August 05, 2005

Dear Holiday Inn

What corporations are just starting to find out, is that the new demands for customer service are coming straight out of consumers' mouths into other consumers' ears via the net. In blogging, we tell stories. Good stories and bad stories. And if I'm going to tell my story to the Holiday Inn management, I might as well tell it to my thousands of friends too.

So tell me, after you hear the story, would you stay at the Buffalo Airport Holiday Inn? That's the Holiday Inn Airport in Buffalo, NY, in case you didn't get it the first time.


Dear Holiday Inn Management,

I am writing to let you know that your 100% satisfaction guarantee isn't real.

I don't believe it, even though you post it at the front desk and in each of the guest rooms. At least it isn't real at the Holiday Inn Airport in Buffalo, New York, where my family stayed from 7/29 - 8/2.

Let me tell you about the dis-service we received there, let me highlight those individuals who went above and beyond to cheer us up, too. Because I'm not just a whining consumer. I'm a real person. In other words, I'm one of your consumers. A blogging consumer. Let me tell you our story.

The Pillow Fight

My daughter and I arrived at the Holiday Inn, Buffalo Airport on 7/29 and checked in to your King room with the fold-out couch. We requested some extra pillows (none were provided for the pull-out couch where our daughter would be sleeping), and were told someone would bring them up.

After an hour or so, I called back and offered to come get them--but they are apparently kept somewhere that the front desk crew doesn't have access to. Okay. No big deal. They tell me, the same guy that's driving the shuttle to pick up folks at the airport is the one who hands out things like pillows, and he's just really busy. It's about 8:00 p.m. I'm cool, you know, at $113 a night plus 14% tax that I can't get a pillow in four hours' time. But I'm really going to need some pillows by the time my husband flies in at 9:00.

Or so I thought. George's flight was delayed out of Atlanta, so I had nothing to do but wait. For him and some pillows. About six hours after I asked for pillows, around 10:30 p.m., the pillow man came. WOW! COOL! Thank you pillow man.

The Long Day's Journey Into Nowhere

My husband's flight got in so late (1 a.m.) that he took the shuttle to the hotel rather than me waking up our daughter and driving over to get him. The same pillow-man/driver gave him a map of the hotel and sketched out the route to our room. Of course, he sketched it out in a way that took my husband, literally, around the entire hotel to our doorstep. George asked him, "Wouldn't it just be simpler to go this way?" pointing out the more direct route on the map. He said, "Well, I guess you could, but I'd go this way."

So he did. And man was he pissed when the next morning he realized, yes, there were no walls or corners or big bad monsters lurking on the short route he COULD have taken after a 10-hour journey.

Still, no big deal. At least it's time for breakfast, and BOY are we hungry after the prior day (and night for George) of traveling.

Mixed Couple for Breakfast--How About Across the Street?

Max's Restaurant is attached to your facility. It may or may not be “part” of your hotel system, but it’s where you encourage guests of the Buffalo Airport Holiday Inn to eat.

We arrived for breakfast at Max’s at about 10:50, having read in one of the pamphlets that lunch service begins at 11:00. When we arrived in Max’s we stood at the hostess stand for two or three minutes watching the waitresses deliver food to the customers who had been seated. “Hello?” we said, after what seemed to be a very long time to wait just to get a seat. When no one showed up to seat us, we did what any smart family does: We split up in search of someone to get us a seat in time for breakfast. I saw a waitress walk past my husband, and up to me and my daughter who were standing across the restaurant. With two menus in her hand, she asked would we like to be seated.

I waved George over and instantly saw the look in her eye that any mixed couple living in Western NY has seen at least a dozen times. Whatever. You get used to it.

“I hope we’re in time for breakfast,” I said to her. “We were traveling all of yesterday.”

She told me, no, it ends at 11:00. And it’s now 11:00. But, she indicated by pointing a finger out the door, that place across the road serves breakfast all day.

Blink. Blink blink. That was the exchange between my starving husband, child, and me. Had we been somehow magically transported to Denny's? I couldn't figure it out.

“We’ve been standing here waiting to be seated for the last 5-10 minutes. We WERE here before 11:00.” George said. And followed that with a 180-degree turn, a “Come on—we’re out of here,” and two feet toward the door.

Your unaccommodating waitress disappeared without a word, and in her place appeared a very cheery hostess who apologized, asked if she could please seat us, and said that of course we could still get breakfast.

