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February 13, 2009

Hilariously bad travel: Hyatt's desk chair that wasn't there

by Josh Bernoff

Here's all I want from a hotel room: a nice firm bed, electricity, a working bathroom, and high speed Internet. It's also nice if the shades close. You can keep the robe and the marble fixtures.

The Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn's Landing, where I stayed at the ePharma summit this week, provided all of those things, along with a very nice view of the lit up tall ships out the window. But the hotel omitted one thing I hadn't thought of -- a chair to sit on at the desk. As always, when expecting to be treated like a human, what happens next is what matters. So here's what happened next.

8:45 After arriving, called the front desk and requested a chair.

9:45 No chair, and time to sack out. So I call the desk and cancel the chair request. I also put out the "do not disturb" to make sure no misguided hotel employee interrupts my beauty sleep.

Hyatt_chair 10:15 Inevitably, a knock on the door. An engineer has arrived with my chair, ignoring the "do not disturb." But this is no ordinary chair. It has a suspicious stain on the seat, and the back is broken. "It's all we have," he says. (I've stuffed a towel through it so you can see the cracks in the back.)

That's sufficient to get the Hyatt into my "hilariously bad travel story" category (look for more!) and on my "didn't treat me like a human" list. I suffer, you get to hear the story. (And I'm not even talking about ending up in a smoking room, the missing pages from the room service menu, or the fact that the breakfast order was wrong -- those things don't nearly reach the "hilariously bad" level.)


I emailed the manager Glenn Michael the next morning (it took the front desk half an hour to locate and provide his email address). I also left a complaint at Hyatt's corporate site.

As I was leaving the hotel that afternoon and retrieving my luggage from storage, Mr. Michael introduced himself, apologized on behalf of the hotel, and agreed that the situation was handled poorly. He also said they have chairs, and that the employee who delivered it had been reprimanded. (Sounds like a broader service problem than one employee to me).

Mr. Michael promised me enough reward points to pay for a free stay (if this happens to you, that's about the best you can expect). He hasn't followed through on that, yet, although he has my email address.

I still haven't heard from Hyatt corporate.

How important is acceptable hotel service in an economy where travel is hit hard? Does a blog post like this make a difference? Will Hyatt notice? Stay tuned.

Update (2/14): Mr. Michael reports he has credited my Hyatt awards account.

Update (2/19): Email from Hyatt Corporate. They are checking to see if they can comment on the blog with their perspective.

Update (2/25): Hyatt comes through with a very human touch in Seattle. See the post.


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Becky Carroll

Josh, sorry to hear about your story. To answer your question, at a minimum, acceptable hotel service is key to customers coming back, especially in this economy. I would consider it critical for organizations to deliver the best service possible, as customers have very long memories and are very sensitive right now.

This extends not just into customer satisfaction and loyalty but also into how employees are treated. If employees are fully engaged in delivering amazing customer service, it will definitely show in every touch point.

Lorraine Ball

Yes, I do think blog posts help, if nothing else to make you feel better.

My recommendation, get the name of someone in the marketing department, and send a link to this blog post, after you pick up a few more comments.


As a fellow road warrior I want most of the same things as you in a hotel room. I've sat in enough piece of junk chairs to fill a stadium. The other things that bug me is hotel desks that face the TV & all those little tent cards they place all over the room - yes, I know you have a rewards program - yes, I know I can order room service - yes, I know to hang up my towel if I want to use again instead of you replacing it.
Check out my "View" - "Travel" & "Travel Tips" tags.

Abbie Kendall

Wow, the Hyatt Regency brand used to mean something. This place sounds like a bad Ramada Inn.

Tsahi Levent-Levi

I get the same aggravating experience once in a while in my trips, so I decided to start my very own "hotel ranking" on my personal blog (in Hebrew). The variance in amenities and human-treatment between hotels is so large it makes me wonder sometimes how such hotels still exist.

