The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Service With A Scowl …
October 14, 2010, 2:15 pm
Filed under: Comment

Hotels in the West piss me off.

Apart from the fact they are hideously overpriced and generally hugely underwhelming, what they term as ‘service’ is what does my head in.

I’m staying at the Purlitzer in Amsterdam.

It’s a hotel in a beautiful location … right on the canal … however so far, that is about as beautiful as it gets.

I got to the hotel yesterday morning at 7am.

With traveling time and connections, that means I’d spent over 19 hours to get to Amsterdam plus I had an additional hours delay while Dutch customs officers searched my bags because I apparently have the look of an archetypal drug smuggler … though I would imagine that means the real drug smugglers look completely the opposite to me. Say Brad Pitt.

Anyway, I walk in and after spending a good 10 minutes trying to make eye contact with a receptionist doing her best to avoid my gaze, I then get told my room was not ready.

OK – it was early so these things happen – however when I asked if there was somewhere I could shower and change they said no … not because they don’t have the facilities … but because they couldn’t formally ‘check me in’ they could not give me access to the changing rooms.

So after 19 hours of travel, the hotel that was charging me 299 Euros [+ tax] felt they had done enough and the receptionist asked me to …

“Move aside, so she could serve the other people in line”.


Now I know I’m pro-Asia and that labour is much cheaper over there, so you can hire more people to ‘do stuff’ … but this scenario just wouldn’t happen there, at least in a semi decent hotel.

Whether you were in Singapore, Shanghai, Bangkok or Bali … you wouldn’t see most of the hotel staff talking to each other and ignoring their customers.

You wouldn’t be left feeling that the slightest request was either too hard or not in their job description.

You wouldn’t be left without alternatives.

You wouldn’t be left full stop.

I’m not trying to make a hard luck story out of this – I know how lucky I am to be staying in Amsterdam in a beautiful location – however whenever you stay in a hotel, the experience you receive does have a baring on what you think or remember about a place and that is why I believe a nations tourism board should be placing expectations on service levels at international hotels rather than just leaving it to the hotel.

The reason I say that – facilities & styling aside [and why the fuck do so many hotels in the West – and a few in Asia – not include a toothbrush in the room!] – is because I believe part of the reason for the Purlitzer’s bad service is due to the culture of the country, rather than the company.

OK … OK … I accept that a company should be able to counter stuff like that with it’s training, however as I’ve been banging on for at least 5 years, culture influences/dictates attitude and behaviour far more than it is given credit for … so given I’ve stayed many times at hotels in Asia that are part of the same group as the Purlitzer and had great experiences – I would say the reason for the staffs attitude is something that goes beyond a lack of training.

I remember watching a documentary that said the reason service standards in the West are often quite poor is because they felt ‘looking after a strangers wellbeing’ made them feel a ‘lower class of human’ and as such, behaved in a way that implied they didn’t care as it made them feel superior in the interaction.

Now I don’t know enough about the Dutch culture to say if this applies to them or not [but I’m sure my lovely friends Jonathan & Truus will tell me all about it tonight] however if the generalised and extremely overly simplistic view of them being blunt and not suffering fools gladly is true, maybe that could be a contributing reason for what I’m experiencing at the moment … it’s certainly safe to say that this is one of the only hotels I’ve ever been to where all the staff seem to come from Holland which would mean any outside influence interms of service standards and expectation just aren’t there.

The thing is, good service isn’t about superiority or subserviancy, it is about – in very simplistic terms – ensuring life runs smoothly for the person paying for the experience, and whilst there may be the odd hiccup or bump in the road that can’t be avoided, not making an effort to find a mutually advantageous solution actually makes you feel worse about the place than if they tried something and fucked it up.

Which all goes to show that brand positionings count for absolute shit if you can’t back it up with the experience.

God, I hope Niko doesn’t think/say the same thing about me when we meet for the first time in a couple of hours.

