card used to secure the reservation.

A great deal of my time was required to prove my case, contact multiple entities and stay on top of the situation.

This made me wonder if there are cases where we, as Information Technology (IT) professionals, are letting the customer down or causing them extra work.

Failure To Set Standards

Standards are a great thing, as they allow the adopter of the standard to have a contract they can rely upon. Too many times in technology, corporations decide to divert from the standard and use their share of the technology aspect to influence usage.

Over the years I have seen this "failure to adhere to standards" approach be employed with corporations like Microsoft and even IBM. In these cases, frustration crept in when trying to interface with products that sort-of employed the standard, only to see things break when the solution diverted from the expected path.

In fact, there were times where my team struggled to figure out just what was happening because the contract was no longer valid and the documentation was not clear on the expectations the calling API had.

Forcing the User To Recreate Their Account

How about the cases where a major release of a solution caused users to recreate their account or their profile?

While it might not seem like a big deal from an IT perspective, this can be perceived much differently to the customer. I recently watched Nicole as she logged into a service she had not used in quite some time. According to the site, her information was not valid. After a call to the support team, they indicated she had to recreate her account and everything would be fine.

In this case, she had no idea that was the approach that needed to happen. She knew she had an account because her ID/password vault had the information stored. Nicole was confused about how the support person could see her old account in the system and could not push a button to create a new account for her.

I was confused too. It seems like a task that would be a quick win in the eyes of the customer.

Re-entering Your Password

Finally, there are the cases when you navigate from one service to the next on the same domain, but are asked to enter your ID and password again. To me, this is really kind of crazy in today's world.

Meta directory solutions have existed for decades now and services like Okta and Ping make single-sign on a very simple and easy thing to do. While there is a cost associated with these services, they certainly justified every time the customer seamlessly connects to another service, once authenticated.

In this case, I have heard multiple people announce, "But, I am already logged in" when faced with another login screen. The most comical is when the login screen appears, but the top of the screen still reflects the user's account as being active and logged in.


I certainly realize that no e-Business service offering is flaw-free; however, I do have an expectation that the use cases for common functions are tested, validated and operating as they should.

In the hotel booking case, I wonder how many times this particular property has charged customers without their knowledge. In this particular case, things did get even fishier when the manager offered to "sell my room" and refund "some of my money" when he was able to find a buyer for the room.

In the examples I provided, all have a common theme where customer service is taking a back seat to sub-par technology decisions:

  • Avoiding standards only creates more work for consumers attempting to adopt a particular aspect of technology.

  • Asking the user to recreate their account seems like something that can be easily accomplished programmatically if project time is allocated to do so.

  • Making users keep track of or re-enter different passwords for the same site is really not an acceptable answer in today's world.

In the end, we provide solutions and services to a customer. It is important that we do everything possible to make that experience the best that it can be. After all, customers ultimately have choices and will likely choose elsewhere when given the opportunity. As a result, the money saved by not staying customer-focused will be incomparable to the impact on the bottom line when customers vacate the service or solution.

Have a really great day!

Further Reading

New(er) Application Journey

How Are Your Pull Requests?

When Things Get Tough...Take a Break

agile adoption, failure, failure analysis, lessons learned

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