My wife and I love to travel. During the last 20 years, we’ve visited all 50 states, 8 Canadian provinces, Europe, and Central America — most of the time with our kids in tow. Along the way, we’ve stayed in our share of hotels, ranging from economy motel chains to downtown high rise hotels.

We were very surprised, then, when we saw the following notice displayed on our bathroom mirror at our hotel in Hawaii last week:

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We appreciate the need to watch expenses, and we generally hang our used towels back on the rack to signal that we are willing to re-use them. However, I have never seen a surcharge for extra towels. Ironically, the towels were the smallest and thinnest I have ever seen in a hotel — barely adequate to dry off with, and certainly not the kind that most tourists would want to stow away in their luggage.

Granted, most hotels have to deal with disappearing towels and linens, but that cost is generally built into the price of the room. One could argue that the surcharge allows the hotel to keep its rates lower because only those who use extra towels (or keep them) pay for the service. However, the rates at this hotel were at least comparable, if not higher, than nearby hotels. Besides, when you book a room for a certain rate, you don’t expect to be nickel-and-dimed for additional services.

The hotel management may as well have hung a sign that says “Welcome to Our Hotel — But We Don’t Trust You.” While the owner of this hotel was probably trying to control costs, like any good business person would, it soon became apparent that management valued cost-cutting more than customer service. The cost-cutting value was so deeply woven into the fabric of the company’s culture that employees had little time or patience for customer service.

  • When I arrived at the hotel, I walked all the way across a large lobby to the desk and stood there for a few moments before the clerk looked up from her important task to acknowledge my presence.
  • When I explained that I could not find a place to park in the hotel lot, she said, “What can I say? We have a small parking lot.” That much I could see. I was hoping that they might have an alternate lot, or could recommend a place to park. Or at the very least, a simple “I’m sorry for the inconvenience.” But when I pressed the issue, instead I got, “Look, we have lots of people here. You can park anywhere on the street that you can find a place.”
  • When I called the front desk to tell them our air conditioner was not working, I was put on hold for several minutes while being transferred to another person. The second person asked me several questions about the unit to help diagnose the problem, suggesting that we may have unplugged the unit, etc. Finally, he determined that the fuse must be blown. He then explained that he was busy working at the bar at the time, but would go downstairs to change the fuse as soon as he got a chance.

This post is not intended to be a rant about poor customer service received. Instead, it is an observation about how management’s values can affect the culture and behavior of the entire organization. While management’s focus on expenses was probably well-intentioned, it created a culture where employees seemed to believe they would be rewarded more for cutting costs and accomplishing tasks than for serving customers. Their behaviors reflected this belief. This is an easy trap for managers to fall in to. Financial statements and task completion are relatively easy to measure. Taking a few extra moments to make a customer happy is more difficult to measure.

We were supposed to stay for three nights; we lasted only one.

For the record, here are few more examples from the hotel of how the cost-cutting value trumps the customer service value:

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Okay, I know it’s just a box of tissue, but I wouldn’t set this box out for guests in my home, much less for hotel guests. Put this box in the employee’s bathroom, and find a box that doesn’t look like it’s been run over.

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This is in a newly remodeled room. And they couldn’t spend an extra $2 for a new wall outlet?

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How much would a new vent cover cost?

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