So, as I said, my first inclination was to go out to all the social networks. All of them, if that would've been possible. At the very least: my blog, Yelp, Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotels.com, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tubemogul just for good measure, and anywhere else that I could broadcast this travesty to as many eyeballs as I could muster.
And there it was. The word "broadcast."
Is that really what I wanted? To broadcast this to my spheres of influence? Let me ask you, would you have appreciated it? I mean, as a first action step? And, to what end?
To paraphrase "Jack," ...what was I gonna do? Or, more to the point, what is it that I was thinking you should do on my behalf for what basically amounted to a customer service issue? What? To assume the role of stakeholder and help me punish the hotel property? To go out of your busy day and stand with me to Occupy the hotel chain? Really? Just so I could get back at this one insolent desk clerk?
The rational side of me finally piped-in: That's a lot of collateral damage. I mean, in addition to inconveniencing you, I would also have been doing damage to all the others who work at the hotel chain and who are not Jack. That, if made aware, these others might actually not have condoned Jack's behavior.
And, what about Jack's General Manager? Many of us have been there: a working schmoe now having to be made to pay for the indiscretions of a subordinate, despite your best efforts to train them.
Believe me, I'm not above pressing the nuclear social button. But, I figured I owed it to a lot more folks than just myself -- you, for one -- to first work within the system (if there was one) that the hotel chain had established. Truth is, I didn't know if the hotel's corporate management structure cared or not. The fact is, I didn't know. And that wasn't good; I hadn't gone down that path yet. I figured I at least needed to explore that path. If only to be able to say I did.
If the hotel chain didn't care, then I was screwed. But, if they did, then the desk clerk was screwed. And, at the end of the day, that's all I really wanted; out of 7 billion people in the world, I wanted just this one, single person... (Hey, I never claimed to be above vindictiveness.)
Work the System
(Photo: BWJones. CC: by-nc-nd.)
So I checked the hotel's corporate website. I'm not exactly sure what more I was expecting to find by way of a customer support number. (A direct line to the CEO maybe?) But, I remember being a bit disappointed to find just the standard toll-free customer care number. And a contact form to submit my complaint.
I poked around a little more. I discovered that this chain had a parent company. I recognized the brand. So I clicked-through to their website.
Same thing. Toll free number and a contact form. Alas, no direct line to the CEO. (Nuts! But, I wasn't really expecting it, either, I guess.) I clicked on the Customer Care button, launched the contact form, and started typing....
(Photo: reinvented CC: by-nc-sa)
... But I didn't want my case to get lost in the stream of customer-complaint-minutiae. "Subj: Re - Rude Desk Clerk", yeah, that would've gotten somebody's attention right quick.
Accordingly, I re-typed my subject line. What do you think of this headline?
Subject: "Regarding possible HEART ATTACK related to one of your guests."
Yup. That was more like it. I then proceeded to type in the Body section that the General Manager (GM) of the said property contact me as soon as possible "...because there's information that he needs to be made aware of regarding a stroke involving one of his guests." True enough, as far as that goes, right?
I then went back to the website of the property's immediate HQ and made the same entry there.
Both had the desired effect.
The next morning, I received a direct phone call from a manager at the parent company's Operations center. Additionally, I got an early morning email from a named person at the hotel's HQ. In both cases, the representatives were very apologetic. And, as I figured, did not condone Jack's behavior. (See? There are good, empathetic people at this company. Now we're gettin' somewhere.)
(Photo: BP America CC: by-nc-nd)
In both cases, I asked that a formal entry be made in their customer care system and -- the "and" is important -- to have a case number assigned. (In one instance, the rep was even kind enough to allow me to word-smith the comments with her for the notes section of her customer care system.)
You see, the case number is a magical thing. Even the worst companies have managers who are accountable to some form of metric, or another. In the case of a customer care call center, these metrics would include: # of cases opened, % cases responded to (within x hours), case inventory, % cases closed... and so on.
Once created, the case number becomes a tangible beast that must eventually be put down. The GM of the offending property gets contacted by HQ and he then becomes accountable to them and parent company for reporting back. If for nothing else, the parent company needs this report so they can at least document something in the Case Comments section before they can procedurally close-out the case number.