Graham Hill

Hi Josh

Reminds me of a visit to the Marriot in Frankfurt. An employee knocked on the door just after checking-in and said "I have come to take away your VIP gifts". "What gifts?" I said, looking around the room somewhat surprised. "The flowers and water", said the employee. "But I don't have any flowers and water" I replied. "Oh good, someone has already taken them away. Sorry to have bothered you" said the employee politely and then closed the door. You can imagine the complaint that resulted from that surreal conversation. To Marriot's credit, they did responded very well. It probably helped that I was a guest of a genuine Marriot VIP staying at the hotel.

Bad stories like this happen all the time in the service industry. It is sometimes the fault of an employee having a bad day, but nine times out of ten it is the fault of faulty procedures and poor employee training. Management is responsible for these things, not employees.

I was disheartened to hear that Mr Michael had reprimanded the employee who brought you the chair, for what looks like a process and training failure. Perhaps Mr Michael should have gone to the source of the problem and then worked out what needed fixing, rather than just blaming someone else lower down the organisation. All that the employee will learn from this is that it is best that guests without chairs stay standing for the duration of their stay.

Fixing problems isn't hard. Toyota calls it Kaizen. You can read about it in Jeffrey Liker's many books on the Toyota Way.

Better luck at your next hotel.

Graham Hill
Customer-driven Innovator


You are tarnishing the highly positive and powerful "Groundswell" brand with this whiny post. People are suffering all over the world and you're kerfuffled because your well appointed and comfortable hotel room doesn't have a freakin' desk chair? Boo hoo hoo. They offer to give you piles of points for a room that Forrester, and not you, is paying for -- and that's still not enough? Tone down the ego, Josh.


I can’t believe the views and opinions you expressed in this post are in any way reflective of the “Groundswell” mission. Your post was laughable at best. You were offered reward points to pay for your stay because you received a level of service not indicative of that hotel’s standard. You have the audacity to compare receiving a busted desk chair to not being treated like human. Clearly you’re glutton for attention. Need I remind you that all the way into the early 1960s, some hotels didn’t allow black or Jewish people to have accommodations? NOW THAT’S NOT BEING TREATED LIKE HUMAN!! In honor of black history month maybe you should take a moment to research what not being treated like human really is….

I’m in pharmaceutical sales and travel more than 50% of the time so yes, I know you should have received better service. But let’s use some common sense here. The employee who brought you that busted chair simply should have known better and as such should have been reprimanded. If four star hotels need to train employees not to bring a guest anything broken the service industry is doomed! You received bad service and you were offered a free stay as compensation. Let’s not go overboard. Doing so reflects poorly upon the positive and highly influential “Groundswell” brand you’re associated with.

Josh Bernoff

@Steve and Christopher

It's interesting that both of you feel I'm not representing Groundswell appropriately. I care about that.

Briefly, the reason for both this post and the ones on PR and how they relate to the broader mission are:

1. To further explore the way that mass efficiency ends up at odds with the very human relationships in the Groundswell -- and in the real world.

2. To see if, as we all are saying, a blog post can make a difference. If you have a blog and write about this sort of thing, can you get a response (as Jeff Jarvis did with Dell Hell?). My own mini version of the consumerist.

3. To have a little fun. That's why I'm only writing about the experiences that go beyond bad to hilariously bad.

Honest, it's not about me, and I'm not whining (or at least trying not to) -- I'm just trying to see what happens if behavior like this gets made more visible. I have a good life and I travel a lot -- I'm not depressed, downtrodden, or a victim of prejudice. I just like to look at my own experience and see if there are insights to be drawn from it.

Peter Crosby

I had a bad experience with Air France recently (not hilariously bad, just typical, so not worth mentioning). But what qualifies it for this post is that when you went to the corporate web page and entered all of the data required to make a complaint, you were then treated to a 404 error. I can't help picturing some committee congratulating themselves on their vastly improved complaint numbers -- all while people like me silently resolve never to use them again. Things like this could turn me into a Critic.

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