Thursday, September 27, 2012

Super 8 Update (poet and know it)

Super Eight Logo
After my September 4 post about my unhappy Super 8 stay (Whaaaa!), a few of you  encouraged me (YAY, and thank you!) to report the incident. So I sent a short note to Super 8 Customer Care via The Form that pops up under Super 8's "Feedback on my hotelstay". In it, I included a link to my blog post account of the gnarly details.

Within a day or two, I received a nice response email from Julie, an Internet Specialist with the Wyndham Hotel Group. Super 8 is now under their umbrella.  In case you're not aware how many other brands fall under that umbrella, and at which you could be earning Wyndham Rewards, check the bottom of that page. You might be surprised at the size of this alliance which includes Microtel, Ramada and Days Inn. [You will also find call-out boxes on the Super 8 home page: HEY STOCK CAR FANS. HEY RODEO FANS. Of course this got my attention because I do believe it was greasy stock car driver fingerprints that graced my keycard holder upon check-in. :)]

Julie thanked me for contacting them, apologized for my dissatisfaction (good business) and said I would hear directly, by a named timeline, from the hotel's manager to "assist" me "in reaching a resolution".

The response deadline date, also my 43rd wedding anniversary, came and went with nary a word from Super 8, but I did enjoy a wonderful breakfast out (blackened catfish omlet!) with my honey. (He ordered two eggs over easy. That's the way we roll.) Either the response of the manager was lost in the cosmos (always possible) or he didn't get to it. Oh, well, after that kind of stay, that's pretty much what I expected.

However, Julie then contacted me via phone (surprise, and terrific business) to see if I'd heard from him. I told her no, but that I sure appreciated her followup. She said the matter would be handled in house. She wanted to know what I expected by way of resolution.

Whoa! What an excellent question, one I hadn't actually thought about--well, aside from the whining part. What did I want? 

Since my mouth is always quick to speak, even when I haven't thought about much of anything, I told her I'd never asked for a "resolution". I guess all I really wanted was for The Powers that Be to know about it. After all, via the comments on my blog, seasoned travelers had encouraged me to Give Peace a Chance. I told her I doubted I'd be back that rural Super 8 way anyway; the incident was over. But I wished to have my complaints acknowledged, and to hopefully help spare anyone else the same yuck treatment. I told her I'd originally put my experience out there in part just to ask others to share their GOOD Super 8 experiences with me, so that I didn't write off the whole brand over that one experience.

The next day I missed a call from the Super 8 manager, which I later returned. He said he'd tried to contact me previously too, within the timeline. Nothing on my phone logs validated that, but then again, technical glitches sometimes do happen. My default is one of "benefit of the doubt" when it comes to technology, so I set aside my skepticism.

He was extremely engaging and apologetic. He said he speaks with his workers all the time about first impressions and the importance of little things, which was the gist of my post.

He THANKED ME for the specific feedback and said if I ever came that way again, I should let him know before I arrived so he could make sure everything was fine. He was going to go over all my complaints again with his employees. He mentioned something about keycard cover changes. (In case you missed the original post, you won't believe what I was handed at check-in. I posted the disgusting pictures.)

His attitude was humble, his apology charming, he sounded sincere. We hung up and that was that.

The next day in an unrelated conversation, a friend of mine shared her recent terrible experience at a new restaurant in town. She said her turkey burger tasted like the entire thing had come to the restaurant frozen, then was heated in a microwave. Since she had to wait an hour to get her food (strikes one and two), and because she was starving, she ate the fries, which she said were good. She did not, however, take even a second bite of the turkey burger, it was that bad.

When the waitress came around to ask if everything was okay, my friend, encouraged by her tablemate, told the waitress exactly what I just told you about the turkey burger. The waitress asked if she wanted something else to replace it, to which my friend replied, "No thanks." She had to get back to work and she was already more than an hour in.

When the bill came, the waitress had deducted $3.00, presumably for the turkey burger portion of the turkey burger/fries basket combo, not even half the combo amount.(Did they discount the value for the bite she took?)

There are two ways to handle customer service: one gets a job done, the other breeds extreme good will, something that packs a much heartier come-back-again wallop than a "Sorry" or a few token bucks. Since it was a new restaurant in a small town and word-of-mouth spreads quickly, and this was my friend's first impression (again I refer to my initial Super 8 post), I believe her entire meal should have been comped. My response to her story was REALLY? That's just bad business.

Which got me to thinking, oh, boy. 