I was pining my hopes on this bureaucratic system working in my favor. I was banking on some call center manager wanting to make sure that the case numbers with the "heart attack" on it eventually got closed out.
And, at this point, it's worth pausing a moment for a reality check: To their credit: they also wanted to know... if my stepdad was okay.
And it's on that thought that I ask that you anchor the name of property: the local chain was Travel Lodge; the parent company: Wyndham Hotel Group. (I purposefully left the names out until now because I didn't want you to associate their names with one bad egg working the night shift on a desk in some po-dunk town. At the end of the day, everybody else who worked at that chain did the right thing. And it's that thing is what I would hope you associate with them. They actually earned my respect back with that.)
But wait. There's more.
Work the Case Number
(I wasn't done yet with Jack. Not by a long shot.)
So, with case numbers in hand, I then called the offending property the next morning. The GM wasn't in yet. So I asked the desk clerk (a different one) that a message be left for the General Manager. It said something to the effect of: "Please call customer Mel Aclaro re: Case #9999999 from Travel Lodge HQ and Case #9999999 from Wyndham..."
Did I mention how case numbers are a magical thing?
Because of the case numbers, my message was instantly legitimized. It had a bit more weight than something scratched on a Post-It note. And, if he was worth a darn, the GM would first research the case numbers in the Customer Care system and see what it was all about before calling me back. When he looked it up, he'd of course see "HEART ATTACK" and his company's case comments notes with the "Case Assigned" field marked with his name for his action.
To the GM's credit, he did all that. And, he turned out to be exactly how I imagined: a nice, hard-working guy, just like you and me. He just wants things to go right with the responsibilities he's been given. And then to go home at the end of the day to a nice dinner. And now... now because of a surly desk clerk on his staff, all this was now out of kilter.
Work Collaboratively With Influencers
(Photo: derekbruff cc: by-nc)
When the GM called, he was very apologetic and receptive to what I had to say. For my part, I acknowledged it wasn't his fault personally. And, while my emotions demanded that his desk clerk be fired, I conceded that reason should probably prevail and that we work together -- the GM and I -- to see how this could be turned into a learning moment for his desk clerk.
To make a longer story short: I found out that Jack's name is really Neal. And that Neal was ultimately reprimanded with a formal entry made in his employee record. AND that his disposition is, as I write this, in corporate channels for disposition on whether to be retrained or ultimately fired. (I'm sort of hoping for the former, but I also don't feel bad if it's the latter. It was ultimately a consequence of a choice Neal made.)
End It On a Good Note -- But Get the Last Word
Last Sunday I was able to drive down to the hotel to check in on my mom and facilitate their getting back home. (Step dad is okay, by the way.) And, during all of this, who do you suppose was at the front desk? Why, my old friend Neal.
He gratifyingly skipped a beat when I introduced myself. Call me petty if you must, but I was compelled to remind Neal that his most memorable words to me were,
"Oh yeah. What are YOU gonna do...? What do you think you can do...?!"
He visibily winced at the recollection but, to his credit, he acknowledged having said it and didn't challenge it.
On this next point, I wish I could have said something nice that would have made you proud of me. I wish I could have claimed having taken the high road and letting bygones be bygones. But, I'm afraid I'm not that chivalrous.
So I said what was on my mind:
"So now you know...."
One bad egg could ruin the omelette for a lot of good people. Had I acted on my initial emotion and blasted the hotel chain and its parent company through flaming feedback on social media sites before giving the established channels an opportunity to work, I would really have been doing a disservice to a lot of otherwise very good people.
If I were to sum it all up, I'd have to say the following key points are worth keeping in mind:
- Work the system first before hitting social media sites.
- Headlines matter. They're not just for email campaigns. They work for contact forms, too.
- Case numbers are magical. They legitimize your claim and give it weight.
- Work the case number. Once you have it in hand, reference it in every subsequent correspondence.
- Work collaboratively with influencers. Once you have the ear of someone in a position to act on your complaint, don't alienate that person. Work together toward actionable solutions that benefit both parties.
- End it on a good note -- but get the last word.
But, above all, I'd say that the biggest lesson in all of this is to remember: Just because you can hit the nuclear social media button, doesn't automatically mean you should.
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