I am a believer in Karma, that ancient Indian arbiter of cause and effect. It is a well established protocol that tells us our actions and activity often determine our future and our fate. Nowhere was its influence more evident than my recent trip to Denver. 

Joe Paduda published a post Wednesday in his blog concerned with outsourcing and its effects on customer service. In it, he described how his wife had great difficulty trying to secure a reservation at a Hilton Garden Inn near the Sacramento, California airport. The reservation service employed by the company appeared to be based in another land, and was not helpful to Ms. Paduda, who ended up hanging up in frustration, sans reservation at yonder airport hotel. I made a comment in that blog, agreeing with Joe on his points regarding customer service, but also ribbing him with the fact that, with the vast empire, deep pockets and extraordinary wealth of Paduda, Inc., his wife should be able to afford better than a Hilton Garden Inn, particularly one by the Sacramento Airport. It was just a little (self) amusing comment on an otherwise worthwhile tale.

Truth be told, there is nothing wrong with a Hilton Garden Inn. I am actually inclined to stay at those types of hotels as well. Personally I am a Holiday Inn Express kind of guy. They are attractive and clean, provide excellent value, and if their marketing is to be believed, I am smarter in the morning for the effort. However, the reading and subsequent commenting on Paduda’s article happened to occur while I was on a plane to Denver, where I would be attending a conference at the Denver Ritz Carlton. 

The irony that I was publicly poking fun at the Paduda family’s choice of lodging while headed for the supposed pinnacle of hotel luxury was not lost on me. But then we have that pesky Karma, along with a lesson that customer service is not simply an issue related to phone centers. It is, or should be, ingrained throughout the operation, and should strive to exceed a customers value expectation. That value expectation is created by numerous factors, including positioning, price, and reputation. While my experience at the Denver Ritz Carlton amused me more than upset me, it is nevertheless a worthwhile lesson.

There were two issues that I noticed shortly after checking into my room at the Ritz. The first one I noticed while I was checking out the view from my room, overlooking the beautiful Greyhound bus station in downtown Denver. The bus station is irrelevant to the story, as it is one of the more attractive I have seen, but I mention it for artistic effect. The top portion of the window to my room was a small area designed to open for ventilation. There was clearly something wrong with my window. It apparently either would not stay closed or was at risk of falling off the building, because the entire frame of the section designed to open was heavily taped shut with massive quantities of electrical tape.


Now I will offer that this looked to be Ritz-worthy tape, appearing to be high grade electrical tape rather than the cheap and tacky duct tape one would expect of a lesser hotel. Still, I was surprised that this would be an acceptable repair in any hotel worthy of being considered such. 

The second item I noticed shortly after, when I went into the bathroom to prepare to take a shower. I found the entire bathtub faucet disassembled and laying on the tile next to the pipe. 

Furthermore, there appeared to be no bypass to redirect the flow to the shower head. This would not be an inconvenience if I wanted a bidet, but alas, I did not. I wanted to take a shower, and not by standing under the spray as it was redirected off the ceiling. For this item I did speak up, and contacted the front desk. While I half expected a repairman to arrive with more (high grade) electrical tape, within 90 minutes or so the bathtub was repaired. I was informed by a rather frustrated maintenance man that this was a known issue, and was supposed to have been completed the day before.

Not exactly what one expects from a Ritz Carlton. A friend also staying there, attorney Mike Fish of Alabama, quipped that it was more like a Ritz Cracker. While I was paying a fairly reasonable conference rate, the room I am discussing normally costs $500 per night or more. While the shower was a minor inconvenience, and the window merely a sloppy patch for a problem, this did not create a positive impression. It did, however, create a lasting one.

To be fair, the hotel did offer to move me to a suite on the second night of my stay. The organizers of the conference I was attending, good friends who for this article shall remain blessedly anonymous, seemed far more mortified than I about the repair of my room. I don't know why. I was simply showing everyone and their brother the photos seen here and babbling about how funny they will be in my blog. I am not sure what compelled them, but despite my protestations that I was fine, they pursued a solution from the hotel, resulting in the late afternoon offer to upgrade me. As it turns out I wasn't even going to  be in the room until late as I was going to dinner with a group, and then would only be there to sleep before flying home the next morning. It didn't seem worth the effort of packing up and moving everything at that point, so I respectfully declined.

We all face similar challenges in our own businesses. In this situation there were known issues handled in a manner not commensurate with the image an organization strives to maintain. They did make a move to correct the issue, but it was frankly one that should never have existed in the first place. We all have customers; internal or external, and we all must be concerned with the service they receive- service that extends well beyond the outsourced phone center. The value expectations of our customers are directly correlated with our prices, reputation and promises. Simply taping over problems should never be acceptable for a 5 star hotel, and it should not be appropriate for a business in the workers' compensation sector. We need to make sure we are making the proper repairs, so our image will not need repairing.

As this article is published, I will be at the Waldorf Astoria in Naples, Florida, where I am speaking Monday at the WCCP Annual Summer Conference. I can't wait to do a little electrical tape comparison, and see if the bad hotel Karma follows me there. Let us hope I do not find them to be “puttin' on the Ritz Cracker”…..

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