Friday, 5 March 2010

Customer Relationship Management or Guest Experience? Whitbread #Fail

My friend Chris has led me to change my mindset from "Customer Relationship Management" to "Guest Experience", and yesterday I had the chance to savour the difference first hand.

It was a very common scenario, replayed many times a day around the globe - I had arranged to meet with a couple of my co-collaborators from a particular project for a sociable face-to-face instead of the usual Skype or Wave conversations - we all agree we still get something out of the physical meet up - that's good, that's human!

So date & area (Worcester -ish) organised, one of my colleagues picks the venue using Whitbread's Premier Inn website, where a very user-friendly tool allows you to "Email to a friend". He did that, and two of us went to one place (the one he sent details about), and he managed to go to another, and then insist that we go there!

This allowed me to "experience" two different Premier Inn sites within two hours and led me into sharing this comparison. At this point I stress that in no way am I connected with Whitbread, Premier Inn, Beefeater or any of their myriad brand names in the hospitality sector, other than, having been a road warrior for many years now, I have used them extensively across the UK, but purely as a "guest", and I don't even have a loyalty card!

On with the plot - first venue I found OK, simply through address and post code from the email - sat nav did a great job! Not far off the M5 Junction 5 - Bromsgrove South, The Swan Inn. Right beside the main road, good access, free parking.

We tend to search based on the "Premier Inn" brand, although these type of meetings usually take place in the adjacent restaurant, whatever brand that happens to be, pitched at 9.30-10.30 start, after the breakfast rush with time enough before lunch. In this scenario, we are likely to be perfect incremental, "targets" for Whitbread, since discretionary spend (cash or plastic) would inevitably mean coffee/drinks, plus distinct possibility of lunch too, often when the venue is not otherwise particularly busy.

One prime requirement - we need easily accessible power & free wifi!!

Back to The Swan - nice inside, offering just what we need, plus good looking "Chef's Specials" board & a range of real ales too. Pleasant welcome from the young lady setting up tables, together with "help yourself to coffee, I'll run you a tab". Wifi clearly available, with access code written on chalk board on the bar - fair enough.

First hiccup - access screen worked OK on the Mac laptop (except that it needed an email address too - Grrrrrrrr! Woe betide you if I get spam from you as a result!), BUT first #Fail: it didn't work so easily on the iPhone. So much so that I gave up! Gaining access from the laptop was definitely an "experience" because Firefox & Safari browsers both questioned the security certificate used by the"Public" wifi connection, to the extent that they both protected me & kept me out! Email access was less strenuous, so at least I had that.

Now, bearing in mind that this meeting was about various social media strategies, and therefore we would need web access to review our files & sites, this immediately limited the likelihood of progress. So much so that when I made the "where are you" call & was told "we're here, come join us", I was only mildly miffed about having to give up the Cottage Pie & Pint of Worcester Sorcerer, that I had mentally bookmarked for later!

On to venue number 2, one junction down - the Three Pears at Warndon. Totally different experience!! Firstly, Pay and Display Car Park, with the promise of a refund if you buy drinks or food inside! I understand the reason for this - the number of cars parked on the pavement of the access road showed that it's an area well used as a drop off point for meeting up and carrying on up or down the motorway. But, for me, a true "guest" for the morning, the system #Failed again - more of that later.

Didn't have change so had to go in to the venue; accosted the Manager, who simply said "it's not run by us, some third party handles all that".

Met up with said collaborators, who had already noted a lack of accessible wifi. Enquiry received the reply that "no we don't offer it, but the (separate) Premier Inn opposite do." Over to them, but, as I expected, gained the response "yes we have wifi, but only for "guests", and only in the bedrooms"

#Fail - we were intending to be "guests" of Whitbread, on this Whitbread site, but both sides (Premier Inn and Beefeater) were able to claim notional independence of the other and thus avoid responsibility, or, more importantly, any interest in the needs of the "guests".

Back to the Three Pears (despite our ordeal so far, time was dragging on) to sit & order coffees to start. Great meeting, but the "experience" thus far lost them the three potential lunches/drinks AND any chance of EVER getting a word of mouth (Twitter, et al) recommendation, OR a return visit! We just ordered another coffee. In due course "organiser" paid the drinks bill (thanks Paul!) and left for his next meeting, allowing Anna & I to carry on talking yet more strategies!

Then came the final #Fail, to add insult to injury, drinks bill had already been paid so they declined to provide us with a refund of the parking charges! If we had each individually paid for our own drinks, three separate bills, we could have had a refund, but Paul's generosity meant that did not happen.

Result: Total Fail on the part of Whitbread Premier Inn Beefeater, we will NEVER use that location again, or recommend anyone else use it either. Was it worth it for them? Do they care?

"Customer Relationship Management" is nowadays too grand, and overbearing, a title for what should have occurred here.

"Guest Experience" actually sums it up perfectly - Whitbread (and competitors) please live & learn! Follow @chrisbrogan to learn more!

Please, please don't make these mistakes with YOUR customers.

Howard J Moorey
March 5th, 2010

Howard Moorey advises businesses, organisations, and individuals on how to use social media and social networks to build relationships and deliver value.

You can reach him at: howard at
or catch up on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter
as @hojomo @4Pubs & @debtDrGlos

Home is where the heart is: Cotswold Hills, UK

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