We weren’t going to stay—no way—until a wonderful woman (who turned out to be the highlight of our trip), Renee, your best Max’s waitress, came up to us and was genuine, kind, and told us that she, personally, wanted to make sure we got what we needed. And she did. She was wonderful, empathetic. Thank goodness for Renee at Max’s.

So we stayed, and Renee arranged it so that our breakfast was on the house—that was appreciated. We didn’t see our racist waitress after that morning. I have high hopes that her ass was fired. Especially since I watched couple after couple come in during the hour we were there saying, "Two for breakfast," and getting no flack.

The rest of that day was spent doing what we came to do—seeing family. We only came back to sleep.

The Sagging Bed and The “I Don’t Believe You.”

Look, when a customer tells your staff that a mattress is so uncomfortable that they’re willing to go through the hassle of packing up all of their stuff – including every Polly Pocket shoe known to man (do you KNOW how hard Polly Pocket shoes are to even FIND in a hotel room?), you better tell your people to BELIEVE that customer. That was our next battle with your front-desk manager: Laurie.

The next night’s sleep—now that we were both coherent enough after our trip to Buffalo to be aware—was terrible. The bed sagged in the middle, and although I can deal with a saggy mattress, my husband has several herniated discs and a bone spur that transforms an annoyingly saggy bed into a misery machine.

George and I talked about it as he popped Ibuprofen. We’d dealt with it for two nights—not counting the night he came in because didn’t get much sleep that night. Should we deal with it for the next two nights? He decided to try to deal with it another night and see.

By that morning the bed problem was red hot—like my husband’s back. I decided to call the front desk and ask if there was any way to fix the problem, or, worst case scenario, ugh, move to a different room for our last night there.

I first talked to a young woman at the front desk who said that the best answer was to change rooms. And to do that we had to make sure everything was packed up in our suitcases because they don’t touch loose belongings.

Oh. Joy. Okay.

At 9:30 that morning, the woman said she’d call me back in an hour and let me know if a room was available, or when it might be.

Cool. We begin the process of packing up. With Jenna crying, “I don’t WANT to move!” At around 10:00 the young lady from the front desk called and said two rooms were available—one on the first floor and one on the second. No elevator. Oh good.

I told George he’d better go check the beds before we go through the trouble of moving, and he did. He said that the first floor mattress was just the same, but that the one on the second floor was fine. Oh joy—let’s lug our stuff to the second floor without an elevator—all SIX suitcases.

At around noon I got the call from the front desk manager, Laurie. She said she had been made aware of our situation, and could she ask: “Why on the last night of your stay do you want to change rooms?”

Her tone was unprofessional, accusatory, and about the most insulting I’ve heard in all of my hotel stays combined.

“Excuse me? I mean, did the other woman I was talking to explain that my husband’s back can’t take another night on this mattress?”

“All of our mattresses are new. All of them. They don’t sag,” she said.

“Well do me a favor and come to this room, and I’ll show you the middle of THIS mattress. You’ll see that it does.”

“I’m trying to tell you, Mrs. Sessum, that all of our mattresses are new and they’re all the same, and [[she’s doing the sarcastic laugh thing at this point]], I don’t think that another bed is going to be any different.”

“Well my husband found one that is different on the second floor, but I was hoping we could hold out and see if one opens up on the first floor because we have so much to move and there’s no elevator.”

“We’ll move you. I just don’t quite understand why you want to move now, and I assure you all of our mattresses are new.”

My pressing need to get her to the room to TRY our mattress remained unfulfilled. Just like any relaxation I expected to get at this hotel.

That’s the Night that the Lights Went Out in Buffalo

The bellman, Charles, who, with George, the bad-back-guy, lugged all of our belongings up the stairs to room 437 deserves an award. He was pleasant, he was NOT the same bellman who led George through Albany in order to find our room the first night, and he was professional. He and Renee, the Max’s waitress, are your best employees. I dare say, your only professional employees.

OKAY. Now we’re in the room with the good bed. It’s our last night. I am, to say the least, thankful. Let’s just lie back on the non-saggy mattress honey and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Boom boom boom—okay now I know why this mattress is still like new. Because no one takes the room next to the stair well. Of course not. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to cipher that equation.

Even with the noise of guests bouncing up the steps late into the evening, we’re glad for a good bed. And considering the maids didn’t clean our room the morning previously, we’re REALLY glad to be in the new room.

