Brands Need to Be Able to Fail — but Not Screw Up the Customer Experience


I’m in Chicago for LSA’s Place Conference. I’m staying at an Embassy Suites downtown (Magnificent Mile location) a few blocks from the venue. But before I ever checked in Hilton blew it; they had a chance to create a great user experience but got it wrong.

Here’s what happened — it’s classic corporate ineptitude:

I was invited in email to download the Hilton “HHonors” loyalty app. The pitch was: choose your own room and use a digital key to unlock it, skipping the front desk. I’ve not yet had that experience so I was excited to try it.

I downloaded the app, selected the room and anticipated the experience. However this evening, on my way from the airport, I received a message in the app that I had to check in at the front desk. This was contrary to the promise of the email.

On the way in (in my Uber) I called the hotel to inquire about it. I was told that my status with Hilton wasn’t sufficient to avoid traditional check in. Higher status guests could go directly to their rooms with the digital key.

That significant qualifier was nowhere obvious on the original email. I wouldn’t have downloaded it had I known that. But right away, before check in, Hilton created a poor experience by establishing expectations and failing to deliver.

I called Hilton customer service after my conversation with the local hotel to provide the feedback that the company shouldn’t be seeking app downloads and creating these user expectations where it wasn’t prepared to honor them. Here was a second bad experience.

The call-center reps were indifferent to my feedback (they sounded bored/actively disengaged). It took a long time for them to understand what I was frustrated about — I say “them” because I spoke to more than one person. They didn’t really know what to do with my information when they finally did understand and they gave me no confidence that my feedback would reach anyone with any discretion to do anything.

Separately I had to provide four pieces of information to authenticate myself to them. My reservation confirmation and HHonors account numbers were two of those identifiers. I was told I could call back later if I couldn’t access them in the moment.

After tweeting, the Hilton Twitter team did respond to my outreach with the customary “DM us.” I’m increasingly unwilling to do that. They’re trying to get rid of the public discussion but it’s difficult to explain and resolve things on Twitter.

The bottom line here is that before I had set foot on the property I was frustrated. The individual hotel is a franchise and so there was limited “ownership” of what had come before with my corporate interactions, though the front desk clerk was pleasant and offered an apology.

I recognize that brands are going to fail with technology experiments and mobile user experiences. But they need to have measures and channels in place to respond quickly and turn these negative into learning experiences for the brand.

Hilton apparently thinks that the digital key is a reward for multiple stays. That’s backward; the company should be offering me a taste of its superior user experience so that I have incentives to stay with them more often and become a higher status member.

I now shop at Whole Foods more often because of Apple Pay. I favor Alamo Rental Car because they have self service kiosks and I don’t have to deal with the adversarial insurance conversation. Companies that offer a better and more convenient user experience will be rewarded with more loyalty.

Loyalty shouldn’t be a prerequisite for a better user experience.

Hilton had an opportunity to “delight” me and move me into their column (or closer at any rate). However the poor experience this evening has had the opposite impact. App deleted.

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One Response to “Brands Need to Be Able to Fail — but Not Screw Up the Customer Experience”

  1. Chris Stein says at

    You rightly point out that Hilton’s concept of how to build brand loyalty is flawed.

    In the past day they started piloting a new rate structure to ,in their words, ” reduce the number of bookings made on rates that make cancellation to easy”.

    For now piloting at Hampton DelRay Beach, Hampton San Juan, Hilton McLean, Va and Hilton New Orleans Riverside w/ many more to follow by December.Their IT is also hopelessly antiquated and neglected. They pushed out their app (and are driving traffic to it with ads, emails and a promotion that offers triple points for booking via the app) when the infrastructure under the app is flimsy; so it’s failing all over the place.

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