When 3-Star Beats 5-Star

When 3-Star Beats 5-Star

On a recent trip to Cape Town, I was doing work for two different clients and stayed at two different hotels. For the first part of my visit the client had generously booked me at a very expensive, beautifully located and architecturally impressive venue, (part of global American hotel group.) The second hotel, the City Lodge in Pinelands was far more modest with far fewer fancy facilities – and yet was also a far better experience.

Let’s begin with the expensive hotel first. I arrived at the hotel at lunchtime, (about 1 p.m.,) tired from my trip, but fully expecting to be treated like royalty. After all, this was a five-star hotel, wasn’t it? The queue at the long, but under-manned check-in counter was slow, but when I got to the front, a very cold and indifferent young man – who had been warm and charming to the previous guest – informed me that my room was not ready. (I have never really understood this about big hotels: How can there not be a clean room in a hotel with 483 rooms, costing about R2855 per night, with most business people checking out at around 8:00 a.m., and most new guests arriving in the evening?)

I tried to be nice by hiding my disappointment, and asked what I should do, and he suggested that I return in an hour. He didn’t suggest what I should do in that hour, never recognised how tired I was, didn’t offer me any alternative, nor a newspaper, not even a seat in the lounge or at the pub. (The hotel porter did, however, grab my luggage in anticipation of a later tip.)

I went to the V & A Waterfront shopping centre and grabbed some lunch, popped in to Exclusive Books, and returned at 2.30 p.m. He said he still no room available, but this time I expressed my anger. They had had 90 minutes warning and hadn’t completed the room yet? Miraculously, after a cursory glance at the screen, he found a smoking room about ten floors further down from my original room, that was ready. That was to be my punishment for being so obnoxious.

It didn’t matter that the room was one of the best I have ever stayed in, that the bed was enormous and very comfortable, that the view was magnificent, that the luxurious bathroom facilities were just beautiful, and there was free WiFi and a DVD player with some ten movie choices. I was furious, too angry and too tired to notice.

To make matters worse, I wanted to use the fridge to pack my own water, fruit and diabetic medicines, but discovered that there are sensors in the fridge which detect whenever you pick up one of their enormously expensive cold-drinks – and this sophisticated system immediately charges your account. In a room that costs R2855 per night?!?

But the next morning, my negative impressions of the hotel were confirmed. I went to the first floor where, as indicated on various signs, the meeting rooms were located. At 7.30 a.m. it was perhaps rather early, but even though there were various signs indicating many other meetings, nobody was able or willing to inform me which conference room I was supposed to be in. I saw a security guard and a bartender talking, asked them, and could not have had a less helpful response. Eventually another hotel guest said that there were more conference rooms – in the basement.

When I got there, the signage was non-existent, and catering people were still setting up coffee and pastries for an 8.00 a.m. start. When I asked one young lady for a cup of coffee, she looked at me as if I asked for a miracle.

I won’t go into the sad saga of my check-out, except to say it didn’t go well because the entire crew of a Lufthansa 747 flight got there seconds before I did, and it took another twenty minutes.

Now contrast this experience with the one at the 3-star City Lodge in Pinelands, at a more reasonable R637 per night. Yes, the room was unassuming, had less facilities, and I only had a ground-floor view of a golf course. From parking lot to being in my room, including check-in, payment, and a stop at the bar for some ice took about five minutes. The clerical people at the reception counter were courteous, friendly and efficient.

But my work for the client began at a launch meeting that night, and, as I stood waiting for my lift in the reception area at about 6.30 p.m., the young man behind the reception desk asked if I was going out. I told him I was actually working, and he asked if I would be having dinner. I said no, and the look of consternation on his face was fantastic.

“But Sir,” he said, “You can’t miss dinner!”

I grinned that I’d be okay, but he was insistent. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, reaching under the counter. “Here is a Mr. Delivery booklet. They close at ten tonight, so ‘phone them at five minutes to ten, and they will deliver here. We’ll pay them and put it on your account.”

He had an expectant look on his face, and had tried so hard that I took the booklet and ordered, not wanting to disappoint him.

Early the next morning, he was on duty again, and once again exuding positiveness, friendliness and enthusiasm he asked how my meeting went, and whether the dinner was fine. It was so nice to see him every day. A couple of days later I was done, we finalised the check-out in record time, and then he informed me that he’d already checked that the driver was outside waiting to take me to the airport. Finally, as a parting gift, he took out a brown paper bag with “padkos” of two muffins in it for my breakfast. Fantastic!

Here are the lessons: For three-star to beat five-star in any industry isn’t difficult nor expensive. First, walk in the shoes of your customers. If someone arrives at your hotel to check in, for example, you can be pretty sure that they have just been on a journey and they are tired. Second, train your people to focus on specific customer details and to be responsive. Third, offer your customers a better deal than your price suggests: if you are expensive, then you had better be sure that your products and services match the deal. If your price is more reasonable, then it’s the little bits of extra attention that can make the world of difference. Finally, stop being a big deal. If you cannot be courteous and warm towards customers, if you find it impossible to smile a bit and be helpful and responsive to their needs, go find a job in another industry.

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