Where is the line drawn between accountability and kindness? What if “kindness” is used as a convenient, catch-all tool to evade responsibility for providing basic service?
When “Kindness” Becomes An Excuse For Poor Service At Hotels
My wife says I am a kind person to a fault – I hear everyone out (hence the often toxic comments section on Live and Let’s Fly) and am far too generous in offering my time to others. Maybe she’s right, though that’s a debatable character flaw. It still gets to the same question I want to ask in this story.
Farouk Rajab, the General Manager of the Providence Marriott Downtown Hotel in Rhode Island, told the Wall Street Journal:
“We’ve always been people-pleasers in the hospitality industry. The customer was always right. Well, they’re not.”
Mr. Rajab, whose staff has been worn down by complaints about not answering front-desk calls fast enough and off-brand complimentary shampoo, posted signs at the entrance of the hotel and in the restaurant area, letting customers know they are experiencing a staff shortage and asking them to be kind and patient.
First, I think being kind and patient is simply a great way to live a more healthy and enjoyable life. Second, becoming unkind and impatient doesn’t generally solve the problem. Even if it gets you what you want a bit quicker, it raises your blood pressure and is just a nasty to treat another human being.
My concern, however, is that hotels (and restaurants) are now using the “be kind” card as a joker to evade accountability. Sure, we can all just vote with our wallets…but that is for future business.
What about when you show up at a hotel and no one answers the phone? Or it takes a waitress 45 minutes to take your breakfast order and it gets messed up because the kitchen staff is so limited? Or your room isn’t clean? What if you ask for a clean towel and are told none are available? Or you just want to checkout but there are 10 people in line ahead of you and only one staff member working.
(these are all common occurrences in 2021)
Rajab says the customer is not always right. Well, in this case, the hotel is certainly wrong. It’s no wonder when workers are not paid a competitive wage (the Marriott CEO has recently complained about this) or guests are ask to subsidize employee wages through tips. Whatever the root cause, the labor supply is tight right now and hotels better be willing to pony up if they have discernment beyond short-term bean counting.
I guess I’m to the point where I roll my eyes at hotels and restaurants asking people to be kind when they cannot deliver good service. That does not excuse us from being kind. But we must sill gently and tactfully hold hotels accountable for poor service. Don’t ever let someone absolve themselves of being held accountable by telling you that you are being unkind.
I’ve always believed the customer is NOT always right. Hospitality means doing your best for what the customer needs and wants, but it’s also important for everyone to be realistic.
One of the factors we’re facing is that staff want and deserve better pay, and customers want and expect lower prices. We can’t do both. Airfares and hotel rates and burgers have been kept artificially low for decades, and we’ve paid for this partly on the backs of low-paid staff by keeping the minimum wage artificially low.
We need to come to grips with the fact that everything we want genuinely costs more to deliver to us than we remember it costing when we were kids. We need to realize that burgers at decent restaurants cost $15-19 now for lots of reasons, not least because the people cooking and bringing them to us deserve to be able to feed their families, too.
I would gently push back in this regard: we’ve seen a lot of inflation this year and we should expect to continue to see it. Hotels should pay their workers a living wage…but they cannot cut both ways. It seems hotels are still trying to stiff staff and stiff customers at the same time. That deserves to be called out, not masked in an admonition to be kind.
I respectfully disagree.. The customer is always right and that will never change for the simple reason that they have the right to walk away and never come back.. It also can be said that they are not always correct as any of us in hospitality know.
The real issue here is the fact the hotels are in incurring a lot less in labor costs die to reduced head count yet still charging the guest as though their originall value proposition is being delivered.
You either raise your prices and pay what it takes to motivate people to staff up or you cut your prices accordingly so they are commensurate with the service being offered.
Under no circumstances can you justify a search is a service level below that of your brand and expect guests to excuse it because of the pandemic!
It’s a nice thought for 6 weeks but it’s not going to stand up to time.
The brand will suffer the stain of poor service And that’s the end of it , there is nothing else to consider,
It’s the general populationWho originally served in these positions do not want to work then let them change careers and take their chances they’re chances.
The government should allow immigration through a legal and sponsored basis so that employees can serve in those businesses that have difficulty which will make them more profitable and provide taxes and an economic impact for everyone.
When do you balance the employer versus seller’s marketplace Comment then the workforce will not take for granted what our government has caused
I can only imagine that by being in Ithaca, you are somehow affiliated with the school that teaches people how to work in and run a hotel. If so, teach your students that the person standing in front of you at the counter has an expectation in mind commensurate with the marketing of your brand. Further, everyone over the age of 16 realizes that hotels price according to expected demand. Coastal Miami Beach hotels charge thousands of dollars a night for a standard room that may go for $150 to a government employee on the same day. That is contrary to fairness and makes people mad. Then, when the hotel doesn’t measure up in a reasonable way to it’s own marketing, people get mad. They may misdirect that anger, but the feeling is legitimate and should be shouldered by every single employee who is trained and employed to deal with the general public. In short, if you want to make the rules, you better be ready to play by them.
