Friday, May 16, 2014

The Langham Hotel, Melbourne: how to destroy a customer relationship by devaluing trust

Here is the thing.

I can choose to stay in a 5 star hotel and pay good $$$ for the privilege. Or I can choose to stay at AirBNB and pay half as many $$$.

If I stay at AirBNB I get to experience the hospitality of real people who extend their trust to complete strangers for a short period of time. If I stay at a 5 star hotel, I pay twice as much and my interactions with the hotel are reduced to a series of trust-free transactions.

A case in point: a stay at the Langham Hotel Melbourne - 12 May, 2014 - 16 May 2014.

Since April 2012, I have stayed at The Langham Hotel on multiple occasions. I prefer to stay elsewhere, but in the last 2 weeks availability of the other hotels has forced me to stay at The Langham.
I don't mind The Langham. Its Internet could do with some help, but I have other ways to access the Internet so that doesn't matter too much.

Last week, I took advantage of the express checkout courtesy of the envelope slipped under my door. On the back of this envelope, I declared the tube of Pringles I consumed on Thursday night. I dropped the envelope in the box and shortly thereafter received a copy of the invoice in my mail box.

All good.

This week, I was expecting the same convenience - no such luck.

No problem, I'll checkout in person.

So, I do this. When I checkout, I declare the 50ml Hennesy Cognac and Pringles I consumed on Thursday night ($19). The cashier informs me that because I had already paid for the accommodation ($796) and bond ($400) in advance it will be necessary for me to take a seat and wait while "the refund is processed".

I have been travelling to Melbourne, weekly, for 2 years. There have never been any delays in processing my checkout. Other hotels have repeatedly applied (fictitious) $50 parking charges to my bill and I occasionally have been post-billed for mini-bar charges from previous nights that didn't make it onto the final bill. Not once have I been asked to wait.

So, unusual, but I wait.

While I wait, I notice that the cashiers are busily processing other customers. They specifically do nothing to "process my refund".

There is a man in a nice suit, walking down the line of waiting customers offering express checkout envelopes to each in turn so that they needn't be bothered unnecessarily by the delays in the checkout queue.

This starts to tick me off. Why isn't one of the cashiers "processing my refund"? Why am I waiting for these other people, who arrived after me, to be serviced?

So, I naturally ask: why are these people being serviced while I am being forced to wait?

The answer I get is this: "Last night you posted a Do Not Disturb sign on your door. It is hotel policy that in such circumstances we must perform an audit of the contents of the minibar before issuing a refund".

Are you serious?

I have stayed at this hotel many times in the past. I am due to stay at this hotel again in the week of May 19 to May 23, 2014. You are forcing me to wait so that you can perform a physical audit of the honesty of my declaration to you that I had consumed $19 from the minibar the previous night.

Are you f*cking serious?

You have already charged my card $400 to cover expenses that cost $76. You can take your sweet merry time to issue the refund to me of $324 at your leisure. But you expect me to wait.

Are you, really, f*cking serious?

Apparently so.

So, I did what every pissed off customer does. I file a "customer comment" on the website form allocated for the purpose.

As of 19:15 on Friday, 16 May 2014 I had not received a response.

So, Langham you fully deserve all the opprobrium that is rightfully coming your way.

I will be staying at The Langham again next week. All I expect is that they take account of my note, and issue a suitably contrite apology on their FaceBook page.

If they do this, I will publish a link to the apology here.

And, lest there be any confusion, I will not be consuming any items from the mini-bar next week.

I will, however, post a "Do Not Disturb" notice on my door which says something to the effect of:

"Please do not disturb. Customer integrity officers may, of course, enter at any time".


update: On June 3, The Langham posted this response to Facebook

We’re delighted that you found our express check out helpful on previous visits and disappointed to learn that our procedures and policies ended your experience on a bad note. I understand that you met the Front Office Duty Manager upon your return on May 19 in order to resolve the issues from your previous stay. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. 

We pride ourselves in delivering high standards of hospitality, which has made this hotel very popular. We will make every effort to know your preferences as a valued guest and to meet them on your future visits to The Langham Melbourne.