Not every brand hits the jackpot when it comes to customer experience. But then again, customer experience shouldn’t be a game of roulette, either. Here’s why my recent guest experience with the Bellagio Resort and Casino was a total bust.
About two weeks ago I traveled to Las Vegas for a conference and booked a room at the Bellagio. This was the second time that I had been to Sin City, and I was excited to stay in a new hotel and see the famous fountains the Bellagio is known for. So after a hectic day filled with meetings and sessions, I decided to check out the hotel’s aquatic crown jewel.
But there was one problem: I had no idea where the fountains were. Obviously, I knew they were outdoors. But as anyone who’s ever been to a conference in Vegas can attest to, you spend most of your time inside of the conference center and very little time exploring the grounds. Plus, the fountain show wasn’t running when I pulled up in front of the hotel upon my arrival. Apparently, the show occurs every fifteen minutes in the evening, and I must have just missed it.
So I checked the hotel’s website. Once there, I found information about how frequently the fountain show runs, what kind of music plays during the show, and who sponsors the spectacular. But again, the website didn’t direct me to the front of the hotel.
I assumed that I’d see signs throughout the resort and casino that would direct me to the fountains, so I made my way down to the main floor. As I strolled past the rows of slot machines and card tables, I didn’t see the fountains listed on any of the navigational signs. When I approached the lobby, it was a few minutes past 11:00 p.m. and the front desk was buzzing with late-night check-ins. Not wanting to wait in line—I knew the show only ran until midnight—I decided to simply walk throughout the hotel until I stumbled upon someone or something that could point me in the right direction. It would give me an opportunity to check out the amenities, which I hadn’t had a chance to do earlier that day.
I decided to see if I could see the fountains from the hotel’s outdoor pool area in the back. But as I was walking past a few bars and restaurants inside of the hotel, something unthinkable happened: Two teenage boys sexually harassed me and ran off.
Feeling mortified and completely violated, I immediately yelled after them and flagged down a staff member walking towards me. I told the employee exactly what happened, and he said that he just saw the two boys run off. He then told me to go down the hall where I’d find a security guard standing with a dog. I ran down the hall, found the security guard, and recited what had just occurred. The guard told me that he only worked with canine security and that he couldn’t help me. I could feel my voice begin to shake and tears well up in my eyes. The guard then instructed me to go down another hall to where I would find another security guard standing near the elevator. Again, I did as I was told. I recalled the incident a third time, and the security guard told me that she too had just seen the boys run into the elevator moments ago; however, because they were now in the guest section of the resort, there was nothing she could do.
I couldn’t believe it. They had gotten away. Totally enraged, I went straight to a security guard standing near the front desk. I told him what happened and how no one would help me. Again, I was handed off like a baton. The security guard told me that I’d have to take my issue up with the front desk manager. Are you kidding me?
Instead of bringing a manager to me, I had to stand in line and wait with the rest of the guests checking in. After waiting for what seemed to be about eight minutes, I reached the desk and told the attendant that I wanted to speak with a front desk manager. The attendant inquired about my reasoning, so I told him—he’s now only the fifth person who I’ve told—that I had been sexually harassed. Two minutes later the manager appeared. She pulled me slightly over to the side—not much—to discuss the issue. After I told the now sixth person my story—in front of other guests checking in, mind you—the manager told me that I would have to file a police report.
So, a new security officer came and I told him my troubling tale again—now the seventh time I relived the experience. He took some notes and nodded as we stood in the lobby with other guests passing by. A man who appeared to be slightly tipsy even interrupted my discussion with the security guard to ask him where he could find his cell phone. Talk about addressing the issue in a private manner! When I finished recalling the incident, the security guard asked me to write down exactly what I had just told him on paper. Eighth time’s the charm, right?
The front desk manager said that she was going to make a note of the incident in my guest profile. She then proceeded to ask all of the right questions: Did I need a security escort back to my room? (Uh, not after dealing with these guards.) Did I need medical attention? Did I want any tea to calm me down? No I don’t want any freakin’ tea, I thought. I didn’t want any compensation. All I wanted was some empathy, and I wasn’t getting it. I lost it. With tears rolling down my face, I told the front desk manager how upset I was that this incident happened in this hotel, how appalled I was that three staff members refused to help me after the occurrence, and how I didn’t appreciate retelling this horrifying event eight times. She apologized, and I went back to my room. It was now past midnight, and the fountain show was over.
