When We Follow Procedure …

Two years ago a Toronto-based client introduced me to their downtown hotel of choice. I deeply appreciated both the atmosphere and the service I received. Since then, whether in the city for work or personal reasons, I’ve stayed at this hotel. So I was very comfortable and confident when, working on a long-term project with this same client, I called in July to organize several reservations. What happened next startled me and has me searching for a new favourite place to stay.

What happened when I called the hotel this past summer? Why did it result in the end of our two-year relationship?

When I called in July, I referred to my work with my client, who receives a special corporate rate, and explained that I’d need several reservations in the coming months. The young woman I worked with indicated she’d need confirmation from the client, a perfectly reasonable request. I connected the client to the hotel via email so they could communicate directly.

My arrival at Cambridge Suites Toronto for my first stay in early September was lovely as usual. The staff were friendly and efficient, my room was beautiful. One of the things I love about this hotel is their “quiet” policy. Part of their branding is a commitment to limiting noise after 11 pm. This is not only explained in the elevators and on letterhead in each room, but guests also sign an agreement that they’ll respect this policy. It makes it a perfect business hotel. When travel is part of your work, a good night’s sleep is valuable indeed!

When I checked out, I stopped at the front desk, received a print-out of my receipt, put it quickly into my bag, and headed to deliver my morning workshop. I didn’t check the receipt until I got home. That’s when I realized the corporate rate had not been applied.

I called the hotel and spoke with the front desk manager. This conversation was warm, detailed and very straightforward. She said she simply needed written confirmation from the client, in the form of a quick email, that I was working for them and that the discounted rate (amounting to approximately $70 per night) should apply. My client has a crazy long “to do” list, but with a combination of both voicemail and email, this message was sent out with a signature indicating my client’s name and title within the large organization:

Hi (Front Desk Manager),

Please apply the (corporate) rate to Mary Jane Copps for hotel bookings relating to (our company).

Thank you.

When no revised receipt was received, I asked my assistant Vicky Reno to follow up. We were copied on this reply from the front desk manager that went directly to my client:

Good Morning (client’s name),

Thank you for your email. The hotel would actually require a formal referral letter from you before we can apply any adjustments and/or honour any future (corporate) Rate bookings for Ms. Copps. The letter should include the reason for the referral and how long her contract with (you) will be.

Thank you for understanding,

I was very annoyed by this communication. It contradicted everything the front desk manager and I had discussed in our phone call. And it showed, to me at least, a lack of respect for my client’s time, their existing relationship and, as a very large corporation, their incredible value to the hotel. It also illustrated a complete lack of respect for the property’s two-year relationship with me.

But even more, it contradicted their brand. They put a lot of time and money into marketing this as an ideal hotel for business travel; they consistently express, in many little ways, how much they want to serve business clients. Creating more steps in this process did not fit that brand. To be truthful, I was livid.

I’ll admit that I left a very stern message for the front desk manager, and that did result in our receiving the discount for my September stay, but I couldn’t let it go. The disconnect in the branding kept bothering me. On the following Sunday morning, I wrote a long email to the hotel’s general manager.

The issue for the hotel was losing $70 a night. To me, this was ridiculous given the value of my client and my own value. In communicating with the general manager I referenced the fact that I did pay higher rates when I stayed at the hotel for personal reasons. Here is part of the email I sent:

While the location is ideal and the rooms lovely, it was your brand message that spoke to me. Your emphasis on quiet and respect, the fact that you put that in writing and follow through … it means a lot. For me, your brand message speaks to your understanding of both the entrepreneur and corporate experience – that you empathize with the fast, hectic pace.

I feel safe in your hotel and I get a lot of work done. Your hotel feels like coming home and gives me a sense of being cared for. …

While I do understand that you can’t simply accept when a guest states they deserve a discount, the inability to accept a quick email is … both inefficient and thoughtless.

