When You Are In The Customer Experience Business, It Is Hard To Take A Vacation

What I mean by that is it is not actually hard to take a vacation, but while on vacation, it is really hard to turn off your customer experience lens.

I bet anyone in the customer experience / customer loyalty business would concur that once you have CX insights your radar is always on.

While on a recent vacation, which as a result of the extensive travel that my profession requires, both properties that we were visiting on Hilton Head Island over the course of our stay, were booked on loyalty reward points.

Now, before I get into the heart of the story I would like to give you a little more context.

The only thing that I cannot turn off during my vacation is my customer experience radar.

I do not look at my cell phone.

I do not bring my computer.

I do not check my voicemail.

I do not do the occasional conference call.

I know how to vacation.

I know how to detach.

I’m one of those people, when on vacation, I drive under the speed limit.

However, one thing I have never been able to do is turn off my customer experience radar, even when I try my hardest.

So, let me tell you what my customer experience radar picked up on my most recent vacation.

Remember, both of these stays were booked as a reward for being a loyal and consistent guest of both of these hospitality brands.

To protect the guilty, I will not divulge the brand names.

The first property on Hilton Head Island has the most luxurious grounds, the most polished marble and the nicest amenities on the island.

Upon check in, the agent greeted us and said, “I apologize that our hotel is full as we are having a conference.”

I found this remark to be quite strange as we are in peak season where every room in every hotel was occupied.

It didn’t really matter if they had a conference going on or not, but I felt more wise for having her share that information. I didn’t see why it was relevant.

Then she said, “I see you are one of our most loyal customers. What brings you back to our property?”

I said, “We are here visiting our nieces and nephews.”

She said, “Oh, you have family on the island?”

I said, “Obviously, that is why we are here.”

She then said, “Great, let me check you in.”

I said, “Great that is kind of why we are here.”

She then said, “EW!.”

Being a seasoned traveler, when the reception agent makes the EW! comment it is never a good thing.

I said, “Wow that’s not a good noise. What type of room did you select for us?”

She said, “EW! All we have available is our island view room.”

I said, “We are on an island, every view is an island view!”

Now she was getting quite flustered and I said, “As one of your most loyal guests, I think what you mean is a parking lot view.”

She said, “No, sir, none of our rooms have a view of our parking lot.”

Even with my vacation mentality on and 10 hours of travel under my belt, my customer experience radar is still flashing brightly.

Knowing that all we want to do is go to the beach and play with the kids, I am in no mood to debate about what type of room our loyalty has earned us.

I smile at the agent and say thanks. She asked if we need any help with our bags and I say, “No, we travel light. See you later.”

When we get to our room we both start laughing as we have a view of not our parking lot, but the neighboring hotel’s parking lot. Technically she was correct. It was not a view of this brand’s parking lot. The brand which has the word west in it.

We have a good chuckle and head out.

I have previously mentioned this property has the nicest amenities of any on the island.

As we use the pool, the restaurants and the beaches, there was not one friendly or value adding experience extended from any member of the staff.

After a late dinner off the property we once again got a tremendous laugh as my customer experience lens was going off at the humorous note this cone head of a General Manager left underneath our door.

It said, “Dear valued guest, we have a large number of guests checking out tomorrow morning. To accommodate our staff we would like to incentivize you with the following. If you check out prior to 8:00 am you will receive 1000 loyalty points. If you check out prior to 9:00 am you will receive 750 loyalty points and if you check out prior to 10:00 am you will receive 500 loyalty points.”

As a frequent reward partner, they did not welcome me when we checked in, they certainly didn’t select a room that showed they valued my loyalty. Now, instead of showing us hospitality, they are trying to get us out early and are incentivizing us to leave. Seriously?

I’ve seen a lot of stuff from a lot of hotels, but typically they are incentivizing me to come stay with them. Except for the lame excuse for a hotel called The Cosmopolitan, never have I seen a hotel NOT get it so badly.

Rather than staffing up, they try to create an incentive for their guests to leave.
This seems quite backwards to me and had my customer experience radar is flashing brightly.

Luckily, my vacation mode was super strong and I left with a smile on my face without tracking down the General Manager to ask them what they heck they were thinking.

Instead, we left scratching our heads but with smiles on our faces, on to the next property, forfeiting our points for not leaving early.

In hind sight, the General Manager was probably doing us a favor, as all of the experiences on this glorious property were not friendly, were not fast, were not hassle free, were not personalized, and certainly were not hospitable.

The best bet probably would have been to check out at 8:00 am, take the bonus points and move on to the next property.

The next property that we stayed at was an older property on the exact same beach.

When I say older, what I mean is that this property has not had a renovation and it shows in most areas, including the common areas, the restaurants and of course the hotel rooms themselves.

One would think that the property with the best marble, the biggest chandeliers, the biggest pool, the best amenities and a recent renovation would dominate the customer experiences, especially on the same beach, versus a competitor with an old and tired property.

My customer experience radar picked up such a different experience that we became completely blind to the less an 5 star amenities.

The positive experiences started as soon as we pulled up to this property.

The valet said, “Hello, are you checking in?”

We said, “Yes.”

He said, “I’ll tell you what. It is a little busy. Don’t take your stuff out of the car just yet. Why don’t you run in, see if your room is ready, and if it is I’ll bring your stuff to you. If it’s not you can go grab a drink or lunch.”

I said, “Awesome.”

I ran out of the car and went to the front desk.

They said, “Sorry Mr. Psichogios. Your room is being cleaned right now. We apologize it is not ready. I can put you in a room right away if you are in a hurry, but I can see as a loyalty member we selected a nice room for you and if you have the time, it is worth the wait.”

Now, you don’t really have to be in the customer experience business to figure out that “we’ve selected a nice room for you” is better than the first hotel agent saying, “ew,” when checking us in.

I run back to the car, and on the way no less than 4 people say hello to me and ask me if they can help me. It’s a short walk from the front desk to our car.

Instead of having to schlep our bags and wait, we cruise off, have a fantastic lunch off property and come back to a room that shows they value our loyalty. It has dramatic ocean and pool views, and if I lean really far off my balcony I can even see the parking lot I was viewing from the previous so called hospitality location.

Throughout our four day stay at this property every single person was friendly, fast, and created personalized interactions, including meal and entertainment suggestions. They were authentic and even talked about where they came from, asked about where we lived and genuinely showed hospitable and empathetic interactions.

Each and every person from housekeeping, to bartending, to the bus boy, to the waiter, to security, to valet, to the lifeguards, were consistently friendly and all genuinely awesome.

Same beach, lesser quality amenities, way better customer experiences at each and every touch point.

Now, let me ask you the really important question.

Take off your vacation mode and turn on your customer experience radar before answering this question.

You have just heard my two stories about the unnamed properties. Property A with the word west in it and property B has two R’s and two T’s in it.

Property A in the brochure states a $60-million renovation with the best amenities and newest rooms on the island.

Property B in their brochure states we are just down the beach from property A and our hotel is not quite as nice, but each and every one of our people will create a memorable and positive experience for you.

My question for you is, where would you stay?  
Property A or property B?

Let me tell you my answer.

The next time I go to Hilton Head Island, SC I can tell you I will stay any place but the property with the word West in it.


Not because it is not beautiful. It’s because both as a vacation and customer experience pro, I value people who create fast, fun, friendly, hassle free, personalized, authentic and hospitable interactions way more than marble and chandeliers.

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