I’VE NEVER STOLEN A TV, a robe or even the the complementary coffee sachets, from a hotel room. In China, though, I am treated as if I would. From the Hilton to the Holiday Inn Express, five stars to three, my experience at check-out is always the same. I am treated with distrust.
“I’d like to check out please,” I say.
“Which room?” asks the receptionist.
“8601, here’s my key.”
“Ok. Hang on.” Receptionist dials housekeeping, or uses a walkie-talkie. There is a delay of one minute or longer. And then there is a confirmation. “Ok. You can go.” (ie. You are not a thief)
This assumption of guilt by hotels, that is, “Stand there until we’ve counted the bed sheets and made sure the iron is in its place” hasn’t changed in the past 12 years that I’ve lived in China. But it never ceases to create a bad taste in my mouth. Imagine if the same relationship of distrust existed in other forms of business:
– Waiters counting the number of chopsticks before giving you the bill,
– Flight attendants counting the in-flight magazines prior to disembarking, and
– Super markets that maintain airport-like security upon checking out, including body scanners.
Of course all three scenarios are ridiculous. But why then do hotels in China treat their customers as if they are newly paroled petty criminals? A hotel’s investment into cozy beds, enormous buffet breakfasts, and 50 metre indoor swimming pools is pointless if the final interaction between customer and hotel becomes a question of integrity. Simply take a look at those trusted brands that extend their trust to their customers:
– Apple stores, that allow customers to play with their products, indefinitely!
– IKEA stores that attract day time nappers,
– Avis car rental that let you drop off a car, with little more than a wave to complete the transaction.
All three brands are industry leaders. And all extend trust, unconditionally. The irony is that hotels have no end of loyalty programs that aim to win customers’ trust. “Trust us,” they scream, “But don’t expect us to trust you! We just know you took something from the mini-bar! DIDN’T YOU!!”