Hilton exec overrules “customer service” department, helps guest

vbGot a problem with Hilton? You might get help. Then again, you might not.

Ever since the Blackstone Group’s $26 billion buyout of Hilton in 2007, getting good customer service has been a hit-or-miss proposition. Some cases are resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. Others aren’t.

I used to know most of Hilton’s executives, thanks to a first-rate corporate communications team. They made sure the channels of communication were always open between Hilton and any potential customer-service problems, much to their credit. Today, I have a queue of unsolved cases.

Is Hilton a lost cause?

No.

Consider the following request from Jean Moore. She was booked at the Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront, and wanted to make a quick change to her reservation. This is what she emailed to Hilton via its Web site:

May I change it from one room for two nights to two rooms for one night (no loss to hotel)?

That is, instead of my husband and me staying the nights of Dec. 20 and 21, I would like for my husband and me to stay in one room on the night of Dec. 20, and my parents to stay in one room that night as well, with everyone checking out Dec. 21.

Please tell me first if you would permit this request.

That seems pretty reasonable, right? Not to Hilton. It sent her back the following denial:

We are unable to comply with your request to modify your reservation. Reservations secured under the Advance Purchase rate program are non-cancelable/non-refundable and non-modifiable.

Ouch. She sent Hilton a brief, polite appeal. Its response?

Thank you for your recent communication regarding the reservation confirmed at our Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront Hilton location from Dec. 20th – Dec. 22nd. We sincerely apologize for delayed response, due to the volume of requests received; we was unable to respond to everyone in a timely manner. We would like to take the opportunity to respond to your concern as we have reviewed your reservation very carefully.

This particular reservation was confirmed in accordance with the Hilton Advanced Purchase Rate. The terms and conditions to these rates are very restrictive as we require full pre-payment for the entire stay; once confirmed we are unable to refund or modify an Advance Purchase reservation.

Should you choose to depart early, cancel or fail to honor the reservation for any reason, you will forfeit full payment for the entire stay without any ability to grant your request for a refund.

We understand that while theses rates are designed to be competitive with the lower rates offered by 3rd party booking channels, much like those channels, they carry the same prepaid, non-refundable restrictions. We contract these rates well in advance with all participating hotels through the Advance Purchase program and our obligation and commitment is to secure and protect the revenue generated by these advance bookings.

Due to the restrictive nature of this program, we make every attempt to notify our customers as we want to be very clear to our customers that once the booking is confirmed, we are unable to modify or cancel these reservations. Moreover, we provide a clear itinerary to specify the details of the transaction via email.

Jean Moore while I certainly understand your dilemma and with all due respect, reservations made under the Advance Purchase rate program are unable to be amended or credited; the directive and condition is very firm to this program. We appreciate you taking the time contact us; it is our hope that the condition associated with our Advance Purchase rate program does not dissuade you from choosing the Hilton Family Brands for your future travels.

In other words, no — and no! Moore sent me a note, asking if I knew any executives at Hilton to whom she could appeal this decision.

I didn’t, but a quick search of Hilton’s executives yielded the name of Kenneth Svendsen, Hilton’s senior vice president and global head of sales. His email address wasn’t too hard to find, either. Moore sent one final appeal to him.

I emailed Mr. Svendsen and said essentially that, although I knew I was in the wrong, my proposal would cost Hilton neither money nor occupancy, and I asked for an exception in the interest of courtesy and good will.

A couple of days later, a gentleman named Shariar Islam (972-726-3346 shariar.islam@hilton.com) called me and gave the exception. There was a little upbraiding about how this shouldn’t happen again and so on, but in general everyone was on his best behavior. I got my “one room for two nights” moved to “two rooms for one night.”

So thank you!

Ya see? I just knew that behind the facade of “nos” there were people who want to say “yes.”

(Photo: pamramsey/Flickr Creative Commons)

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