I met a friend for lunch over the weekend. The night before he’d flown in from Las Vegas, having booked a room at a nearby Hampton Inn. He used the Hilton Honors app to reserve and pay for room 404 in advance and awaited an electronic key to arrive to fulfill his desire for a contactless check-in experience. As it happened, the key never appeared so, when he arrived at the hotel after 10:00pm, he was forced to make an unexpected stop at the front desk.
There is often a skeleton crew operating a Hampton Inn late at night and, as you might expect, there was no one to greet Brian when he approached the desk. Soon afterward, the night auditor emerged from his office wearing a worn Death Row Records leather jacket with no nametag visible.
Brian shared his dilemma with the employee and was told that the key was not issued because the room had yet to be cleaned. Brian questioned why room 404 was available to reserve via the app when it was not clean. The employee apologized for the mistake and issued Brian a room on the first floor instead. At this point, the employee asked for an ID and method of payment. Again, Brian questioned why these items were necessary given his advance booking via the app. Had his arrival experience been seamless, he would have already been in room 404 without having to provide the front desk representative with an ID or payment method.
The employee then asked if he would like a complimentary beverage. Brian requested a Diet Pepsi, which the employee retrieved, placed in a bag, and handed to him over the counter.
Brian arrived at the room to find that he had been assigned a suite, although there was no mention of an upgrade while at the desk. Pleasantly surprised, he got comfortable and prepared to watch Channel 9 News. He sat on the bed and used the remote to navigate the extensive menu of available channels. Having found Channel 9 News, he selected it only to find that it was errantly linked to the Hallmark Channel and an episode of The Golden Girls.
While manually searching channels using the up and down arrows on the remote, he reached for the Diet Pepsi and was dismayed to find that it was room temperature. Brian assumed the employee had retrieved the soda from the cooler adjacent to the front desk. Instead, it came from a box or shelf behind the desk. Continuing to scroll through the channels between sips of tepid soda, he never did locate Channel 9 News.
While sharing the accumulation of negative events that shaped his customer experience, Brian said, “You know, Steve, there wasn’t any one thing. There was an accretion of minor issues that formed a lackluster experience.”
You don’t hear the word “accretion” every day. Later, I looked it up and found this definition: a gradual process in which layers of (an experience) are formed as small (events) are added over time. This perfectly describes the numerous touchpoints that customers encounter during their experience that combine to form an overall impression of product or service quality.
I didn’t ask Brian to rate the hotel, but I expect he would have rated it 3 or 4 stars on a 5-point scale. Customers who offer a 4-star rating are referred to as passives — customers who are unenthusiastic about the brand and unwilling to pay price premiums. Customers who assign a 3-star rating are known as detractors — customers who are responsible for 80-90 percent of negative social posts and reviews.
Hilton, and every other company I’m aware of, aspires to earn 5-star ratings from promoters. These are customers who are less price sensitive, have higher return/repurchase rates, and are responsible for 80-90 percent of the positive word of mouth about a company or brand. To attract and retain promoters, Hilton must pay attention to the accretion of events that combine to form guests’ overall impression of product or service quality.