Six Learning Points About Customer Experience — A Tale of Two Hotels

low-angle photo of Hotel lighted signage on top of brown building during nighttime

A customer speaks out on customer experience

Since people vary so much in terms of what they see as positive customer experiences and its not possible to be all things to all people, it’s important to start by defining your target market and THEN understanding it.

Thought I’d try to extract some learning points about customer experience based on my current road trip to Toronto, where I did a training seminar on dealing with difficult customers, and in the process got to stay at two different hotels, one a member of the Marriott chain, and the other a part of a small Toronto based chain, family owned — The Monte Carlo Inn.

The Marriott:

Since the seminar was to be held at the Marriott my client suggested it would be best, for weather reasons, to stay at the same hotel. The rack rate is $269 a night but the client paid a corporate rate of about $169 per night plus taxes, plus parking (another $40 give or take). Normally I don’t stay at expensive hotels, because I don’t feel the amenities are worth the extra price. This particular Marriott is located in downtown Toronto.

The room itself was your traditional small room, smartly appointed and with lovely linens, and such things and the usual higher end toiletries. Coffee maker too, which is essential, although I couldn’t find it until I called the front desk.

When one goes away, one wants a hassle free visit, and their staff was very good. And there were a lot of them. Having arrived early at the training room, I ended up talking to at least five different staff members who visited to make sure everything was in order. It was. Kind of. The seminar room had this huge pillar that all but separated the working space so that people at tables on one side of it couldn’t interact or see those on the other side. Hotels often perplex me, but the staff helped me rearrange everyone so we managed to make it work.

Absolutely no arguments with their service. What you would expect from a hotel in that price range.

The Monte Carlo Inn:

I’ve stayed at the Monte Carlo Inn before for a week, so once my seminar was complete, I decided to stay another week in order to write and work. It’s a good way to complete projects. The first time I stayed, I got a regular room with a Jacuzzi tub in the room for about $78 per night, but I found that for my purposes, it was a little small given I spend my time working. This time I chose to spend a bit more money (about $90 a night) to have a suite with separate bedroom. Again, a jacuzzi tub was available, two televisions (new flat screens). As with the Marriott, the hotel has room service, which is handy, since this hotel is an airport hotel, and is in one of the Toronto suburbs. All the shopping in the world is available, and that’s without dealing with going into Toronto proper and the traffic stress. A car is a necessity.

On balance the service, while a bit different from the Marriott, was as good. Just different. I’ve gotten to know some of the staff, and they are a little less standoffish than those at the Marriott. Very friendly from the desk manager (Samantha) to the cleaning and maintenance staff.

On To My Customer Experience

So which hotel do I prefer? Well, hands down, the lower cost, homier, friendlier Monte Carlo. Why? because as its motto says it was “My home away from home”. but quirky. I like quirks. Things at the Monte Carlo aren’t what you’d call slick. The little things. The furniture is older and a bit marked up, but still attractive and a lot like at home. The phones, one in each room are amusing. You know hotel phones have all the buttons labeled for convenience — like room service, front desk, wake up, etc. Apparently those don’t work. There is no indication they don’t work, so I ended up not setting up a wake up call because I didn’t know the buttons didn’t work. There is no indication, except you get a fast busy tone if you try. I even tired the front desk button for two hours, but to know avail. I found out that you have to press zero, rather than use the buttons.

This may sound bad. And I guess this shouldn’t happen and should be fixed, or guests should be told, but it’s part of the slightly quirky experience. Tell the truth, it just fits the ambiance.

Other amenities were good. I like to fit exercise in, and the basement room was fine. As is always the case, the machines are a bit rickety, but impressed they had Schwinn and Diamondback equipment and that’s a little higher quality than in other hotels.

So, what did I learn about customer experience. What can you learn?

  • What is one customer’s idea of a great customer experience may not be that of another’s. There is no such thing as one universal way to supply an experience that fits everyone.
  • Cost is not everything. I got far more for my money at the Monte Carlo than at the Marriott. Clearly some of the quirks at the Monte Carlo have to do with trimming costs at the fringes of what customers might like. No fancy linens, but adequate. Except for the pillows, anyway. Keeping older furniture probably meant they could provide updated fridge and televisions. I’m good with that.
  • Enhancing customer experience can be done while still keeping customer costs down, provided you know exactly where to skimp and where to spend. Monte Carlo has this dead on, in my book. Jacuzzi, lots of room, great people and training, but furniture, linens and fancy? Not so much.
  • No matter what your business, the customer experience you CHOOSE to provide has to fit and be consistent with the market you want to capture. Monte Carlo does this well, and it fits with their slogan, a great way to brand when you can use a slogan and actually build your service consistent with it.
  • Coping with customer eccentricities is part of the process. I’m a weird guest when I work. I don’t want to be disturbed, and in fact, for my first stay at the Monte Carlo, I told the front desk I didn’t require any cleaning for the week. No problem. Only one interruption to ask if I wanted more towels. This time, I didn’t mind if I was interrupted, and just used the privacy sign on the door.

One little story about the Monte Carlo. I need coffee to work, and so I ran out and got a sealed coffee can from Tim Horton’s down the road, but Tim’s couldn’t open it for me. When I returned to the hotel I asked for help at the front desk and was referred to the restaurant, but before I could even take three steps the counter person was calling the restaurant to explain what I needed. Then, another counter person came around the corner, overheard, and said “I’ll do it for you.” at which point I gave him the can, and he disappeared for a moment, coming back with the can, now absent it’s metal top, all ready to use.

I’m always asking something weird of the staff here at the Monte Carlo, and nobody ever blinks. I think I’d be less willing to ask weird things at the Marriott, and even less willing to march around the hotel barefoot, to get something or other from the front desk. Somehow the Marriott environment doesn’t support my usual work uniform which usually includes a hoodie sweat shirt and jeans or sweats, and often no shoes.

It seemed quite normal to do this, because, it really has a “home away from home” feel.

Now, what are your experiences to do with customer experience?

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