Earlier this year, over the course of two weeks and two business trips, I managed to leave nearly identical articles behind in two different hotel rooms on opposite coasts. The realization that you’ve left something behind on a trip comes slowly; days later, you wonder “Where is my sweater? What happened to that pair of jeans?” A mental inventory quickly revealed that I had left a pair of jeans and a sweater in Miami, and done exactly the same in Oakland.
The Customer Experience student in me promptly recognized the opportunity to compare the “article recovery” process of each hotel. Sadly, my experiences were both depressingly negative. First, I called each front desk and was promised – with little confidence – that the head of housekeeping should be in touch with me. It took at least one follow-up call from me to actually reach that housekeeping team lead. In each case, this individual had rather poor professional communication skills and limited English proficiency. (Note: As a sometimes struggling student of Spanish, I sympathize with those learning an additional language.) I had to repeat the description of my belongings several times to multiple staff members (which was a bit embarrassing as I had in one instance left behind intimate underthings along with my jeans and sweater). I also had to repeat my name, date of stay, and room number over and over. Both hotels required me to recite my credit card information to the head of housekeeping in order to pay for shipping. I found it a bit odd to have housekeeping staff handling financial information and would have felt more comfortable with the front desk assisting with this matter.
Within a week or so, both packages arrived containing all expected contents. I was strangely – thankfully – relieved that my forgotten clothing had found its way home. Looking at these twin experiences through customer service eyes, however, I was determined to think of a way to improve this process.
What Could Be Improved?
For the sake of discussion, let’s assume a hotel that is part of a large chain frequented by business travelers (e.g., Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott). I envision the process unfolding like this:
- Guest checks out of room.
- Housekeeping enters room and discovers left-behind articles.
- Housekeeping staff uses handheld device used to track room status to indicate found articles. A form enables this staff member to document the number and type of articles, including a brief description.
- All of this “lost item” information is instantly linked to the guest room and guest account. In this case, the guest is a member of the frequent traveler program with a credit card linked to her account.
- An email is automatically generated to the address on file notifying the guest that a lost article was uncovered in her room*. A follow-up telephone call may be placed within 5 business days if the guest does not reply.
- When the guest claims the items and expresses a desire to have the items shipped to her residence (or other address of her choice), she is presented the option to have the card on file in her frequent guest account charged. This step can be executed electronically or over the phone, per customer preference.
- A shipping label is generated, and the items are retrieved from storage, packaged and sent to the guest’s address.
A program like this is truly win-win and would benefit the customer, the business, and the employees.
- Feels cared for by hotel
- Rewarded for loyalty by value-added service
- Easy retrieval of goods
- Less stuff sitting around unclaimed in storage
- Positive reflections upon brand (looking out for customers’ best interests, easy to do business with)
- Improved process efficiency
- Fewer distractions
- Able to focus on core competencies
- Less frustration
In the spirit of Stan Phelps’ What’s Your Purple Goldfish, I challenge a major hotel chain to make this lost item recovery their lagniappe for their frequent travelers.
Sarah Simon is a career insights professional with 16 years of experience in the feedback industry. Specialties include VoC architecture, journey mapping, developing linkages to business performance, reduction of customer defection, results analysis and communication, with expert survey design skills. She is the survivor of a botched early-generation "big data mining" operation and is happy to live to tell about it.