I am not a picky customer. I don’t expect service perfection. There are only two times in my entire life I have blacklisted a company because of atrocious customer service.
- Being threatened by a Blockbuster collections letter for a $3 late movie fee after a movie was returned within 5 minutes of the deadline. The late fee had been outstanding for less than a month and was the first notification I received that money was owed.
- My recent negative interaction with the Choice Hotels chain through their Quality Inn and Conference Center in Niagara Falls Canada.
The Blockbuster incident happened over 5 years ago, Iâ€™ve never rented a movie from them again but it did serve to make me a diehard Netflix fan. As much as I dislike Blockbuster, I LOVE Netflix.
Six months ago I booked a trip to Niagara Falls for a conference. Shortly thereafter, my husband lost his job. Initially, I was booked into the Fallsview Marriott Hotel which was close to $200 per night. I canceled most of my nights there, except my birthday, and rebooked at the Quality Inn because their rooms were less expensive. Quality is part of Choice Hotels along with Comfort, Sleep Inn, Clarion, and several others. I’d never stayed in a Quality Inn before but I have frequented the Comfort and Sleep Inns across the USA.
I was afraid the money wouldn’t be available when I needed it, so at the time of booking the hotel, I called the hotels directly to confirm whether they accepted Gift Cards as payment. My plan was to ensure the money was safely invested and prepaid. Both the Marriott and Quality Inn assured me gift cards would be honoured.
At check in, I presented the gift cards to the clerk. She told me to save them for check out. I mentioned they were in American dollars and asked if that would be a problem. She reassured me it was fine. If it hadnâ€™t been, I would have stayed in a hotel on the American side of the falls.
Upon check out, a different Quality clerk refused to honour the gift cards. She charged my credit card on file and provided me with a customer service number to call.
I spent the remainder of my visit at the Marriott. They took the gift cards as promised, without hesitation.
The Customer Service Failure
I called Choice Hotels Customer Service line and explained my situation. If I had purchased the cards and not checked with their staff, I would have accepted full responsibility. But I did check â€“ TWICE. As a customer, my assumption was that Choice Hotel trains their staff to understand THEIR policies and procedures. As a client I trust they are professionals in their industry, or at the very least, within their own company.
I received the following letter via email two days later:
Your comments regarding your recent stay at the Quality Hotel and Conference Centre have been brought to my attention by Choice Hotels Canada. Please accept our apology for any inconvenience caused as a result of the Gift Card situation. Ms. Williams, complaints such as yours are taken very seriously.
Ms. Williams I understand your frustration, and apologize for the misunderstanding or the miscommunication at the time of your booking. This matter was reviewed with the staff concerned in order to prevent any recurrence in the future.
Well that’s nice that you’ve just now taken the time to train your staff. I’m so pleased that I could be an impetus for this much needed education. Give me the $200 back and call it a consulting fee.
We are grateful to all of our guests for their continued support and would like to welcome you back to our hotel at a discounted rate. This offer is extended to you in hopes that we might have a chance to make up any inconsistencies you may have had with your first stay. The discounted rate would allow you to stay in our Jacuzzi room. Reservation and rate is based on double occupancy and availability. Breakfast is complimentary with your stay. Please call or email me personally to book your reservation and I will give you the best rate possible for the date you would like to stay.
Oh gee thanks. Sheâ€™s telling me that if Iâ€™d like to spend another wad of money sheâ€™ll give me a deal on the room. She might upgrade it IF itâ€™s available! Iâ€™m excited. Do you think I can believe her? I mean, I believed her staff and look where that got meâ€¦ further into debt.
Again, thank you for taking the time to bring this matter to our attention. It is through comments and suggestions such as yours that allow us to ensure in the future you are provided with the efficient, friendly service you deserve.
Efficient, friendly service? Yes your staff offered that, but somehow I also expect honest and knowledgable. Is that not a requirement for the Choice Hotel chain?
Susan M. Wall
Front Office Manager
Quality Hotel & Conference Centre
Toll Free 1-800-215-5691
I called her back and left a voice mail, explaining that spending money on a vacation I canâ€™t afford, to take advantage of her special deal, was not acceptable. I asked that she call me back and honour the gift cards as her staff had promised.
Several days passed without word. I called the customer service line and was provided another number where I connected with Choice’s Canadian Guest Relations.
He had heard about my “situation” but I explained again.
Customer Service: â€œIâ€™m sorry but we donâ€™t accept the gift cards.â€
Me: â€œYes but I asked your staff, TWICE, and both times they told me they would accept them, I showed the front desk clerk the card BEFORE I checked in to be sure.â€
Customer Service: â€œYes, but we donâ€™t accept them because Choice Hotels will not reimburse the money.â€
Me: â€œSo what youâ€™re telling me, is that the client is expected to have better knowledge of Choice Hotels policies and procedures than you expect your staff to have?â€
I didnâ€™t realize I was required to take a course before booking my stay.
