Choice Hotels: Giving “marketing” a bad name

I just returned from a trip to LA. My original schedule had me heading back to Florida on Monday, but once out there, plans changed and the scheduled departure date was moved to Tuesday.

Because of the last minute nature, extending my stay at the Marriott Irvine was going to add almost $350 for the single night to my bill, so I decided… “Heck, it’s just one night. I’ll check out and check into somewhere more “reasonable” for my final night.

My attempt to find “more reasonable” took me to a familiar web site: www.choicehotels.com

I had used Choice Hotels extensively years back to book reservations when we were confirmation showing our Field Spaniel. (Surprise, surprise… properties like the Marriott aren’t open to having hairy dogs, even pampered show dogs, stay in their properties.) The accommodations offered by the Choice Hotels, while not of the pampering variety, were always acceptable in the past.

That previous experience lulled me into a state of complacency. I should have been suspicious when the cancellation policy of the property required cancellation 26 hours advance of the reservation. However, Choice Hotels hadn’t steered me wrong in the past.. why would they now?  After all, it was only one night!

I went with the first choice offered on the web site. The price quoted wasn’t of the “Whoa, this is going to be scary!” variety so I proceeded. The next day, when I went to check in… I didn’t. It was downright SCARY as in, “Is there a crack house around here?  I’d feel more comfortable staying there.”

I contacted the hotel… and they refused to cancel my reservation. (Obviously, I’m not the first to refuse to check into this property.)  So, I contacted Choice Hotels, the vendor through whom I made my reservation.  I was told several times by several different people that Choice Hotels is “merely a marketing service for the member hotels. ” If the offending property was refusing to honor my cancellation, there was nothing they could do other than file a complaint.

The management at Choice Hotels should look up the meaning of “marketing” in the dictionary.

all of the activities involved in transferring goods from a producer to consumers, esp. including advertising.

Marketing is more than just getting the customer to whip out their credit card…. getting the order is just the FIRST step.  Fall down on delivery or customer service and you’ll find this whole “marketing” gig to be an uphill battle.

Choice Hotels was “successful” in the fact that they got my CC info… and they got me to book a property using their service… THAT TIME.  It will be the last time, for sure.

The issue at hand was this: I used their service to book a room that was misrepresented. Their response was the same from everyone I spoke that afternoon: We are just a marketing service for the hotels.

The customer service manager wanted it to be “my fault”. “Didn’t you check in and LOOK at the rooms first?” My reply, “I was afraid to exit my car and besides, there were many rooms on the property with their doors standing wide open. I could see all I needed to see from my car.” The dumpster was overflowing… there was so much garbage in the parking lot that navigating the parking area was a challenge.  The Choice Hotel’s customer service manager’s response, “Well, that’s the LA area for you.  There’s nothing I can do.”

Then, Chuck (the customer service manager) actually had the gall to tell me to use choicehotels.com to find another room, except this time I should look for the platinum recommended properties.

EXCUSE ME!?!? You think I’m coming back for more of this? Gee, Chuck… where on the Choicehotels.com web site does it say, “By the way, book at your own risk. If you’re a woman traveling alone with children… think twice about booking ANY property without a gold or platinum recommendation.”

I ended up back at another Marriott property for my final day. Marriott has a customer for life while any member of the Choicehotel.com service has lost one.

In my book, “Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results” I implore my readers to remember that a satisfied customer will tell 3 people, a dissatisfied one will tell 15.   As if that’s not enough reason to focus on customer satisfaction and what happens AFTER consumers respond to an ad, know this:  there are some customers who are literal power brokers… whose reach will exceed those numbers.  These customers are exceptionally well connected but they usually don’t advertise this fact.  (In fact, it’s been my experience that those with the greatest reach will complain the least.)  Whether the customer is a hair stylist (who may see hundreds of people each week) or a blogger, these customers have the power to reach out far above the 3/15 ration with their recommendation that you either try or avoid a merchant.

The web has not changed marketing… but it’s changed the leverage customers have in their relationship with the businesses they choose.  Advertising isn’t enough.  Luring in the “suckers” and collecting their money and leaving them “waiting for a kiss” to go with what just happened has never been a good business model… but these days the web allows word  to spread quickly.

Buyer beware is a horrible customer motto.

By the way, when I booked with the Marriott Extended Stay at 3:00 PM local time, I was told I had until 6:00 PM that night to cancel my reservation without penalty.  At that point, I knew my experience with this Marriott property would be good as well.

Marketing is an invitation to your business.  I live in an area where tourism is king.   Even though I’ve only been here three years, I have watched several business go out of business because they issue invitations and then treat the customers who accept those invitations as interlopers instead of welcomed guests.   It doesn’t matter if you’re running a beach front motel or a souvenir stand: treat your customers as friends you haven’t met yet!  I have yet to see a business hold a “Going out of business” sale who treated their customers like gold!

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