When you have a frustrating interaction with one of your preferred brands, how does that impact your brand loyalty? For those of us in the field of marketing and customer experience, an interaction mishap can be a learning opportunity for you and your customer, or can unfortunately lead to losing that customer. A recent experience of mine serves as a timely example.

Two months ago I booked a room at a nice hotel for one night of a family vacation. We were planning to stay with friends for the remainder of our trip, however, following some changes, a week before our arrival I went to my hotel mobile app and changed our stay at the hotel to two nights. I got the corresponding update to my reservation and thought I was all set.

Everything went smoothly on check in, but when we came back to our room in the afternoon of day two, we found our room keys didn’t work. I went to the front desk, where the clerk cheerfully told me that our keys didn’t work because we only had a one night reservation. When I told her we actually had a two-night stay confirmed, she checked her system and stated it only had us for one night.

The frustration I experienced was due to the disconnect between two hotel systems: the loyalty program reservation system, which was in sync with my hotel app, and the reservation system of the hotel, which was not.

My frustration was further exacerbated by the solution the front desk clerk gave me, and I quote: “you’ll have to book a new reservation through our loyalty desk for me to extend this reservation and solve this problem.”

you’ll have to book a new reservation through our loyalty desk for me to extend this reservation and solve this problem.

I stood at the front desk for about 30 minutes talking with a loyalty desk agent on my phone, as a parade of other guests checked in, got help, and interacted with the front desk.

The loyalty desk agent confirmed that despite the two-night stay that she saw on her system and I saw on my phone, which shared the same exact confirmation number, due to the hotel agent not being able to see the ‘correct reservation’ on her system I would indeed need to book another reservation, using more points from my account, to extend my stay. Once that new reservation went through, the loyalty desk would issue a “billing discrepancy” to the hotel and retrieve the other points that were already marked for this second night of the stay.

Those on the front lines of customer interaction need the tools and processes to keep the experience consistent, pleasant, and memorable

At this point, my head was spinning. I was annoyed for two reasons:

  1. I’d somehow been tasked to take action to solve their problem (make a new reservation), putting more of my points to use and causing additional follow ups, and
  2. the amount of time it took in dealing with the desk agent and then having to take more time with the loyalty agent via phone. Overall, it took at least 45 minutes with the loyalty desk and front desk to make things right.  

After the “new” reservation was confirmed by the front desk clerk, I was able to get our keys reactivated, get back to the room and get on with our evening plans.

During my exchange with the loyalty agent, I asked how often this type of problem occurs. I was disappointed to hear her response: “it’s somewhat common.” I told her that there’s got to be a way to get these reservation systems in sync. It had been a solid seven days since I’d updated my reservation, but the hotel was operating on old information. The result was inconvenience for my family and frustration for me in going through a convoluted resolution path.

If I’d changed the reservation the day of the stay, or maybe even the day before, I’d have been a bit more understanding. However, it was one week in advance and the hotel system still did not have a current reservation.

The inability of the front desk clerk to correct the situation was another inconvenience for me – the customer – as well as for the clerk herself. The clerk was harried and preoccupied with a line of customers trying to check in and so she had been quick to dismiss my situation and focus on the others in the lobby. The key takeaway is that involving your customers in solving customer experience problems (caused by the gaps in your internal systems) quickly erodes customer loyalty.

All I’ve been left with is the negative memory of how inconvenient it is to stay at that particular hotel. I’m pretty loyal to my hotel brand, so it’s that specific property that will not be seeing my business again. I’ll try a different hotel when we next visit that town, but if the experience is fraught with more hassles and involuntary participation in solving the problem, then I will have to rethink where my loyalty lies. I’ve got plenty of friends who are loyal to a different hotel chain. I’ll have to see how their experiences compare.

How about you; how do your loyalties hold up when your customer experience is strained? Drop me a note at marcus.wagstaff@cometgc.com and we can compare.

Thanks for reading.

Marcus Wagstaff

Vice President of Business Development at Merkle|Comet

Marcus leads the business development function for Merkle|Comet in North America, focusing on building new client relationships and growing mutual successes with Merkle|Comet's technology partners. With over 20 years’ experience selling customer experience solutions in the healthcare, insurance, and life sciences industries, Marcus helps clients achieve their visions, enabled by technology. Marcus holds a degree in Management with an emphasis in International Marketing from Brigham Young University.