When Wyndham asked what I was looking for by way of resolution after my Super 8 stay, like I said, I responded that I just wanted to let them know. I hoped to help spare future travelers the same horrid experience. My benefit-of-the-doubt self imagines that complaints will be taken seriously and corrective measures taken. And again, the Super 8 manager was friendly, humble, apologetic, thankful and sounded sincere. When I hung up, I felt satisfied because I'd received what I asked for. (Pollyanna here believes nobody else will ever have this problem again.) I was impressed with Wyhdham's speedy response and in particular, their follow through, especially since I'm not a heavy hitting Wyndham Rewards' customer. 

But since then (here comes the thinking part, oh, boy), since hearing the story about my friend's restaurant yuck and considering my response to it, I've been thinking about good will--and money-back guarantees. There are hotel chains out there with such offers. I've always been a fan of Hampton Inns. I see in a simple Google search that their 100% satisfaction guaranteed offer is front and center, even though I've never had cause to try to call in that marker. I know what to expect from them, and it's almost always 100% positive.

Who knows: maybe Super 8 has such a guarantee too, although I don't see up-front evidence, nor did web prowling produce such a promise. But if they did offer such a thing, and I knew about it, and if/when someone asked me about "resolution," I could have just said, SHOW ME THE MONEY!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Dear Hoteliers, IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS! The story of A REAL SHOCKER of a "Greeting"

No matter how cheap economical or over-priced luxurious a hotel, it’s the little things that stick in my brain. Things like a sensible clock, a variety of pillows, a heating/air conditioning system that doesn’t sound like an off-balance washing machine. Or careless things like beverage rings on the furniture. (I stop typing a moment here to growl since the lowest paid on the totem pole usually delivers the most important impression.) Or bright cheery lighting versus dull light bulbs, so dull I need a minor’s light attached to my head. Complimentary or raping high-cost Internet service. A free breakfast with at least an ounce of protein versus an offering of doughnuts. A lavish manager’s reception, chips plus drinks to order, versus a weeks’-old bowl of dusty apples at the reception desk.

But it’s a hotel/motel’s first impression, especially a bad one, that triggers my high-alert alarm. While a few microns of dust under the television in my room (you know, that line of sight from the prone position?) might otherwise go uncharted, start me off with a bad first impression and I’m gunning for other areas of neglect. Like a few microns of dust under the television.

Mind you, I don’t need a manager’s reception or hot chocolate chip cookies to lure me back to a brand. In fact, I most often can’t afford to stay where they’re offered. And I don’t mind a simple bowl of fruit. No siree. In fact, I sometimes actually take a piece, and—wait for it-- eat it. But gimme that bruised bowl of dusty apples on a check-in desk, sans a desk clerk in sight to greet me, and I get itchy to grab my blacklist pen.

Nonetheless, even when I have to wait a few minutes for an employee to materialize, even if there is no newspaper or juicy morsel to pop in my mouth, if I get to my room and it’s clean, bright, smells fresh, doesn’t have a concave bed, nothing is crawling around on the floor or under the sheets, and there’s a semi-comfortable clean chair and a desk, I’m pretty forgiving about other things. I’m not much of a whiner—although I am one of those people who might have a private chat with the folks at the desk before I leave, especially when things run amuck. 

The following experience garnered a book-length chat, although when I left, I doubted my polite feedback would result in even a hiccup of change. You’ll see why.

For the first time in years, and due to a lack of choices in the rural area, I booked a room at a Super 8, which is now a subsidiary of Wyndham Worldwide

My very first shocking impression (and it went downhill from there) was enough to turn me off from ever booking a Super 8 again. If THIS is how they welcome new guests, I wonder about cleanliness in any other areas, like my sheets, the toilet or the carpet. It doesn't take long to imagine a stockpile of cost cutting shortcuts, inattentive management, germ laden nightmares and creepy crawly things that go bump in the night.

Seriously, this is how they handed me my keycard! Seriously. For real. Front and back. Real pictures. Of real “service” and first impressions. This alone nearly turned me off the entire chain—for the second time in my life.
When George and I married 43 years ago, every trip we took was on a budget nicely matched by Super 8 prices. The chain was founded in 1972 so for the most part, they were not only new, but clean and dependable. When you walked into the lobby and your room, you knew what you’d see, what to expect, right down to the pictures on the wall. I’d compare their initial dependability with what I expect and receive today from Hampton Inns.

We stuck with Super 8--were loyal to Super 8--well into the eighties, at which point reliability started to slip, boredom set in, and our financial situation had upped a notch. “No matter where we go in the country, George, it looks like the inside of a Super 8." Back-to-back stays with cleanliness issues turned me off the chain for good. Right up until earlier this year when I was invited to speak. In a rural area. In a wonderfully friendly little town with a raceway. (Perhaps that explains all the grease on the keycard cover, but it sure doesn't explain why I GOT IT!)

