May 2010 in Memphis, TN: I open the door to my downtown hotel room. It smells a bit musty, the floors a bit creaky, and the noise from the street is surprisingly audible for a hotel of this rating. I reach for a complimentary water bottle to discover that the bottle's security seal had already been broken, indicating the bottle was already consumed and then refilled.
All this comes after my first impression, where I had trouble getting into the hotel in the first place because they lock their doors at night to keep the crazies of the night outside.
I felt uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable. And I didn't want to stay here for the next 3 nights that I had booked. Turns out there's more to Memphis than Beale Street!
So I called Hotwire. I spoke directly to a Hotwire Express support representative in the United States. After listening to my story, she explained that Hotwire doesn't offer refunds or exchanges (which I knew), but due to my history with them, they were going to rebook me in another hotel at their expense.
Little did I know at the time that I had access to a super secret special customer support number for Hotwire, known as Hotwire Express - one that connected me directly with their premier support team, dedicated for frequent travelers who book through Hotwire. I was honored.
In fact, I wasn't the only one. In the late 2000's, Hotwire received three consecutive awards for "Highest in Customer Satisfaction for Independent Travel Web Sites".
Hotwire already had a great product. Now that I knew they had this level of service for their best customers, I was hooked. This was a safety net. In the event the worst happens, they'll be there to make things right.
Before you complete the reservation, we provide the terms of the Hot Rate® booking for your review. The policies includes, "You pay the hotel directly for charges like room service or resort fees." Therefore, by clicking the "book now" button, we assume that our customers are fully aware of the policies governing the reservation. We regret we re unable to honor any refund at this time.
- How can I be expected to pay a fee I wasn't aware of? (I likely would not have booked this hotel, had I known about the resort fee.)
- How are multiple channels of their support team unable to understand a customer's perspective here?
- How are they not willing to let me talk to someone in charge?
- Uhh, what happened to their premium customer support line (Hotwire Express)?
I tabulated how much money I've spent with Hotwire over the past 7 years: $16,327.06. This isn't to say that I deserve better support than others, but many companies do keep tabs on the lifetime value of their customers in an effort to keep the more profitable ones happy.
What's more frightening than the fact that this fee wasn't disclosed, is the fact that the people on their front lines have zero compassion or sympathy for their own customers.
As a business owner myself, whenever a customer experiences a problem, I always try to make it right from their perspective, even if that means sucking it up or losing money on the customer. Obviously that level of support doesn't always cascade down to lower-level employees, but for pete's sake, what has happened to Hotwire over the years?
The experience I had with them in 2010 is what has made me stick with them all these years. They did what I was just talking about. They lost money on that sale, but made the effort to make it right, and I think it's paid dividends for them.
But as it turns out, I'm finding out Hotwire has discontinued the Hotwire Express program, the program that boosted their customer loyalty by providing great customer support in the first place.
I'm not sure what's changed over the years. I'm guessing corporate repositioning, a shift in management, and an effort to become more profitable. It seems as if Hotwire has changed their focus to be more on the bottom line and less on their customers. It's sad to see, especially when they used to be known for their customer service amongst their most frequent of customers.
I'm hoping this is a one-off experience that I had, but sadly, this experience will make me think twice the next time I'm booking a hotel.