Why is it that big chains in the service industry assume that when you write to them complaining about something that you’re just out for a freebie? The thinking seems to go: this person is trying to blackmail us. So bribe them.
Case in point: Just got back from a weekend at five-star hotel in central Java. I’ve been there plenty of times before; it’s a quality hotel, very well run and the only big name chain in the area. But while they’ve done a great job of creating a serene ambience — a view of a volcano as you enter the lobby, a gorgeous garden and golf course, the trickle of fountains mingling with the tinkling of Javanese gamelan along the walkways — they use a system of summoning drivers and taxis that is usually seen in a mall.
It’s basically a tannoy system, a request for a driver or taxi puncuated at beginning and end with a distorted xylophone scale, climbing and ascending like a man riddled with gout. It’s normal stuff in Indonesian office blocks, urban hotels and malls, where few people actually drive themselves, but thoroughly out of place in the paddies of central Java. If it was far from the hotel it would be bearable, but It’s sufficiently loud to be heard in at least a third of the hotel rooms, starting early in the morning until late at night.
So, we complained, quietly and reasonably, to the front desk and resisted their invitation to change rooms. Why should we when the solution was as simple as turning down the volume of the loudspeaker? Anyway, they promised to look into the problem, but of course it was never resolved, the xylophone rising and falling from early in the morning, so I fired off an email to the chain’s U.S. head-office. Nothing too harsh, but making it clear that it was undermining our confidence in the hotel that something so straightforward couldn’t be addressed — or a reason given as to why it couldn’t be fixed.
Upshot: an email from head office that didn’t address the source of our complaint at all. Instead:
I would like the opportunity to restore your faith in [hotel chain deleted] by offering you a complimentary one room upgrade the next time your travel plans include a [hotel chain deleted] hotel to compensate you for what you encountered. We ask that you make your future reservation for a standard room at the lowest rate you can find. Then contact the [hotel chain deleted] Customer Service office with the confirmation number, and we will upgrade you to the best available room that the hotel has to offer, based upon availability. Please let me know if you would like to accept my offer.
No mention of whether they’re looking into the problem we raised, or asking for more information about it. Just the simple assumption that an upgrade would shut us up. Sure, we’ll take the upgrade but why won’t you take our input seriously, at face value? Why is customer feedback considered a threat, assuaged by a freebie?
Lesson for today: Maybe feedback is just that. We customers want things to be better next time we stay; that’s why we let you know what’s right and what’s wrong. Not all of us are trying to blackmail you. We just want a nice place to stay.