In addition, when speaking with my EA, (the front desk manager) indicated that it would be easier if (my client) booked the room for me. Easier for whom?

For me, this really goes against your brand and makes me question my desire to be loyal. You serve business guests. Your experience indicates that they are all overwhelmed and that part of your service is to make things easier, not more layered and demanding. Onsite this is what you do, but it hasn’t carried through to your relationship with me, or (my client), offsite.

(My client) and I are working on a project into 2021. At the moment, I don’t know how many hotel nights this involves.

I also know first hand how incredibly busy the team is at (my client), and I am loathe to continue to ask them to deal with this corporate discount situation. They have much bigger things to deal with and this simply shouldn’t be an issue.

(General manager), I teach companies how to align their brand with all of their messaging. The inability of your staff to represent your brand in this situation has both startled and disappointed me. I wanted you to know.

I did not expect a reply, but one did arrive. It was not good:

Unfortunately, those of us who follow the rules, pay the taxes have to be inconvenienced and out of pocket for all those who don’t. I know you understand the value of “The Brand” and the need to protect it through policies and procedures, without being properly followed and in place leads to failure.

And so ended my relationship with Cambridge Suites Toronto. Well, not quite. After all this, someone decided to bill me for use of the mini bar. Interestingly enough, one phone call to the front desk saying, “I never used the minibar”, and the charge was reversed. Good thing I spend time checking my credit card statements. Hope you do as well.

A brand is a promise. When that promise is broken, what do you do?


10 thoughts on “When We Follow Procedure …”

    • This was the first time it happened to me … I think! It was interesting that it happened during the visit where they really let me down. And I hate that these charges are put on bills in the hopes that customers won’t notice. Shameful.

  1. It is quite sad that one person (the general manager) can destroy the efforts of everybody else in Cambridge Suites Toronto. I can’t help thinking the this general manager has only recently been promoted into his/her position and seems to believe that rules, even badly designed rules, are more important than people. It is sad because because it will probably take many months before the general manager’s boss finds out how this person is running the hotel. In the meantime, the good reputation of the hotel, built up over many years by many people, is being steadily ruined.

    • I’m sure this happens many times in many companies – one person does a fabulous job so is promoted and the next one comes in and undermines the success. I’m sad to have lost this hotel.

  2. I’m always amazed that such things happen to me more traveling in Canada than the US. I find that customer service in “friendly” Canada not as good as US in almost all area’s, not just travel.

    Maybe just the people I end up dealing with, but seems against our perceived character and reputation.

    • This is a great comment, Nick. I remember, years and years ago, during my first-ever visit to New York City, I noticed how everyone was really engaged in their work, even the elevator operators at the Empire State Building. It was not something I had encountered before. I remember thinking that somehow they were more grateful for their work, and for me as a customer. This is definitely something that’s worth more research and a larger conversation.

  3. Over my “working years” my jobs included hotel, car rentals, provincial health insurance clerk and mainly retail sales. In 1976 my husband and I purchased my family’s business. Neither of us had any business ownership experience; this was a new opportunity and adventure for us. As you can imagine, many little mistakes were made and we learned from them and went on to have a successful business experience for 37 years. Thru my experience with customers I learned how to apply our business rules, but, I also learned to look further into the situation at hand. Sometimes I was able to adjust our policy to provide the service that was needed, or to allow for a refund/exchange that occurred due to unexpected circumstances. Fortunately my staff would check with me on such occasions, and we would put the customers needs first. Yes, sometimes I lost money, but keeping a loyal customer happy was worth it to us. As for rules, I’ve heard that they are meant to be broken.
    Thanks for sharing your letter Mary Jane, for the life of me, I do not understand their reply to you. To me, the reply didn’t address the problem.

    • Thanks Freida for these insightful comments. And you are right … my issue was never addressed. In the end, it was all about them, which means the level of service I once experienced at this hotel is, for some reason, disappearing.


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