The Mountain, the Pool and Pop-Corn Kernels. No cats were present.



Dear Diary,

We went to Colorado Springs this summer for a few days. Not only is Colorado Springs a premier travel destination with a plethora of things to do, it is also home to a historic luxury resort, called the Broadmoor. I’ve been traveling to it since childhood, even being introduced to John Wayne there in the 70’s. The nightly rate can vary significantly, so when it’s more than we can spend, we stop by for drinks or dinner. Just walking the grounds is a pleasant experience, and I highly recommend it for anyone traveling to the area.

Note: What you are about to read is a rough draft of a chapter in my book. It’s about client service and is geared towards people in the industry or those who can’t stand being treated poorly. I have no idea if anything will come of my ramblings, but if you have any suggestions or comments I’d love to hear them! Don’t be mean though, and remember this is copyrighted material.  I know I had to say that, because you were just going to publish it in the NY Times. 

I wish I could say I stayed at the Broadmoor this time, but the nightly rate was over $500 for a standard room, which with me not working (who we kidding, even with me working) was outside our limit. I was determined to find a resort nearby, that was still luxurious but under $300 per night.

Based on TripAdvisor reviews and a professionally designed web page, I was drawn to Cheyenne Mountain Resort. Their web site proudly stated they could provide the quintessential Colorado experience! With their “naturally breathtaking landscape and exceptional hospitality” I was assured the opportunity to “give in to your wanderlust or simply discover a place of rejuvenation for the soul”.  Wow, sounds great doesn’t it?

You’d have to click through many pictures to realize the resort comprises of several multi-unit buildings. The main lobby and aquatics center require visitors to walk or drive to it. It’s not the end of the world, but it meant my surroundings consisted of many parking lots. Since there weren’t many flowers or shrubs on the grounds, I felt like I was staying in an apartment complex.

The view from our room consisted of mountains and a golf course, which was nice. But, I can’t say our room was without problems. The safe didn’t open; it was locked by a previous guest. The alarm clock was several hours off and there wasn’t an obvious way to change it. My husband, an engineer with 2 master’s degrees, couldn’t figure it out either. The toilet ran randomly, maybe it’s programmed to if you just think about using it. The shower drained slowly. With the resort fee, we were still paying close to $275 a night. We expected more. It seemed like basic things like checking the time on the clock, whether the safe is operating, and if the water is draining would be on the top of any maid’s check-list.

We don’t feel comfortable having people in our room when we’re not there. So, waiting for maintenance, when we could live with these issues, didn’t make sense. We figured when the front desk clerk asked how our stay was we’d explain what needs to be fixed, and leave it at that.

After 2 days we were running low on towels, so we took our electronics with us and left the no disturb sign off the door. Returning several hours later, I was shocked our beds were unmade. Yet, the $5 tip left on the desk was gone! Upon close inspection, we noticed only 1 of the 2 trash cans were emptied. The towels were replaced, but considering we brought people back to the room with us, it was disappointing. We looked like slobs.

I called the front desk, certain I’d get an apology. I could tell the person I spoke to was surprised, but she didn’t manage to say anything more than she’d get with her manager and “figure out what they’ll do”. I explained we’d be leaving again soon and figured things would be taken care of. I hoped maybe the $5 would be returned or a chocolate treat would grace my pillow.

As my daughter and I left our room, we over-heard several maids talking about the situation. They were mad whoever cleaned our room and how lazy she was. I get it. We are all going to complain about people we work with. But did they really have to do it in the stairway, right below our room?

When the $5 and chocolate didn’t materialize, I was hopeful there would be some kind of gesture at check-out. There wasn’t. I never asked for anything, but I found it surprising there wasn’t at least a message or hand-written note from the manager. I’ve stayed at much less expensive hotels and have never had my beds left un-made by housekeeping. It was pretty weird and to not apologize, even when I called, or follow-up in some way seemed really strange.

Relaxing by the lobby pool earlier, I couldn’t help but notice additional housekeeping issues. There was a small concession area with 2 people inside, but they seemed more interested in gossiping than actually looking at the pool area. It was messy and the concession area was slow, it wouldn’t have taken much to complete a walk-through and spruce thing up. One time there weren’t clean towels, which may not have been in the concession team’s purview, but surely could have been avoided with proper monitoring. Let’s face it, you are a resort, with a resort fee, and a pool. Clean towels are hardly an amenity, it’s a basic need.

The hot tub, which displayed “no children under 12” signage, was a toddler Mecca. I’ve never had a 3-year old practice kicking in a hot tub, but there’s always a first time. Even better, the next day the hot tub was surrounded with pop corn kernels and an unattended toddler. The kid had a suspiciously full swimmer’s diaper, but thankfully also wore a flotation device. This was a relief, since daddy was busy flirting with some lady, who was also ignoring her kid. As I stared at the overfilled trash can and ease-dropped on the conversation, I smiled at the romance unfolding before me. I was even happier a few minutes later, when housekeeping arrived. Finally, I’d be able to turn 360 degrees without having to see trash and abandoned wet towels! I watched as the worker emptied the trash container, but nothing else. I wasn’t angry at him. I was angry at the hotel’s leadership. Clearly they hadn’t hired enough people. set the right expectations, or verified work was properly done. Whatever the case, I knew at that moment my TripAdvisor review was going to be 3 stars. I told my husband, don’t they know I am a level 4 contributor? He agreed that the hotel has issues and that they have a lot of work to do, before they’d deserve a 4 or 5-star rating.