I didn’t expect the hotel staff to find the teenage boys; it was clear that they didn’t give enough of a damn to do that—but I did hope for a little follow up. Whether it was a staff member calling me in the morning to see how I was feeling, a security guard giving me a status update on my police report, or a manager apologizing that this incident had happened on the property, even the smallest of gestures would have made a big difference. Instead there was nothing.
I couldn’t wait to leave the next morning. I made a beeline toward the front desk, where the nightmare of the customer experience had occurred less than eight hours prior, and told the attendant that I’d like to check out. As she brought up my account, I expected her to address the issue, especially because the front desk manager had made a point to enter the incident into my guest profile. A little, “Ms. Dupre, I want to apologize that this happened on our property” was all I wanted. Instead, she gave me my receipt and thanked me for my visit as if nothing had happened.
I walked away completely disgusted by the lack of empathy that I had received from the staff. But I decided to put the blame on the individuals I spoke to rather than on the hotel as a whole. So, I brought the issue to guest service’s attention by sending a note describing the incident (again!) via the hotel’s website before heading to the airport. An automatic reply informed me that I would receive a response within 48 hours.
No surprise here, I never received a response. However, the Bellagio was bold enough to email me a customer experience survey a few days later asking me about my stay. Oh, let me tell you, I thought, clicking the survey link. But this wasn’t just a five minute questionnaire. This survey took me 30 minutes! I could tell that the survey was dynamic and asked me different follow-up questions based on my responses. So after detecting that I wasn’t satisfied with my staff interactions, the survey asked me if I’d like someone from the Bellagio to contact me. I clicked yes. You know what I heard back? Crickets. No one followed up with me.
I understand that the Bellagio couldn’t undo what the teenage boys did, but there are a number of steps the hotel could have taken to make me feel better, safer, and just understood. Here are a few suggestions that I have for the Bellagio staff:
1) Don’t assume that customers know your brand as well as you do.
From my perspective, this is a crime that marketers and customer experience professionals are guilty of far too often. Knowing that the fountains are located in the front and that the show runs every 30 minutes during the day and every 15 minutes during the evening, may seem like basic information to staff. However, the hotel shouldn’t expect every guest to know these details. After all, it’s a brand’s responsibility to inform customers of its main features and make it easy for them to enjoy them. Why not put a map of the hotel in the front lobby? Or, perhaps the staff members could put up a sign pointing towards the fountain along with the show times. At least, just include the fountains on the hotel and casino’s navigational signs—they are a main attraction, after all. Casino and entertainment destination Mohegan Sun does a nice job of directing its guests to popular hot spots with its Wayfinders. These digital kiosks can tell guests where they need to go from where they’re standing.
2) Have empathy.
As silly as it sounds, it’s important for marketers to remember that customers are people, too. It’s critical for companies—especially those in the hospitality industry—to treat their customers the way they’d want to be treated. How would the Bellagio staff members feel if someone refused to help them after they experienced something upsetting and had tears in their eyes? And would they like it if they had to tell a mortifying story in front of complete strangers?
Sometimes showing empathy requires going the extra mile. It would have been nice if one of the staff members I initially spoke with would have walked with me to find the security guard they were referring to instead of simply pointing me down another long hallway. Similarly, I would have appreciated it if a staff member brought the front desk manager to me instead of making me wait in line.
3) Take responsibility for your brand.
I don’t blame the sexual harassment on the hotel. I blame it on the two teenage boys who did it. Still, the incident happened on the Bellagio’s property. It would have been nice for the Bellagio to apologize for not meeting my expectations of providing a safe environment.
4) Don’t make promises that you can’t keep.
If the Bellagio said guest relations would contact me in 48 hours, then that department needs to contact me in 48 hours. Likewise, if the hotel offers to contact me to discuss my unsatisfying experience, then it needs to do so. Failing to keep promises can result in customers losing trust, and eventually loyalty, in a brand. It can also spur negative word of mouth. Think about it: Do you think I’m going to recommend the Bellagio for a girls weekend or bachelorette party destination? Not a chance after what I experienced.
5) Let customers communicate in the channels that they prefer.
Perhaps I would have heard from the Bellagio if I had shouted the incident to the rest of the social sphere from Twitter. However, at the time, I wanted to address this issue privately, such as through the online note. Companies have to let customers communicate in the channels that they prefer and, in turn, listen and act on the feedback provided in each one.