Me: â€œAnd youâ€™re also expecting the client to pay for your poor company cross border politics? Do you think I care that you have US and Canadian divisions? As the customer, is that something Iâ€™m supposed to understand?â€
He promised to â€œlook into it for me.â€ A week later I received the following letter in the mail:
Thank you for taking the time to inform us of your concerns following your stay at the Quality Hotel and Conference Centre located in Niagara Falls.
TIME? Do you have any idea how much time I have wasted on this? I will not be wasting anymore time at a Choice Hotel anywhere again.
Please accept our apology for the misunderstanding or confusion you may have experienced regarding the use of your Choice Hotels International Gift Card.
I did not misunderstand nor was I confused. I was clear. Your staff made a mistake â€“ both of them. And you said INTERNATIONAL Gift Card. Last I checked, Canada was part of the International community.
These gift cards are issued to Choice Privileges Members in the United States. On our website, www.choicehotels.com, it clearly states that these gift cards are good at any participating Choice Hotels in the US. Unfortunately, Canadian hotels are not currently accepting this form of payment.
So let me get this straight the INTERNATIONAL gift card is only accepted NATIONALLY? Okay NOW Iâ€™m confused , perhaps your marketing department ought to look up the big words they use in your marketing. And wait, I can understand the necessity of reading through your web site – had I booked the room through your web site – but I didnâ€™t, I called YOUR STAFF directly because â€“ stupid me â€“ I thought they would be a RELIABLE source of information!
While we do sympathize with your situation, we are unable to honour your request of a refund.
That’s not a surprise since you are also not able to honour honest customer service either. I wasnâ€™t asking for a refund, I was asking for you to credit my card and accept the form of payment your staff agreed to. The gift card issued by your parent company.
The management of Choice Hotels Canada is most interested in your care and comfort, and the value of your comments and suggestions. Please allow us the opportunity of better serving you in the near future, and we look forward to welcoming you again.
You will NEVER welcome me again. Instead I will be sure to spread the word about your poor company service because I will never believe anything any of your employees tell me again. Not on rates, not on amenities not on whether they accept gift cards. You obviously have poor training at your hotels and you canâ€™t even be bothered to support your customers with what your employees agree to. No wonder your hotel was close to empty most of the nights I was there. Judging by the empty parking lot, that $9 parking fee didnâ€™t go over well either. And the all cold breakfast sucks. Next time Iâ€™ll stay at the Marriott, theyâ€™ve got the view AND good customer service because my unpleasant stay with you has cost me the same amount.
CHOICE HOTELS CANADA INC.
Cc; General Manager â€“ CN786
They have obviously ticked off a lot of people if the manager of guest relations is too afraid to sign the letter.
There is something wrong with a company that expects their clients to be more knowledgable than it’s own employees. There is something seriously wrong internally with a company that decides it needs the $200 extra it made off of me, rather than the good press it could have had, should their management have chosen to back up what their staff promised. I hold Choice Hotels International just as responsible as the Quality Inn and Conference Centre in Niagara Falls. I didn’t even ask for a fair exchange rate, I would have accepted the dollar at par.
I may not be traveling now, but I typically spend several weeks a year in hotels. So tell me, do you think Choice Hotels made the right decision in not honouring the gift cards? I estimate their long term loss of my business will be far greater than $200. I know Blockbuster’s insulting $3.00 letter has awarded Netflix thousands of dollars in revenue from me. I know I’ll be recommending Marriott Hotel in the future because they stood behind their word. I’m also a fan of Hampton Inn, they’re affordable, their breakfasts are yummy and best of all, internet is included.
So where do you plan to spend your hard earned travel dollars? What are your customer service expectations?
I posted the above post yesterday. I was not expecting a response. Today I received a phone call from the executive offices of Choice Hotels International. Thank you to the person responsible for bringing this article to their attention.
My conversation with Jamie was what my first call with Customer Support should have been, friendly, helpful and understanding. As the customer, I had done everything required to ensure my gift card was an acceptable form of payment. I depended on the hotel to fulfill their part of the transaction and redeem it. The fact that Jamie “got” my issue and understood my frustration was a huge relief. That, plus the ability to redeem my gift cards while reversing the charge on my credit card, would have been enough to return me to a happy customer. I would have added a follow up comment to the end of this post AND I may even have considered staying at a Choice Hotel again. At the very least, it would have stopped me from driving that extra 2 miles just to avoid staying at one of their hotels.
But Jamie did more than that, she agreed to reimburse me the amount that was charged to my card AND sheâ€™s allowing me to keep the gift cards to use in the future.
Sheâ€™s brilliant because the customer service recovery accomplishes three things
- Sheâ€™s replaced my feeling of anger with thankfulness
- Sheâ€™s ensured that I will sleep in a Choice Hotels location again by letting me use the gift cards under more favourable circumstances.
- Her fast response and willingness to fix the issue allows me to say that Choice Hotels International DOES stand behind their product and their customer service after all.
Kudos to you, Choice Hotels International, for your awesome save. You may not have redeemed the gift cards initially, but you have managed to redeem something far more valuable: your reputation.
And for all you travelers out thereâ€¦ they have great internet connection in their rooms too.