If the “Be kind” posters are meant to defuse the unfortunate trend of rude and even violent customers, then that’s fair. (That our “civil” society has degenerated to that point is another matter.) But those posters, as you pointed out, should not be an excuse for providing poor service.
It’s never a “staffing” issue. It’s a pay issue, Offer enough money and staffing is very easy. Seems pretty simple.
Thank you! This x 1,000! When people are clamoring for a job, employers will tell unhappy employees to work elsewhere because they can fill the role immediately. When there’s a death of employees, employers then blame the employees for not wanting to work. Why are employers never the ones to blame for poor hiring practices, poor wages, or terrible work environments keeping employees away?
*dearth of employees
I thought this as well but I am actually starting to wonder.
I was at the Four Seasons in Dallas earlier this week and the hotel was packed. A large group sort of took it over. I had to wait 20 minutes to get a simple drink from the bar as the staff were inundated. On another night I noticed the menu was really limited compared to the old menu they had…
I asked about it with one of the original staff I have known here for years and he told me, “Four Seasons pays really well, and even we can’t get any people to work.” He said the menu is reflective of what they can do reasonably given that they have half the staff as they did before. And yes, when the bar gets crowded, they can’t keep up anymore.
So, yes, I would think in a workhorse property that got away with paying people minimum wage before that this is absolutely a solution, you can’t help wondering when a FS is having the same problem if it’s not something else.
It has definitely been both. Even with a pay rate of $15/hr starting it is difficult to find staff in many areas that were previously $10/hr. Unfortunately many guests got used to the tremendously decreased prices, OR being able to afford a higher level brand, during the first year of the pandemic. As it goes back to ‘normal’ many guests have not adjusted their expectations accordingly. They also don’t recognize that due to increased labor costs, the level of service they were used to pre pandemic is now the same cost as the next level up would have been pre pandemic. This causes a huge disconnect between guests and hotels obviously.
Unfortunately, most guests have lost a level of service going forward unless they want to increase their spend accordingly. It does not excuse hotels for being rude or anything of the sort, but people will have to recognize they cannot afford the stays they once could. Most good people in hospitality will make sure the guest gets what they pay for or beyond, but the days of paying limited service prices for full or even luxury service properties are hopefully over now.
It’s absolutely clear that hotels and their affiliation systems will start giving way to other rewards and loyalty methods. A shift has occurred. Marriotts customers are now it’s hotels. Hotels don’t like the Marriott overhead… Marriott doesn’t own it’s own hotels so they must risk allowing the actual customers to be pissed off by their direct customers.
Some of these hotels have no excuse for the premiums they charge. Some do an excellent job of documenting deprecated services days before arrival and at least I give them credit beyond the be kind posters.
The pandemic gave half of society the chance to be itself and now we get to enjoy the ugly customers, careless customer service, and general margin fixing we’re all trying to come to terms with.
The customer is not the customer, so who cares if they are right or happy… the effects of this mantra aren’t directly felt and will take years to recover from.
I have had issues with the same Marriott in Providence. Phone calls go unanswered, no one minding the front desk and being sent to a different hotel late night because they overbooked. It’s management at fault here. I will never book here again. Biltmore Graduate is a much better value and just across the way from the Marriott!
I prefer “don’t annoy the person who wants to give you money”.
I work in the service industry and a large percentage of the things I have received complaints about are out of my control and the control of anyone I work with. While I agree that people in the service industry should strive to provide great service, people ABSOLUTELY need to be kind and generally more understanding. It’s easy to be annoyed when you have to wait 20 minutes in line but why should you take it out on the employee who is doing their absolute best. Nobody can control that 10 people are ahead of you in line. Pay isn’t always the issue. Many companies are offering massive sign on bonuses and better pay since workers are hard to come by right now. Most people (including myself) don’t want to work in the service industry anymore purely because entitled persons who think of nobody but themselves treat those in customer service positions like a magic genie meant to fulfill their every wish and command no matter how unreasonable. No I cannot control the soap the hotel stocks, no I can’t control being out of towels at 3am when only one housekeeper showed up for work and went home after her 10hr shift, no I do not have a room available at 4am when you neglected to call ahead and we are at 100% capacity. We are not machines. We are people. So yes BE KIND, not because of anything relating to the pandemic, but because everyone you encounter is living a life separate from your own but of equal importance and nobody deserves to be dehumanized.
@Anormalhuman, your comment highlights the mismanagement and lack of leadership at your company. I too used to work in a frontline customer facing role before moving to management and then corporate in the Travel/Hospitality industry. You will always have people that are disrespectful under all circumstances, there’s no way around that. However, I don’t think the requests you listed are really all that unreasonable from a customer/guest perspective. They entered into an agreement with the company you are representing to have provided to them, at a cost included within the room rate, soap, towels, and a hotel room. You as a frontline employee have no control over the stock of soap, the number of and hours of your housekeeping coworkers, or overbooking of rooms, however, management does – whether locally or at a higher level. The systems that are in place to make sure these things don’t happen are clearly broken, and that’s management’s responsibility to resolve.