Part of our resort fee was an adult only hot tub, pool and boat rentals at the resort’s aquatics center.  Yet, the hot tub was completely full when we got there, just like the one by the lodge. It was obvious when the resort was full, the amenities were in short supply. This was particularly annoying because of the way the hotel sold itself and the resort fee I was told brought me additional amenities. Can you tell this resort fee really got to me? The thing is, I’ve stayed at other hotels with this fee and never obsessed about how it wasn’t deserved. But, when things go wrong and there aren’t the amenities you hoped, the resort fee is a slap in the face. Not like the way my cat slaps me, but more like a “ha-ha, we got your money” kind of way.

Being at a destination full of outdoor activities, it seemed bad enough the aquatics center closed at 7pm. At that time, sunset was approaching 8:30pm. So, we cut short our plans so we could rent a boat at the resort beach, to the delight of our 13-year old son. Oh wait, that amenity ends at 5:30pm we were informed, even though it didn’t say that anywhere in the information provided.  Frustrated, my daughter spotted an Arnold Palmer Light, which normally goes for 99 cents at the gas station. I expected it would be marked-up, but the $4 charge was beyond reason. Given the marshmallows available for roasting on the property’s patio were $11, it shouldn’t have been surprised. Yes, I am talking about plain jumbo marshmallows on a stick. The very thing that could have enhanced a family’s evening and left them with a warm feeling, which is exactly what you want when they are a level 4 TripAdvisor contributor.

Finally, it was time to check-out and head back to Denver. Curious how the conversation would go, I accompanied my husband when he checked out. I was secretly hoping they’d insist on refunding a day’s resort fee, but wasn’t planning on asking directly. At the desk, was a young woman, with long dark hair. I mention this because her hair covered up her name tag, which I really wanted to see. For purposes of our story, I will call her Carolyn.

Carolyn greeted us with the typical “Can I help you?”. We both waited for the normal, “How was your stay” question. But to my surprise, it never came. Finally, I asked Carolyn if she wanted some feedback, and she responded that she did.

My husband pulled out his note, and began explaining all the things wrong with our room. Every one of these things would have been noticed by the next guest. It was the equivalent of throwing a flotation device to a struggling swimmer. Notice I didn’t say drowning swimmer; I didn’t want to be overly dramatic.

Suddenly, my husband stopped talking. At first, I wasn’t sure why, but it became obvious when he asked, “Aren’t you going to write any of this down?” I watched as Carolyn stood there confused, and said nothing. My husband repeated his question, which finally registered. Carolyn fumbled to find a pen and wrote a couple words down on scratch paper. She was barely able to write anything. I starting getting that feeling, where I am a geyser at Yellowstone, ready to erupt.

I asked for a manager, which seemed like a no brainer given it was prime check-out time. Although this was a huge property with hundreds of rooms, no one would be there until 3pm. I was given the name of someone (we’ll call her Lisa) and a generic business card. Carolyn said she’d let her know I’d be contacting her. Somehow, I didn’t believe that unless Carolyn pre-emptively told her about the unreasonable lady checking out of room 245.

We continued our trip and once home, resumed our life as an incredibly attractive suburban family.  I didn’t take the time to write Lisa, or even check if she really was the manager.  I amused myself thinking how unlikely it was that Lisa would proactively call me. I’d hope she would, but I had to be honest that even when I had a similar type job I didn’t always do that.

About a week after our return, I got a generic survey from the resort with a greeting from the general manager. I had a name of someone who may actually care. I called the resort and got his e-mail address. I sent a detailed account of our stay, and sat back and waited. I fantasized that Carolyn was in a room where words like, “empathy” were written on a white-board.

A couple days later, I received a generic canned reply from the operations manager. However, at the end he added a sentence asking if it would be okay to call me. Normally I wouldn’t want to re-hash what was already said, but I am writing a book and needed material. I also (still) secretly hoped he’d insist they refund a day’s resort fee.

Dave seemed like a nice enough guy. He apologized and gave the impression he cared. He mentioned how they’ve already coached some of the team members and something about a storm taking out many of their flowers and new ones being on order. There was a huge hail storm that made the national news, but it was hours after we checked-out. Although I can’t be sure, I think he rationalized some of my feedback, saying it was the result of a storm that happened after we left.

Dave didn’t address many of the things I mentioned. He focused on a few main points, asking twice if my experience, “Ruined my trip?”. I said of course it didn’t, but I didn’t have as good of an experience as I hoped. I wonder now why he asked that question. Was he trying to gently nudge me into giving a better review? Was he using this answer to gage what he should do for me? I don’t fault Dave for not getting into how they price their Arnold Palmer. But, if he and his team similarly only addressed a few of the issues, they truly lost an opportunity to make their resort into something great.

