Sacrificing One Customer Segment to Satisfy Another

My husband and I love doing weekend getaways. One of our favourite places to visit is Ottawa. We often take in a concert and then stay for a day or two to visit the sights and natural beauty of the region. The Delta Hotel by Marriott in the downtown core had become one of our favourite hotels to stay at. We loved the look and feel of the hotel, its bar and restaurant services, and its central location.

Unfortunately, our last stay ended up being … well … our last stay there. Like many hotels, Delta Hotel had, at some point, changed its policy and started allowing dogs in the hotel. Done correctly, a dogs-permitted policy can be implemented in a way that other guests’ enjoyment isn’t impacted. But in our case, we arrived to our room and heard the non-stop barking of a dog in another room.

Before heading out to our event, we called the front desk to complain. We were advised that if the barking was still happening upon our return, we could switch rooms. Hmm… so we were being inconvenienced instead of the guest causing the problem? Sure enough, when we returned at about 1 a.m., the dog was still barking. And sure enough, the front desk told us the only option was for us to switch rooms.

The temporary inconvenience was preferable to being kept awake by a barking dog, so we opted to switch rooms in the wee hours of the morning. But our next room had the smell of cigarette smoke coming into it through the bathroom. The neighbouring room must have allowed smoking and was venting into our room.

As a self-declared customer service super-hero, (fighting for better customer service for all!), I adhered to my policy of giving the business a chance to redeem itself. I called the hotel upon our return home and was advised to send an email to the Delta Hotel’s manager. I wrote a thoughtfully worded email but never got a reply. And that brought an end to our stays at Delta Hotels.

Did you notice the plural on hotels? That’s the issue for multi-location businesses. If a customer has a bad experience at one location, there’s a very good chance they’ll stop shopping at all of the other locations too.

I appreciate the need for hotels to stay relevant and compete on customer service. The reality is that more people are travelling with their pets and want to be accommodated. But when a policy change, like allowing pets in hotels, negatively impacts your existing loyal customer base, the policy may need a rethink in how it’s being implemented. In the case of the Delta Hotel in Ottawa, asking a repeat customer to switch rooms, instead of the offending guest with the dog, was simply ridiculous as far as we were concerned.

Where Delta Hotels really dropped the ball though, was in not doing any follow-up with us. If a guest has to switch rooms in the middle of the night, to me that warrants a courtesy call from management and an incentive to retain us as loyal customers. How about a complimentary breakfast? Free night stay? An apology? Something! Anything!

There’s an important lesson in this for every business. When you introduce a change in order to attract a new customer segment, you must carefully consider if and how that change will affect your existing customer base.

Will you risk losing your valuable, loyal customers? If that is a real possibility, what factors have to be considered and addressed so that both your existing and new customer segments are satisfied? Because if your new service requires loyal customers to switch rooms in the middle of the night, you’ve really missed the mark.

When things go wrong, you not only have a chance to salvage the moment, but to have a customer for life. It all comes down to how you handle the situation. Be prepared. Have a process in place. Give your staff discretion to turn things around with dissatisfied customers.


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