Then the lights went out.

Came back on.

Then the cable went out.

Didn’t come back on.

Hmm. That’s odd. Oh well, let’s just watch through the fuzzy picture—maybe we’ll find something good on. Wow, sure is getting hot in here. Hmm. I wonder why the thermostat says 74 but it’s set at 70. Maybe I better push it down to 69 and the air will come on. Nope. Wow. It’s really stuffy in here.

Lord, don’t make me call that Laurie woman again.

Okay, it’s an hour later. No cable. No air. What is up?

I call the front desk again.

“I was wondering, is the cable out?”

“M'am, the entire street is out. Lightning strike. We have our generator on, but it only delivers necessary power.”

“Oh. Wow. The airport’s out too?”

“They’re on a generator too.”

“How long does the generator last?”

“A couple of hours.”

“What happens after that?”

“M’am, I really don’t know. You want a flashlight? We can bring you one.”

“Well, okay, I guess so.”


So they brought us a flashlight. Turns out it was a good thing to have when the generator gave out two hours later, the thermostat now up to 78, no way to open the windows, but at least when the whole place went dark we had our trusty flashlight.

But George’s sleep machine was hosed. And he can’t—I mean can’t—sleep without it. Neither can the rest of the neighborhood. If you have a CPAP machine, you know what I mean.

As we sat in the dark with our flashlight I have an idea.

“Honey, maybe they have a battery generator—one of those little things that would run your machine.”

“It’s okay,” he said defeated.

“Just let me call and see—they hate me already.”

So I call—Big Mistake.

“Hello, my husband is on a CPAP machine and I was wondering if you have any reports on how long the power will be out—because he has to have power to run it.”

“We have no idea. They’re working on it.”

“Well, do you know if there are any smaller generators for people that need breathing machines?”

“Would you like me to call 911, M’am?

“No. It’s not like he’s NOT BREATHING. It’s just that he’s on a C-PAP machine—C-P-A-P—and it needs power to run.”

“Well, let me call the fire department and see if they have one.”

“Um, okay, but tell them it’s NOT an emergency. Just that he’s on a C-PAP machine—C-P-A-P—and if they have something to plug it into that would be great.”


Five minutes later three paramedics arrive at our door ready to resuscitate my husband.

“Hello—Is someone having trouble breathing!?!?”

“Oh. Dear. You see I told her to tell you it’s just that he’s on a C-PAP machine—I even spelled it for her—and she thought you might have a little generator…I’m so sorry.”

Fortunately, power was restored within an hour of the generator shutting down. Our four-hour power outage came to an end. We got plugged in and languished through our last night at the hotel, with the air conditioning never cooling the room below 76 degrees. It was bearable, sure. But not comfortable—especially during the final pack up the next morning.

The whole hotel stunk the next morning from all circulation having been shut off for so long. I mentioned this to the front desk—that our air conditioning wasn’t working since the power outage--not that we expected anything could be done about it, but for them to know for the NEXT guest. Our entire wing seemed to be without air. They sent maintenance, who moved our little refrigerator over six inches and said that should help.

It didn’t. And by that point, we didn’t care. Sorry next resident of #437--you're on your own.

Glad to Get Out of the Holiday Inn

We had lunch at Max’s, and said goodbye to our angel Renee, who herself walked over to the lobby and asked the front desk manager if we could have a late checkout since our plane didn’t leave until 6. She got that set up for us, and we are eternally grateful.

I also ran into the Hotel Manager before we left, a golden-retriever-sort-of gentleman, and I recounted the story to him of our entire trip. No discounts were offered or given for our trouble, but he said that in his next staff meeting, he sure would make his staff aware of these problems.

Four nights of hassle and well over $500 later, I don't care what he does.

Defeat The Peter Principle

So you see, Holiday Inn Management, the people following through on your 100% satisfaction guarantee aren’t your managers, your front desk or your hotel bosses. They are the people without fancy titles and fancy attitudes. They are the regular people in the less glamorous jobs that don’t require them to put on airs with their suits and ties.

They’re Renee and Charles. And nobody else.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a nightmare. I enjoyed reading about your experience at the holiday inn. I am sorry for what happened. I myself am getting my degree from Texas Tech University in the restaurant and Hotel Mang. field. I will always try to keep this story in my head when I become a professional in the hospitlaity industry.

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