The Best Surprise is Truly No Surprise

By MARK RIFFEY for the Flathead Beacon

Hotels often provide fuel for writing and a recent trip I took was no exception.

I noticed there were some Goldfish crackers crushed on the floor as I got off the elevator at six this morning.

At the time, I figured that the staff hadn’t seen the mess yet.

Six hours later as we headed out for lunch, the mess was still on the elevator floor. I know that the day shift manager has been on the elevator because I saw him enter it alone an hour earlier. Alone =  easy to see the mess. Yet in that hour, nothing happened.

Easy questions:

  • If a mess can stay in the hotel’s only elevator for six hours without getting taken care of, what else isn’t getting done?
  • Who on your management team is responsible for making sure messes are cleaned up promptly? The mess was still there 24 hours later.
  • What else is being neglected?

Hard question:  What are your customers assuming about your business, staff and management when they see these things go unaddressed?

Manage, don’t report
I went downstairs for coffee that early because I had planned on taking a shower – and couldn’t. When I turned on the water, nothing. When I attempted to flush the toilet, nothing. The toilet tank still hadn’t filled from the prior use the night before.

I spoke with the night shift manager, who noted my room number and said the day manager would soon arrive and check into it. Two hours later, I asked the front desk for an update on my room’s water. The day manager explained that it was out of the hotel’s control because they were in a drought and the city had a broken water main the day before. As a result, water pressures were low everywhere – including at his home.

There was no mention of this during check-in and it didn’t hamper the hotel lawn sprinklers – which ran every morning during our stay.

waterless shower

What? No water? I have the biggest presentation of my career in exactly 1 hour!

What should have happened?
I suspect the manager and his front desk staff eventually grew weary of the avoidable task of repeating the explanation and apology. Their handling of it made management seem out of touch, helpless and little more than someone passing along the city’s water main news.

Avoidable? Yes.

They should have taken control of the experience, even if the event is uncontrollable.

Most hotels of this size have a phone system that is capable of storing voice messages and probably of broadcasting one to every room. If every room has a blinking “message waiting” light on the bedside room phone, many (if not most) would at least check the message since they wouldn’t be expecting one.

They mentioned seeing it on “last night’s news”, plus the manager said that he had water trouble at home at 5am. It was not a surprise.

Armed with that knowledge, they could’ve used their hotel phone system to send a message to every room phone:

The city has warned us that water pressure will be very low from 5:00 AM to 9:00 AM due to high early morning demand. This will be worse in our above ground floors.

Rather than waking up to find that you have no shower or ability to flush, here’s what we recommend to make your stay more pleasant until water pressure improves:

First: Fill your bathroom trashcan with water before bedtime so you can use it to fill the toilet tank in the morning. Large families should fill both room trashcans. This will help you avoid having an un-flushed room toilet.

Shower before bed or before 5:00 am.

We have limited shower capability in the first floor pool area. We will open that area 24 hours a day for your use.
Small steps like these are critical to making the right impression with your guests and differentiating yourself from their next (or previous) hotel stay.

In hospitality, everything that impacts a guest’s stay is *everyone’s* job – particularly simple little things like elevator messes.

You might find these complaints picky until you view them this way: People notice this stuff when looking for a place to book 500 (or 50) people for an event that will host their customers. Elevator messes and “water crisis management” are temperature gauges. They predict future behavior.

Imagine how 500 early-rising business customers would feel about the water situation when attending a company event. The best surprise truly is no surprise.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site, contact him on Twitter, or email him at