Industry Opinion: Your Customers are More Than a Line on a Booking Form

By Chris Owen on December 1st 2016

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OK, just to be clear, it’s 2016 when I’m writing this okay – as in, a year which is pretty far down the line when it comes to ‘being connected’. “Lots of stuff is done online” perhaps undersells it slightly. Unless you’re working in the hospitality industry, it would appear.

A month ago I booked a night’s stay in a hotel down in Brandwatch’s own fair Brighton, so I could do some Christmas shopping.

It’s not a particularly cheap hotel, but it’s part of a big chain and I stay there perhaps five or six times a year when I saunter down to the seaside to play on the pier, see old friends, and buy records. I like Brighton. I like this hotel. 

But right now it’s waning in popularity. Because I’ve had the temerity to ask to change my booking – a booking I made online, because it’s 2016 and that’s how people do things. It wasn’t even done on a mediator site, it was on *mumbles chain’s name* own website.

But no, booking there means you can’t change it, despite the rather strong excuse that my wife is out of the country and so we couldn’t make it down.

No, after being passed from post to post, to Twitter, back to the post again, and then back to Twitter, the general consensus is ‘computer says no’. Because, after all, this must be the first time the entire hotel chain has ever had someone ask to change dates because of travel.

I only wanted to push back two weeks, and I even mentioned that if there’s an extra fee or a difference in the room price I’m happy to pay it… but no.

That’s too difficult and after speaking to three people in the US on their helpful customer care line (named without irony), two people in the hotel itself, and then two more on twitter, NONE of them have the power of veto. Or even the power of common sense.

They all resorted to ‘you booked online, it’s a fixed rate, so you can’t change the booking’.

Look, I get that room prices booked online are bought at that rate – I get it. But I said I don’t mind paying extra. And I’m not canceling, I’m shifting two weeks. Why is this such a difficult concept? I’m a person, my diary changes, but the booking system is inflexible to even considering accommodating anything beyond the online form.

It’s 2016.

Hotel chains, like any brand, have a fundamental marketing purpose of driving people to their websites, but what’s the point if – once done – they’re handcuffed? Why can no-one take a step back, look at the situation, and go ‘seems reasonable’?

Because it is. But no, I’m a line on a booking spreadsheet. There’s no shifting it.

So I’m out in Brighton this Friday night if anyone fancies dinner – I’m dining alone.

Chris is a regular contributor to the Brandwatch Blog. Find out more about M&C Saatchi by clicking here.

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