That however, also shows the lack of leadership in your organization. Your leaders should have reinforced to you that these customers/guests are not upset with you personally, but upset with the company, of which you are currently the face and representative. You should not take these things personally. If they fail to give you the tools or resources to make things right for the customer/guest, that is a failure on your leadership team’s part. They failed to provide what they promised (whether directly or indirectly) to the customer, and left you without the tools and resources to help said customer.
So yes, people should be more respectful, but ultimately these types of issues don’t start with the customers or the employees – they start with the management teams and ineffective systems and processes that get passed along to others to deal with.
Look at retail. People love Costco because they are competitively priced and the service is great. Their people, on average, are some of the highest paid in retail.
One word : SKIMPFLATION , Marriott is cashing in on the pandemic
Part of service problems are the employees’ fault. There is mention that “Well, in this case, the hotel is certainly wrong. It’s no wonder when workers are not paid a competitive wage”. Rudeness or stupidity is not improved with more money. It’s the employees’ lack of character that causes that.
Of course, if the employee does not have the resources to perform, such as not having soap or paper towels, that is different.
Had a recent disappointing experience at a Courtyard. I’m not one to complain but when the survey came to my inbox, I put out objective feedback on areas that could have been better during my stay. I received a response from an assistant manager, basically apologizing for covid situation but not one ounce of ownership or accountability. I responded directly to the manager to explain that my feedback was meant to be constructive and to further explain that some other hotels have been able to figure things out despite obviously having similar constraints. My point is, there are opportunities to still put forth an effort and get creative to deliver on customers expectations while still getting a pass if everything is not yet back to pre pandemic levels. Those that can’t figure this out will only continue to feel the hurt.
Completely understand the “phone calls go unanswered” comments. This is true across all business in the US. When was the last time anyone called a customer service 800 number and did not hear “due to unusual high call volume …. etc.”? The last time when I finally reached an agent I asked when was the last time the company did not have unusually high call volume. The agent couldn’t assnwer that question and I said “that means you need to hire more agents.”
Essentially customer service means we cater to the companies’ hiring practices. The customers’ schedules now are accommodating the businesses hiring practices, forcing us to wait until someone is ready to assist.
I think the frustration is an extension of every business owners’ angst these days. That there are bad days that happen, no matter how well managed a business is. With that customers are less apt to be patient with understanding nowadays and, to complicate it, go straight to the Internet to voice their anger which is widely encouraged with algorithms that favor the negative.
A perfect example is a recent review of a Hyatt in Germany by another blogger. Nothing was blatantly awful or catastrophic, yet the review was pretty scathing and will undoubtedly discourage many from ever staying there. Because a waiter made a mistake? Because the amenity was not up to par? Because the rooms are average? This, in a sub $200 a night hotel in Europe. These things will absolutely make a manager of a hotel get defensive as we see here..
Yes, there should be accountability and customers should have the ability to voice their issues politely and expect reasonable solutions. However, the trauma many of these hotels (and other businesses) have is that it takes just one misstep, and should it happen to involve someone with Twitter followers or another who runs a blog, that’s it, they are stuck with it forever as momentary snapshot that will greatly impact bookings or business.
Yes, many of these businesses can do better. And if they can, I address it with management in private as constructive criticism. However, I also manage my expectations and know what is reasonable, what is not, and what might be just a momentary lapse.
Why can’t hotels charge customers cleaning fees in addition to room rental charges. Most of same customers pay additional charges to Air B and B.
I don’t stay at AirBnBs for exactly that reason – as if that is not included in the price. Hotels should price accordingly, but the last thing we need is hidden fees.
Cleaning fees? Hyatt last week made me sign a waiver at check in promising not to request housekeeping during my 6 night stay. When was the last time anyone cleaned your room during the stay? I travel 50% of the time, it has been awful, and getting worse. As for Marriott, I think I’m finally done. It seems every trip there are major issues and I’m always having to fight for my points/stay credits. The no water, no coffee due to covid is just nonsensical.
At some point, long ago, the hotel industry learned exactly what is needed to offer standard hotel service. That has not changed, nor will it soon. The ability to provide hotel service is a well studied, well known objective. The converse is also true; it is also well known that if a property does not have the full measure of what it is known to be necessary to provide the service, the service will eventually suck. In the short term, shortcomings can be overcome without too much notice. However, eventually, if the capital is not in place, the service cannot be delivered. My point is that this should be communicated clearly at the time of registration to the customer and priced accordingly. Discount the room for sucky conditions and you never have to ask for someone to be patient as they pay you for full service without receiving it.
Rajab needs to seek a new occupation.