Perception and expectation – how to ruin a customer experience by knowing the price but not the value.

Twenty years ago we used to live in the wonderful city of Edinburgh and we return occasionally; this weekend we went back to celebrate a birthday.  The city was – as always – a great place to visit but the whole weekend was let down by the hotel experience.

Like many, I’m sure, because it was a special weekend we decided to go a little upmarket from our normal and we booked into The George Hotel on George Street.  When I lived in Edinburgh I always perceived The George as being one of the smarter, more upmarket city centre hotels – well-established, slightly genteel and very much part of the city’s fine heritage.  Now being of a ‘slightly genteel’ age myself it seemed a good choice for our stay.  Unfortunately, the pettiness of the company that now runs it ruined the customer experience – and it was nearly all down to completely avoidable money issues.

Having waited around until 3pm (the earliest check in time, no you can’t book in earlier you have to wait) I was asked for my credit card so that they would have the details on file.  No problem with that.  What I wasn’t so happy about was the fact that the hotel then wanted to add (on top of the room cost) an additional £50 per night to cover any additional ‘expenses’ that we incurred.  Now the hotel claims to have 249 rooms; let’s say that the average stay is 3 nights.  That makes £37,350 in additional overnight funds being held by the hotel each night (they did not offer to cancel £50 off my card each morning but I was sorely tempted to ask them to do so!).  The businessman in me understands the money making opportunity in doing this but the customer in me heartily dislikes being used to fund a company I have no affiliation to in this way.

Getting to our room I had a look through the information pack as I always do.  As I read through it a picture started to emerge:

  • I was going to be charged a £2.50 ‘handling fee’ to cover the use of my credit card (no mention of that earlier when they were taking the additional £150);
  • If I wanted to use the hotel’s switchboard to connect me to an external Freephone number it would cost me £1;
  • If I wanted to use more than the free 30 minutes of wifi (per visit, not per day…) it would be £4/hour or a bargain at £10 for a whole day;
  • Continental breakfast (in the restaurant, not room service) was £10, full English £16;Should I have been a smoker and lit up in the room I would have been charged £200 to clean up ready for the next guest.

After reading through the info pack I was genuinely surprised not to see a coin-slot box next to the TV but then realised that as there were only 8 channels the management probably thought that they wouldn’t be able to recoup the cost of the equipment!

Now, most of these charges are very minor but that’s not my point.  There seems to be a management perception that “if someone is stupid enough to stay in our four star hotel then they will be stupid enough to pay for anything we tell them”.

This is completely backwards – when I stay in a budget hotel I expect to pay extra for the non-standard things, but when I stay in a smart hotel I don’t want to be bothered by such pettiness.

I reckon that by adding about £5 to the daily room rate they would be able to provide free wifi to all guests at all times, not charge for use of the switchboard, take out insurance to cover anyone not paying for ‘extras’, not charge a card handling fee and add a Freeview TV package to each room.  All that would have made my stay so much pleasurable and made me feel like a well-treated guest.

Instead, I just feel like I’ve been fleeced by a budget airline.

I continue to be amazed by the ignorance (or is it arrogance?) of some of these big companies who fail to understand that good customer experiences are a better long term bet than a few extra short term pennies in the till – because those good experiences spawn others and there’s nothing better than personal recommendations.

The George Hotel has lost any future business they might have got from me and – perhaps more importantly – they have lost any positive influence I might have had on friends or relations going to Edinburgh.  Quite the opposite, in fact; negative comments are already on Trip Advisor and I imagine many of the people reading this article will (consciously or unconsciously) be influenced by my experience.

So, go to Edinburgh – it’s a fantastic city.  But don’t stay at The George Hotel (or any like it) unless you want to pay over the odds to be treated like a budget airline passenger.



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