Do unto others

While staying in a hotel during an assessment recently, one of our assessors read an article in the Wall Street Journal about various ways some hotels were gouging their customers through hidden fees and surcharges. Readers subsequently added other examples to the list. Some of these unethical tactics included:

·      Mandatory parking and/or valet fees, even for those guests who didn’t arrive by car (or parked   themselves).

·      Mandatory “gratuities” for housekeeping and bell staff, not all of which are actually being distributed to the workers.

·      Mandatory “resort fees” for the pool and gym, even if not used.

·      Fees to use the in-room safe or refrigerator.

·      Exorbitant but unmarked fees for bottled water placed in the room.

With respect to the last, our assessor noted the bottled water in his room came with a “complimentary” tag. At another hotel, there was no such tag, and he assumed that if he enjoyed the water, there would be a consequent hefty charge added to his bill. (He also noted the bottled water came from Norway, a continent away, making a mockery of the hotel’s claims of “green” products and of sourcing locally.)

Many WSJ readers noted that hotels would often reverse these fees if customers noticed them and complained, reinforcing that the charges were inappropriate in the first place.

During our assessments, we interview client staff from sales and customer service to understand how the organization deals with its customers.  We review advertising, contracts and other records, and interview a sample of actual customers to understand their own experiences. Some of the things we’re looking to verify include:

·      Are pricing and terms of sale clear and complete?

·      Are product labeling, marketing, and advertising completely truthful?

·      Are product claims (capabilities, environmental, etc) objectively substantiated before being made?

·      Are warranties and other after-sales promises honored by the vendor?

·      Is there a process to receive and meaningfully respond to customer complaints in a time manner?

Devious pricing practices, false advertising, “greenwashing”, and other ways of deceiving customers are all examples of unethical business behavior. This is very much an area where the golden rule applies: treat others as you would wish yourself to be treated. Treating customers fairly is a cornerstone of a good corporation.