I was told there were only two local hotels in town, and that the Super 8 was recommended. By the locals who booked me. Who ought to know good from bad. Except now that I think about it, they never stay there, do they?

Perhaps I should have heeded a subliminal warning when the woman who booked me to speak invited me to stay in her home. I enjoyed her company, immensely, but not wanting to be "talked out" before I had to present three times in different venues the next day, I kindly declined and made my reservation. After all these years, I felt pretty confident Super 8 had upped their game. After all, they had that Wyndham connection going for them, and they had that whole sort-of-new-logo thing .... And they rebranded from Super 8 Motels to Super 8 International, which sounds way more awesome.

How bad could it be?

In case you missed it, please look at the keycard case pictures again. Don’t you wonder exactly what the desk clerk thinks your first impression of their establishment might be when you’re handed a grody mess like that? My thought was, “Super 8, where we really don’t give a crap.”

I realize this is a harsh way to judge an entire chain, and is in fact an unfair way to judge an international group. I even feel a teensy bit bad for yammering on about it. But ... Seriously? You handed me that? When that's my first impression, and that's all I have to go on ….

But wait, there’s more.

Even though I’d requested nonsmoking, I opened my room door and was nearly bowled over by the stagnant fog of exhaled tar and nicotine. I marched (okay, at my age it's more like a determined saunter) straight back to the desk and asked for another room, hopefully with a fresh keycard cover. “I’m afraid I don’t have any rooms that will be better,” she said, “but I can bring down some spray.” Which she did, which, as you can imagine, accomplished nothing other than to add another layer of stinky yuck.

I thought about the personal invite I’d declined and quivered at the thought of what the other motel in town must be like that was not recommended. But the hard cold reality: I was tired, I needed to get both some rest and some sleep, and it was too late to reinvite myself as a house guest.

Holding my breath, I checked the bathroom. My assessment: dated with smidges of moldy grout but otherwise “clean enough”. I removed the smoky smelling bedspread and checked the sheets. Paper thin but mostly white. Nothing moving. Flat pillows, but oh well, my only other option was sleeping in the car.

I moved to the small fridge, which I appreciate in a room. Score one, Super 8! When one travels on a budget, one doesn’t waste food. I always seem to have a doggie bag hermetically sealed to my fingertips when I walk into a hotel room, which I did after that day's five-hour drive.

Wow! Head start! Someone had left a Styrofoam carton containing a chocolatey dessert in the handy-dandy fridge. There didn’t appear to be mold around the edges (why do we risk taking a look?!), so perhaps it was from last night’s guest? (For the record, I've experienced this same Refrigerator Surprise in extremely expensive hotels too.) For a misguided nanosecond I considered downing it to calm myself and receive the benefits of the chocolatey *polyphenols that combat heart disease and may influence metabolism, therefore making me slimmer, not to mention the wonders of antioxidants and flavonoids, which … do something good. Instead I ceremoniously—as in STRIKE THREE!—marched (no hint of saunter) the container to the front desk. Where it was received with a smile, an almost-but-not-quite apology, and where it quickly disappeared to a back room.

Oh, boy.

Before reluctantly crawling into bed that night, I turned the fan on high, closed tight my eyes and said my prayers. Big time prayers covering all types of requests that I please be spared from contracting all kinds of stuff. I finally dozed off. I didn’t bother with the free breakfast the next morning because, well, KEYCARD COVER, and by this time I was afraid I might find a chocolate dessert cut up in little squares passed off as breakfast bites.

Ending on a positive note, during my stay a carpet cleaning company busily spruced up the hallways and empty-room carpets. At least I witnessed that.

My one regret is that I didn't come home and send a letter to the highest people I could find at both Super 8 and Wyndham. But honestly, after an experience like that--my overall first impression of Super 8s after nearly a thirty-year absence--I just blacklisted them from my realm of options.There was no way for management to undo that which was already done, starting with the littlest thing: the keycard holder. I'd rather add a hundred more inconvenient out-of-my-way driving miles next time rather than risk another gross experience. 

I understand my decision to just Let The Whole Thing Go. These days I strive to conserve my energy for ongoing battles that must be waged. But blacklisting an entire chain after one experience also makes me kinda sad. Sad for other Super 8 establishments and their hard working careful employees who I'm sure must be out there. In fact, if you’ve recently experienced a terrific Super 8 stay(s), please post about it here in the comments. I’d like to know there is another side to this chain, one that might—might—lure me back on a tired night on the road.