Many times senior housing operators talk about creating a luxury hotel hotel experience for seniors a concept I am not really all that fond of for a number of reasons including how frequently when I travel I encounter people in the travel profession who just don’t care about their customers. Today 3 examples of what not to do. Next week an example of how to do it exactly right, in spite of a colossal failure.

Late summer though mid-November is a crazy busy travel time for me.  This means lots of interactions with airlines, rental car companies and hotels.  Most of the time these experiences fall into the arena of routine, which means that while the experience is fine, there is nothing special about it.  What seems odd to me is that when the travel experiences fall outside routine they essentially never because I had unexpected amazing experience; Rather it is because they are major or minor frustrations caused by people and organizations that fundamentally don’t care how good or bad a job they did. Today three abbreviated “Hall of Shame” stories and some wonderful lessons that apply to senior living.  


1.  American Airlines –  A year and a half ago I wrote an article titled “Why I hope American Airlines goes out of business, Lessons for Senior Housing.”  They did go broke, but apparently didn’t learn much.  A few weeks ago I flew American from Florida to California; because I am tall, I paid close to $100 for extra legroom seats (which I think is a great idea).  I booked far enough out that I was also able to secure nice aisle seat.  Immediately after booking the flight, I realized I had made a mistake and called about fixing it.  American was okay about fixing it, except that the new flight was less expensive and they would not refund the difference. It wasn’t until I had to make a plane change in Dallas that I discovered that when they rebooked the second leg, they put me in a middle seat.  I went to the podium explained my problem and asked them to fix it, saying that I would rather have a middle seat with legroom than an aisle seat without.  The agent went to work to make it better and handed me a new boarding pass.  Yep, the new seat was an aisle seat but no legroom.  I went back to ask for my old seat and they had given it away.  Tough luck I was told.  I spent half the flight standing in the galley it was so uncomfortable.  The following week I called to complain and after a 30 minute wait on hold, they refunded my extra legroom fee and gave me a voucher for about 80% of the fare difference for the changed flight.  Did they fix it?  Sort of!  Did they make me feel great about them?  No way!  It was an inadequate response.   

2.         Hyatt Hotel Bellevue Washington – I am staying here for the Pioneer Network conference where I had reserved four nights and wanted to stay five.  I called to extend and was told “sure for an extra $80”.  That was a night clerk so the next day I went to the front desk.  Same response so I asked who could make an exception and was told “No one.”  Really?  Finally I called the sales department and explained that if they could not do something for me I would just change hotels, but that if they had rooms that was not a good deal for them or me.  They finally grudgingly extended at the same rate making me feel like I was a causing them a great inconvenience. Did they fix it?  Yep!  Do I feel great about Hyatt?  No way!  It was a huge hassle and even after complaining to a manager, no one offered to try to turn me into a happy customer.   

3.         Payless Rental Car – While in Seattle I needed rental car for the last two days I was here, so I went to the Southwest Airlines website where I consistently find the best rates, and booked a reservation with Payless.  The next day when I showed up at the airport rental counter I was told they couldn’t find my reservation, even though I could show it to them on my smart phone. They finally agreed to rent me the same car for an extra $20 as long as I agreed to take the roadside assistance coverage (a duplicate of my AAA coverage).  I needed the car and took it.  By the time I got to the pick-up area I had called both Southwest and Payless and they could both see my reservation. I asked for a supervisor and after some hassle she finally adjusted the rate, but not before letting me know I was causing her a lot of trouble and potentially getting her in trouble with her boss. Did they make it right?  Sort of . . . Do I feel great about Payless Rental Car?  No way and in fact I will go out of my way to not use them and tell others to not use them all because they wanted an extra $20 from me.   

Simple lessons from the Hall of Shame:

  • In each of these situations if the first person I talked to had done everything they could to fix the problem I would have at least been in a “this is adequate frame of mind”.  This is even true if American had told me all they could do at that point was leave me in my middle seat, but they in effect punished me  with a much worse seat.  Team members need to be empowered to fix problems on the spot and when they can’t (which will often be true) to immediately take the problem to someone who can fix it.
  • Team members need to remember their jobs exist because customers (residents) are paying their service fees.  This means they need to be way more concerned about making the resident and their family happy than being afraid of their supervisor.
  • When line staff and supervisors don’t put residents and their families first, it is fundamentally the fault of management, because management sets the tone. 
  • If a problem doesn’t get fixed immediately then the senior community needs to take extraordinary steps to WOW the customer.  As it was, I was more or less made whole by American, Payless and Hyatt, but still think their businesses stink.

Next week the hall of fame is reserved for Southwest Airlines where I booked the Payless rental.  They had someone who really failed and yet at the end of the day they did such an amazing job of fixing it, that I am a stronger fan than I was before.  This is  in spite of a colossal failure on the part of one of their senior team members.  

What do you do to make sure these kinds of things don’t happen in your senior community?