29 Comments so far
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you couldn’t sleep could you?

Comment by Marcus

If you’re not checking out today Rob, don’t eat any of the food they bring you and keep your doors locked at all times.

I’m still working out if your comment about the tourism board overseeing hotel training is genius or pants. It might be genius, but it’s probably pants.

Comment by DH

Fuck! Hadn’t thought of that … so much for my planning skills. [Or maybe that’s a perfect example of them]

Comment by Rob

We’ve managed Niko’s expectations. But it’s still touch and go.

Comment by John

Did you say I’m slightly more interesting than you then John?

Comment by Rob

You got it in one Marcus.

Comment by Rob

no, but in all seriousness, the reason the have university programmes for hospitality management IS BECAUSE in the specific case of hoteliering, your entire product is down to the lowly staff that interact with the guest. I mean most hotel chains worth their balls train their cleaning staff to always smile, make eye contact and say hello. Some have to learn the names of the guests on the floor they clean. And those people are the “background”.

Lets break it down. the entire transaction is about a bunch of hygiene-factor expectations (clean room, fresh sheets etc give or take how prissy you are with the soap selection) and the 2 interactions you have with front desk. Therefore the product itself lives or dies on the face to face. Culture is one thing (and I know the guys you meeting tonight will confirm you ran up into proper dutch behaviour), but hotel chain management MUST, no wiggle room here, train its customer-facing staff out of whatever culture they are in. That is job #1 (with the clean bed either #0 or #2).

As for the “western hotels” bit, well I can say the places I get put up in London, never fail. staff always 100% on point, and the practice of free room upgrade is acctually too much for me. not necessary but I appreciate it. What they need here in europe is free wifi and just give up the racket.

Comment by roli

Hi Roli, nice to have you pop by.

I think the issue is what is one persons hygiene factor may not be anothers … as we have seen with all the troubles with India’s facilities for the athletes at the Commonwealth Games.

Out of interest, have you been to Asia and stayed in hotels there? I ask because maybe my problem is more to do with the variety of hotels and countries that I’ve stayed in so my scope of ‘acceptable hygiene factor’ is more broad than most.

That sounds arrogant – it wasn’t meant that way – however I still stand that there is some truth in the culture dictating the level of service you receive mainly because I believe that is true in everything … though I do concede maybe in the Purlitzer’s case, it’s more to do with them than Holland, ha!

Comment by Rob

Also wonder what sort of hotels you stay in, in London – chain or boutique – that would make a difference too though ironically, I find boutique hotels in Asia not offering the same standard as service as chains do – whereas in Europe, it’s quite the opposite, at least in my experience.

Comment by Rob

no no, you didnt sound arrogant about it. And maybe my start wasnt clear as it was mid-thought. But I whole heartedly agree that having gotten shit service is unacceptable, ESPECIALLY from a chain. And my comment was more to point out why its unacceptable for a chain – they should not allow any wiggle room for “cultural norms” to fuck up the service at customer contact. Because that’s the product itself. The example of the prevalent university programmes is to highlight why I would say its THE most important – beyond the room or minibar etc. Because price and/or brand determines what you expect. but you expect a bed. as to size and comfort of the bed, you would base that on whether you were in a hostel or a pullitzer right? To me, those are hygiene in general classification, but useless in the grand scheme if you fuck up the TWO main customer contacts. check in and check out. Precisely for the reasons you mentioned: these fuck heads dont know what you went thru to get there, they gotta make it smooth and pleasurable.

so, to answer your actual questions after my long winded attack on possible miscommunication:
In london I’ve stayed at trafalgar, which of course is awesome. but also the myhotel bloomsbury. Wish they would do free wifi, or at least useful internet, but I cant complain when the rest of it is done right.
Asia: havent been to hong kong or bangkok since the late 80s early 90s. Cant compare that experience with the new wide open world they are now….

Comment by roli

Hi there – you should go, it’ll blow your mind – and your future expectations of hotel service, ha!

