THINKING BUSINESS
a blog by Chris Barrow

Lousy customer service at The Hilton Dartford

What follows is my email to the hotel after the event.

The moral(s) of this tale:

  1. make sure you give the feedback

  2. ask yourself whether a version of this could happen in your business

  3. think about the thousands of people who can find out in the new world of social networking

  4. print a copy of this story and allow your team to read it – as a metaphor for what can go wrong

Dear Prasoon (assistant manager at the restaurant)

Can I first of all thank you for the time and trouble that you invested in listening to my story on the evening of Wednesday 26th May 2010.

Perhaps the best way to start this is by reminding you that I am a Diamond VIP member.

I drive around 40,000 miles a year around the United Kingdom and a significant of the 120 nights a year that I spend in hotels are invested in the Hilton group – and have been for many years.

I also use Hilton hotels extensively abroad when I travel for both business and leisure.

I have stayed at the Hilton Dartford Bridge before – in my role as a Business Consultant to the UK dental profession on of my responsibilities is to provide customer service training and, in particular, I have been at Dartford Bridge on a number of occasions in the last 12 months facilitating workshops for Integrated Dental Holdings Ltd, the largest UK dental corporate.

I arrived at the hotel at around 8pm on the evening of Wednesday and my check in experience was absolutely fine and on “brand standards”.

As a Diamond VIP member I am used to a good registration experience and also a room upgrade.

After quickly unpacking I was keen to get some food before it became too late and I arrived at the hotel restaurant reception at 8.45pm to be greeted by the lady in the blue uniform – I don’t understand the rules completely but I think that this signifies that she is the head of the restaurant (Maitre D) for the evening.

One of my old habits is to make eye contact, to smile and to actually introduce myself in a very friendly way and, so, in the normal way I specifically said “good evening and how are you?”.

The lady in question did engage me in a conversation for about 60 seconds, asking me whether I had had a good day and I explained that I needed a table for 1 person with some adequate lighting as I would be reading during my meal.

She escorted me to a table that was very close to the restaurant entrance and her work station.

As a seasoned traveller, one gains a sixth sense as to whether things are working OK in any customer service experience.

She gave me two cardboard folders and simply said “this is the a la carte menu and this is the set menu, enjoy your meal” and then walked away – no drinks order and no indication that somebody would be taking my order in the next few minutes.

My attention was immediately engaged by the fact that this had happened and also by the fact that there were a reasonable number of guests dining in the restaurant but very few waitresses or waiters seemed to be in evidence.

I spent about 5 minutes simply sitting and watching the comings and goings within the restaurant and it quickly became clear to me that there was going to be a problem – which seemed evidenced by the fact that there simply were not enough staff in visibility.

5 minutes became 10 and still no drinks order and so I decided that I might as well look after myself.

I wandered over to the soup station and grabbed myself a bowl of soup – back to the table and the soup slowly consumed whilst I read a trade newspaper.

Without being too anal I would suggest that the soup was finished by the top of the hour 9pm and I passed the plate to one side of my table and carried on reading further.

Still no drinks order and soup plate not collected.

Around about 9.05pm I decided to wander over to the carvery area and take a look at what might be available for me to eat from the set menu – after all nobody had approached me to ask whether I wanted a la carte.

On lifting the lids of the set menu it was very clear to me that the food had been there for a considerable period of time and had not been touched by any staff members from the kitchen.

The vegetables, potatoes and rice were desiccated under their heat lamps.

I took a quick look at the hot food servings (main courses) and it was equally clear to me that they had been there for some considerable time.

I eventually settled on pork stroganoff and was somewhat dismayed to find that the outer surface of the meat and sauce were a different colour from the inner surface in view of the fact that they had been left untouched for so long.

Needless to say this was not an appetising prospect.

I eventually put some pork stroganoff and desiccated rice onto a plate and wandered back to my table having administered some gravy in order to try and moisten up the rice – not my idea of a good evening meal at the end of a long day’s work.

Whilst tolerating a few mouthfuls of this food I began to pick up on a conversation that was taking place between the Maitre D and one of the waitressing team.

This was a conversation about the number of hours that the waitress had worked that week.

I distinctly heard the waitress use the phrase “I am not paid to do that” and then a remonstration from the Maitre D.

The conversation became more heated and after a period of time the Maitre D reached underneath her workstation and pulled out a ring binder which contained pages recording the work sheets of individual members of staff.

Their heated conversation carried on for some minutes and ultimately this attracted the attention of one of the very few other waitresses in the audience who decided to join in.

At around about 9.10pm I was faced with the prospect of no drink, badly prepared food, two plates now uncleared from my table, not a single member of staff asking whether I would like anything and having to listen to a heated conversation between a Maitre D and two waitresses whilst at the same time perhaps 50 other guests were beginning to show signs of irritation at the lack of customer service.

I did in fact witness one other male guest completely loose his temper and walk over to the Maitre D loudly requesting service at which point one of the waitresses scurried over to him whilst he sat at his table clearly in a state of intense agitation.

At 9.15pm I walked out to the reception area and registered my dismay with a member of the reception team.

I walked back to my table with the intention of picking up my belongings and going to the bar for a drink and it was at that point that you arrived in the restaurant and I heard my room number “mentioned in despatches”.

I approached the work station and began to give you my feedback.

I would hasten to add that the other male guest and I had a conversation later on in the evening during which he explained that he had repeatedly asked to have his table set for dinner after he had moved places to avoid the noise from a large group.

It seemed that he had to visibly loose his temper in order to get anybody to set out any cutlery for his meal.

He fed back to me that he had stayed at the hotel 4 nights in 4 weeks and was asking his company to move him elsewhere in view of the appalling customer service that he had received on every one of his stays.

As an aside he also mentioned to me that the water system in the hotel was faulty and that under his shower he had had to dash in and out of hot and cold streams of water.

I repeated this experience myself at 5.30am this morning. There is something wrong with the water system in the hotel.

I would say that if this hotel were a dental practice it would be at the poor end of NHS and yet you are charging private prices.

I am a great fan of Hilton and have been for many years and I doubt whether I have ever seen such poor customer service and disorganisation in a Hilton hotel.

I’d like to say that my experience at reception and also later at the bar were absolutely fine – this is the case and I’d also like to add the personal attention that you gave to me later on in the evening and the understanding and listening ear which in many ways compensated for the experience.

However, I get paid to give customer service feedback to organisations all over the United Kingdom and I don’t see why I should resist the temptation to do the same for you.

Clearly, it’s impossible to suggest compensation for the experience – my meal (or should I say my bowl of soup) were free but I do believe that the Maitre D and her staff really need to be taken back through the training process and realise that the hotel restaurant essentially belongs to the guests and is not a forum for them to work out their employment problems.

Chris Barrow

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