Dave informed me that next time we’re in the area, I should contact him and they’ll “take care of me”. He’s been at the resort 12 years he said, he’s not going anywhere. Famous last words! I was at my last job approaching 20 years, and I thought the same thing. It wasn’t clear to me if Dave was simply upgrading me, which he said at one point, or giving me a free stay. Which leaves the possibility I will assume he’s doing much more for me than he intended

I told my husband (Rich) what Dave said, uncertain if he’d stay at the resort again. I had mixed feelings because when you travel that far, you really want enjoy yourself. I thought that maybe, if the room was a suite, it would make-up for pop corn kernels under your feet. “I am not staying there again. I don’t care, “was Rich’s response. Damn, I should have said my trip was ruined. Maybe I would have gotten that illusive resort fee back!

Cheyenne Mountain resort has a lot of things going for it. It’s location, it’s view, a beautiful lobby, and a large (albeit under-utilized) aquatics center. But, the sum of these things fail to comprise guest experience. It’s really all the little things we experience, that form our impression.

Take for example the French Quarter Inn in Charleston, SC. My kids were elementary school students when we first stayed there, hardly decision makers when it comes to where we stay. Or, are they? When we mentioned we were going to South Carolina again several years later, both lobbied diligently for a return stay at the Inn. They have a bowl of M&M’s in the lobby, they said excitedly, as they watched The High Fructose Adventures of Annoying Orange*.

If I want to relax outside, I don’t want to see wet discarded towels, pop-corn kernels, and over-flowing trashcans. That’s what I am going to remember, more than the mountain view from my room. When I share these problems with the hotel, I want to feel like they are outraged and that immediate corrections will take place. I just didn’t get that vibe when talking to Dave. Quite honestly, I rarely get that feeling when talking to anyone about problems I’ve experienced. You may get a heart-felt apology of course, but I never feel like meetings are going to take place, training curriculums will be reviewed or that bonus structures will be tailored to change un-desired behavior.

I am sure there are leaders who care enough to do these extra things. I know that, because I was that kind of leader, in my former life. I’d dissect complaints and determine what went wrong every step of the way. We’d meet with team members, review our training curriculum, covered miss opportunities in weekly huddles and newsletters My leaders and I would review technology and processes to see where changes were necessary, because let’s face it. Even the best team member can remember everything! Wherever we could make technology simpler and prompt the right action, we’d request change. And, we’d follow-up on this change to make sure it really did happen. I was proud of how we took the time to understand our client’s experience and the actions we took to learn from it. My every day interactions with businesses tell me what we did was really special.

What’s odd is even companies that take this additional step, sometimes forget where this valuable feedback came from. It came from a person, who had a problem and wasn’t happy. If all you are doing is sending a canned e-mail or apologizing, you are missing the opportunity to assure the client THIS IS NOT YOU. I recommend actually telling the person all the steps you are taking to prevent this problem in the future. Tell them how each person they spoke to will meet with their team leader, so they can learn from this situation. Why are we so fearful of telling it like it is? I do not know, but as a consumer I always want to know that the time I took to explain my dissatisfaction mattered. I also want to know if I chose to do business with this company again, that my experience will be positive.

If the person you have communicating with the client doesn’t know that such care will be taken, it’s advantageous to have an escalation team member follow-up. When I say it’s advantageous, I am speaking about increasing brand loyalty, creating positive word-of-mouth, and neutralizing negative feelings. Clearly, it is not advantageous when it comes to the number of team members you need or the technology and processes necessary to manage a follow-up queue. Some of us don’t work for a business that invests adequately in client service. Your value may be partly based on the number of one-call resolutions you have, and you are fearful of sending something for follow-up. I get it. Money talks and sometimes your employer just isn’t that concerned about “feel good” follow-up or worse yet, providing confirmation that a situation has been rectified.

When your resources are limited, you can train your team to convey your process when receiving a complaint. You can help them always put themselves in their client’s shoes, so that they don’t becomes de-sensitized to issues. Even if you have to be selective regarding what issues you review in detail, know that reviewing just a random sample will likely lead to the improvements necessary to resolve many other issues as well.  The important thing is to not lose sight of how your client feels and thinks.

It takes work to do that of course. Like, pulling all the frustrating calls the client had, looking at how their online interface appeared, and talking about the timeline of your client’s issue. Talking through just one of these issues at a monthly meeting can do a lot, to keep your team members level of awareness high. If you can’t do anything more than that, you are still accomplishing something worthwhile.

*If you can’t tell by the name, this isn’t a high-brow adult program. If you watch Downton Abbey, chances are this isn’t your thing. The plot, as described by Wikipedia, “follows the lives of Orange and friends: Pear, Passion Fruit, Midget/Little Apple, Marshmallow, Apple, Grandpa Lemon and the (sometimes) antagonistic Grapefruit.” Need I say more?


One thought on “The Mountain, the Pool and Pop-Corn Kernels. No cats were present.

  1. Awesome, Northville Mom. While some things about customer service seem so intuitive, other elements do not. Thanks for the look into it all.


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