Comment by Rob

I’m off to meet Niko now. I apologise to him in advance …

Comment by Rob

“in a way that implied they didn’t care as it made them feel superior in the interaction.”

that implies they are inferior assholes lol wouldnt say that trait is unique to the west… but there surely are different forms of egoism…

Comment by peggy

Of course it does – but that, mixed with cultural expectation, history and pure arrogance is why inferiority is covered through arrogance. Why else would Andy be the way he is, hahaha!

Comment by Rob

well well, i dont think there is such a thing as inferiority on a human level in the first place, as a starting point. but funnily enough, i regard people who think they are superior (for whatever reasons) or act like assholes to feel superiority (to cover up insecurities or whatever their intentions are, even worse when they are aware of them) as inferior on a human/interpersonal level. that might sound like a catch 22. but its just a general statement in terms of morale and values. and got nothing to do with having some laughs about rude jokes 😉

Comment by peggy

Where’s Boucher (did you know that’s French for butcher which is ludicrously appropriate).
I would have the obvious pop about disappointment with a 300 earo hotel, all those 50 euro notes ruining breaking the stitching of the wallet etc, but I’m pledging to curb my recent, unseemly aggressiveness and leave it to the Boucher of Bigbad.
Good point about good service making business sense though

Comment by northern

I don’t actually understand your comment Mr Northern – are you slagging me off or the hotel off or both? Eitherway I’m sure when Andy comes back from being the foreman, he’ll do you proud … though I’d rather he didn’t and you returned to your aggressive side because it was really lovely to see.

But then I’m a bastard lover aren’t I!

Comment by Rob

I wonder if the problem is often about hotels where people stay once and never again, they often feel it doesn’t matter about service as they will never see you again.

Silly thinking these days…

Comment by Rob Mortimer

I know what you’re saying Mr M, but the thing is how do they know I won’t be back. Well, I won’t be back in their hotel … but how do they know I won’t be back in Amsterdam and potentially looking for a hotel? When you add how technology can allow people to fuck companies over from the comfort of their armchair, it doesn’t just make it silly thinking, but stupid.

Comment by Rob

Exactly. But I’ve mainly noticed this type of service in places that are touristy… heard an online hotel chain talk about it too; how online reviews are making them change their service!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

two words: falling down.

apparently australians have a good reputation for customer service outside their own country, of course. servile since 1788. (our new tourist board slogan, maybe?)

enjoy the flight home at least 🙂

Comment by lauren

If you mean Australian’s have a good reputation for customer service because they let convicts come in and settle, then I’ll agree with you … however if it’s how you get treated at the WESTIN in Sydney, then I’ll say “you’re having a laugh aren’t you?”.

Just met Niko … he fucking trod on my foot and said it was from you. Wait till I see you Ms Lauren!

Comment by Rob

outside their own country…

Comment by lauren

bet dan fucking wieden is over the fucking moon youre pissing on his 300 euro a night present to you. almost as over the fucking moon as the poor fuckers who work there will be happy to read this post from their disgruntled little prince of a fucking customer.

why will they read it? because ive just emailed it to their reservations department but dont worry campbell, if theyre as shit as you say they are, they wont get round to reading it till youre walking your kid down the fucking aisle.

Comment by andy@cynic

im off to bermuda in about 3 hours. if the hotel treats me like a piece of shit because theyve read this post and think i am your friend, i will sue. not just for your ample property empire, but for your blood, soul and heart.

bye fuckers.

Comment by andy@cynic

You go away more than a member of the Gambino family.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Guess you’ve gone. Who will I have to talk to now? Please not Rob.

Comment by Billy Whizz

soul? heart? what the fuck was i thinking. doesnt matter, the donald trump property empire will do.

Comment by andy@cynic

And there I was thinking my own crap hotel experience in Amsterdam was down to the dour receptionist…

Comment by Anjali Ramachandran

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