Last updated: Hotel customer experience: Service cuts make for VERY unhappy customers

Hotel customer experience: Service cuts make for VERY unhappy customers


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If you’ve stayed in a hotel in the past couple years, you’re likely aware of a messy trend: many hotels have dropped daily housekeeping.

No fresh towels or tidied beds, and guests are expected to collect their own trash. What started as a COVID precaution appears here to stay, which doesn’t make for a great hotel customer experience.

Beyond the lack of housekeeping, guests can run into other issues: malfunctioning key cards and HVAC systems, missing amenities like coffee makers, and nonexistent room service.

To be sure, the hospitality industry is still working to regain its footing after the pandemic, when it suffered the most job losses of any industry, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. But with people traveling again and room occupancy and revenue on the upswing, it’s time for hotels to step up their customer experience.

“Skimpflation” = bad hotel customer experience

At a recent hotel stay, I experienced moldy odors, a stained carpet, and intermittent cold showers. Mind you, this wasn’t a cheap hotel; in fact, it was a brand name I’d associated with high quality.

A friend at the same hotel was locked out of their room when the door lock batteries died, and then had to switch rooms after the HVAC system broke down. A message they left for room service was never returned.

The series of mishaps was pretty incredible. Most of the hotel staffers we encountered were friendly and helpful, but clearly there weren’t enough of them to keep the hotel in proper working order. Housekeeping was by request only.

This trend of cutting services and amenities for customers – skimpflation – isn’t just happening in the hotel industry. It’s everywhere, from the airline industry to retail and restaurants as businesses grapple with rising costs.

The results speak for themselves: Customer satisfaction is plummeting. According to the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index report, it’s declined three quarters in a row, dropping 5% since 2018.

In the hotel industry, satisfaction scores continue to plunge with unhappy guests giving low marks with the quality of amenities and food services, ASCI said. When you’re traveling, whether for work or for leisure, having great hotel customer service can make or break your stay.

“Many folks ventured out to travel for the first time since the pandemic hit only to be met with lackluster service and dashed hopes,” Forrest Morgeson, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Michigan State University and Director of Research Emeritus at the ACSI, said in a statement released earlier this year.

On the road to recovery: Hotel industry stats

As travelers return, hotels are rebounding in the wake of the pandemic. Hotel room revenue is expected to top $188 billion by the end of the year, surpassing 2019 figures on a nominal basis, according to the American Hotels and Lodging Association.

However, when adjusted for inflation, revenue per available room isn’t expected to surpass 2019 levels until 2025, the group said.

Other findings from AHLA’s 2022 Midyear State of the Industry Report:

  1. Hotel occupancy is expected to average 63.4% this year, approaching pre-pandemic levels
  2. By the end of 2022, hotels will employ 1.97 million people—84% of their pre-pandemic workforce
  3. 47% of business travelers extended a business trip for leisure purposes in the past year, and 82% are planning to do so in the future

But a separate AHLA survey showed that 97% of hotels are experiencing a staffing shortage, 49% severely so.

Industry challenges & mixed messages when it comes to hotel customer service

The labor shortage and soaring prices for everything from food to cleaning supplies don’t make things easy for a hotel trying to deliver stellar customer experience.

When it comes to daily housekeeping, some in the industry say that it’s customer preference. Some guests simply don’t want someone in their room. And pre-COVID, hotels cut back on daily fresh towels for sustainability reasons.

But some argue that the service cuts are simply to boost profits. A report in Time quotes housekeepers whose hours have cut, and are being asked to do much more during in their workday. Moreover, the lack of daily housekeeping makes their work much more difficult; trying to make a room gleam after days of no cleaning can be back breaking.

A CBS report quoted Hilton’s CEO as predicting, in a 2021 earnings call, that the company’s brands would come out of COVID crisis with higher margins and require less labor than before the pandemic.

Some local lawmakers are taking action. In Los Angeles, the city council approved a measure that will require most hotels to limit the daily workload of housekeepers and eliminate policies that automatically drop daily cleaning.

When CX suffers, so does business

Aside from whatever’s driving the hotel customer service cutbacks, the bottom line is that a poor customer experience hurts a brand.

A recent survey by contact center software provider UJET showed that consumers are retaliating against skimpflation. The study, which polled 1,600 consumers found that:

  • 87% will spend less or stop spending on brands that cut back on service
  • 48% will share their bad brand experience with family, friends and online
  • 33% will switch brands

Unless hotels improve their customer experience, they put their recovery at risk. People will rethink their travel plans, look for other lodging options, or seek out brands that do invest in CX.

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