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How I complained and won

Stand up for your rights -- courteously -- and you just might get them.

By Donna_Freedman Aug 15, 2011 4:43PM

After the BlogHer 2011 conference ended, my daughter and I stayed in San Diego for a couple of extra days. I'd used a Travelocity voucher obtained through Eversave to get a decent deal for a hotel in the city's Gaslamp Quarter.

The conference had been pretty tiring, so we were ready to rest by the time we showed up for the 3 p.m. check-in. A desk clerk told us it would be another 20 minutes because our room had not been cleaned.

Twenty minutes went by. Abby, who has a chronic health condition, was so fatigued she could barely sit upright. I inquired again. Still not clean, but they'd let us know as soon as something was available.

Another 20 minutes elapsed, during which I saw the clerk have a soft drink and chat with co-workers. What I didn't see him do was call housekeeping to ask about the progress of the room. Meanwhile, I was wondering just how big an irritant I needed to be to get this fixed.

Of course, I knew that being an irritant wasn't the answer. Being a smart consumer was.

How long would we have sat there?

At 4 p.m. the employee told us he was sorry, but the hotel had been full the night before and housekeeping was running late.

Given how close the hotel is to a major convention center, I wasn't surprised that it had been full the night before. What did surprise me was that management didn't schedule enough staff to make sure rooms were ready for the next night's customers.

Finally my daughter approached the counter, pleading with them to do something. If she didn't lie down soon, she knew she would wind up in bed for most of the next day -- or, as she put it, for half of the time she had to spend with her mom. We hadn't seen each other for eight months.

The clerk put us in a pair of adjoining rooms with a shared bath. While I was grateful that Abby was finally able to rest -- she was swaying with exhaustion -- I had questions:

  • Had that room been available the whole time and he just didn't want to give it to us?
  • We were the only people waiting. Couldn't the housekeeping staff have been asked to clean our room first, then work on others?
  • How long would he have allowed us to sit there if we hadn't forced the issue?

I posted the situation on my Facebook page and soon had more than a dozen comments, ranging from "This is appalling" to "This REALLY irks me. I have had similar things happen at other hotels. Unfortunately, a lot of management teams/corporate owners DON'T CARE."

At that point I tended to agree with both statements. So I did what I'd suggest you do when faced with a service snafu: I wrote a letter. Post continues after video.

'We can't change what we did'

Actually, I sent my genteelly furious note via email. Then I visited the hotel's Facebook page, where a post asked visitors what their best experiences of the summer had been thus far.

I left a comment that began along the lines of, "I can tell you what it hasn't been: my current stay at this particular hotel." I said I'd sent a note detailing our problem and asked that someone from the hotel chain read that email and contact me as soon as possible.

The next day I got a voice-mail message from the general manager with an apology, his cellphone number and an offer to help make things better.

When I spoke with him, he said all the right things: It shouldn't have happened, he'd sat down with housekeeping and front-desk staff to discuss where the ball had been dropped and, by the way, they'd like to comp one night of our visit.

"We can't change what we did," he said, "but we can make sure it doesn't happen again."

I hope you never experience a customer-service snafu. But I know better than that. Mistakes happen. A smart manager knows that in the days of Facebook, Twitter and Yelp it pays to give a rip professionally, if not personally.

Last year one of my MSN Money columns detailed how to complain about a poor restaurant visit. One of the experts noted that the people in charge can't be everywhere and thus need to know about problems: "You're doing the company a huge favor if you complain."

So when service goes south, speak up. Complain, preferably in writing. Do it reasonably. Do it courteously. But do it.

And if it turns out management doesn't give a rip? There's always Facebook, Yelp and Twitter.

MSN Money columnist Donna Freedman blogs at Smart Spending and Surviving and Thriving.

More on MSN Money:

LaniLou I am glad you complained and if they would rather support a rude manager than to accept correctiveSickcriticism than they should not be surprised with a lawsuit lands in their laps, because trust me, someone will take advantage of an disorderly / dirty store, claim to slip and fall etc.. plus it does not sound like they appreciated what you were trying to do there.. better to find another locale and let that place fall apart.. I had a situation where I complained of a Safeway in Sacramento.. they too supported the rude/racist supervisor till many store clerks quit and they got sued, all of a sudden the guy was gone... go figure.. I thing you should always complain if they are not doing what they are suppose to... then they cant say... no one told them  shame on that store.. good luck your next gig will be so much better!! 
Mar 15, 2013 8:17PM
I have a friend that works for a major hotel in a management-type position/often works the front desk.  When they were understaffed and needed towels stat for guests checking-in he went and helped fold towels for 10 minutes.  He then was written up because one of the hotel staffers reported it to the union; he was supposed to call the union who would have found a worker to come and work those 10 minutes.  Not sure if something like this situation happened in your instance; but just shows the general feeling in the industry over customer-service.
Aug 15, 2011 7:30PM
"and you just might get them." Define them!
Aug 15, 2011 7:13PM

Complaining does not always work even when done tactfully. I am an artist and was teaching my craft in the classroom of a local craft store. The classroom was always dirty and piled with boxes and broken merchandise. After filing complaints with the manager of the store and getting nowhere, I decided to send a tactful e-mail to the store's corporate office. I explained the problem and told them about the store managers attitude and how I and my students were badly treated by him and that we would really appreciate a clean and orderly classroom. The next day I received a phone call from the corporate office. They had called the store manager about my complaint and he told them that I was rude and belligerent to him and that my students had been stealing from the classroom for several months,which was not true at all. I was then told that I could no longer teach art classes in the store again. If I had ignored the problem and put up with it I would most likely still be teaching classes there, so in my case, complaining made matters worse even though it was done in a tactful way.

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