Bewleys shows that an organisation with strategic assets can deliver a poor customer experience and get away with it

With my colleague Mel in the front passenger seat, I was headed to the Bewleys Hotel at Manchester airport on Tuesday evening.  I was driving in the dark whilst the rain poured down and I would have appreciated some help in finding the hotel.  The first thing I noticed was that the hotel was not signposted like say the car rental agencies are often signposted to help drivers to drop off rental cars without much fuss.  Nonetheless, Mel was able to help me get there the second time around. 

Soon after check in I faced my second hurdle: finding my way to the lifts.  The lifts were not next to the reception area and they were not signposted.  So I spent several minutes exploring here and there and eventually had to ask a Bewleys employee for directions to the lift.  She met the functional need by pointing towards the lifts but not the emotional need as she was cold and gave the impression that she had better more important things to do then to help a customer. 

I got settled into the room and took a bath.  Upon getting out of the bath  I grabbed for the towel and noticed that the bath towel was quite small, it was torn and against my skin it felt rough.  Later that evening as I got into bed the sheets felt rough against my skin and I wondered what kind of hotel can get away with not getting the basics right.

The next morning as I was about to leave my room to go down for breakfast I found that the door would not close.  The top half of the door was hitting into the door frame so it would not close.  It was clear that the door had to be repositioned so I rang Reception and handed the problem over to the young man who came to take a look at it whilst I walked out with my computer and headed to breakfast and onto work.

The next day after a long day at the office I returned to Bewleys, looking forward to getting into my room and having a relaxing bath.  So imagine my upset when my keycard did not work.  As Mel had a room on the same floor and she was making her way to her room she pointed out that the keycard had most likely only been coded for one night;  Mel had encountered that problem when she went to use the fitness room. 

I made my way downstairs and then ended up waiting in line for about 15 minutes to get to the hotel receptionists.  I was tired and distinctly unhappy by the time that I got speaking to the young man at Reception.  When I told him that I could not get into the room and that I was not happy at having the problem with the door in the morning and then not getting into my room he simply said “The key card has probably only been coded for one night”.  When I asked him why it had been coded for one night when I had been checked in for two nights he responded “It is a common problem”.  

So here is a hotel that is difficult to find.  A hotel in which many people struggled to find where the elevators were as they were a long way away from Reception and not signposted.  A hotel which did not provide good quality towels or bed sheets.  A hotel where the staff, on the whole, were doing the tasks assigned to them but who did not show any affinity for their customers.  A hotel where it was simply accepted that staff would code the keys for only one night even if the customers were staying more than one night. 

Yet the hotel was busy – there were plenty of people checking in, plenty of people in the bar and the restaurant and plenty of people leaving in the morning.  So neglecting the basics is clearly not driving this hotel out of business.

How is it that this hotel can get away with it.  The answer is simply: location, location, location.  The hotel is one of only a handful of hotels that are right next to the terminals so there is a lot of demand for hotel rooms.  Next, the hotel had matched its offer to the customer segments that were using the hotel.  Bewleys attracts people who are not willing to pay the kind of price that the Hilton, the Crowne Plaza and the Radissan SAS demand. 

To conclude: when you have a strategic asset which drives traffic to you, where there are formidable barriers to entry and where you match the offer to the customer segment that you service then you can get away with delivering an OK, even a poor, customer experience!  Isn’t something similar at work when it comes to financial services, software and hi-tech companies.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.