Sheraton–An Un-Branded Complaint Experience


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Nowadays, many companies are putting priority on getting things right in the first time and at the first place. They hire the best possible people, put the best system in place, aiming to get the most beautiful satisfaction scores in their management report. This is particularly true for the servicing industries. However, in real life, things could go wrong and customers still complain. And this part of experience – the complaint experience actually creates much stronger impact on your brand than a normal service experience. Customers’ emotional attachment is much much stronger and this eventually constitutes to their effective memories in an exceptionally powerful way. While companies are paying effort to derive an ideal Emotion Curve for a normal service experience, it is equally important (or even more justified) to design the Branded Complaint Experience, since it takes X times of effort and money to retain an existing customer than to acquire a new one, not to mention about the (positive or negative) word-of-mouth effect.

If you have been following my articles or blogs, you may be aware that we hold CEM certificate training with our international partners in Singapore on a regular basis. In the past 18 months, we had four programs in Singapore and three out of the four were held in Sheraton Towers. Loyal customers, aren’t we? The location is great, catering is fine, price is reasonable. I can’t tell what a Sheraton experience is until I get this one.

This time, we went again. Meeting arrangement was fixed at ease but the first disappointment came on the room rate they quoted to us. The rate was 135% higher than the rate we got last time. We asked for the reason and were told there was a nation-wide convention during that period of sale so that’s the best they could offer. Aha… this should be one of the best practices for the hotel industry to send their business to someone else. We ended up booking through a travel site which offered 50% less of the hotel quoted rate. We got the booking confirmation and the hotel voucher, and we were mostly, satisfied.

Consistent Experience: “This Is Our Hotel Policy!”

But satisfaction ran too fast. We got problems right at the check-in–the front desk lady couldn’t find our booking. We presented them a valid hotel voucher, told them we were going to hold an event there in the next two days, have been a repeated event organizer to them for the third time… but none of these worked. The official answer was “We could still check you in, but as far as we didn’t have the booking on file, we have to charge you SGD440+++ per room night (regardless of what you have already paid to the agent)…, that’s the hotel policy and we are instructed by the management to do so”.

Stunned. We have no choice but call in the Duty Manager. Mr. Duty Manager came with a cool face, insisted to explain the hotel policy instead of solving the problem. He recognized the name of the travel agent on the voucher and admitted to receive booking orders from the agent on an on-going basis. In simple term, they are doing business with this travel agent. HOWEVER, he rejected to solve our case with them. In his words, the agent did not represent Sheraton and it’s none of Sheraton’s responsibility to sort out the case with them.

That is a Sheraton experience. Now, let’s take a look on what Sheraton says in their hotel website: “Located in the heart of the city along Scotts Road, the Sheraton Towers Singapore is famous for our warm and accommodating service. We are happy to help you in any way possible and look forward to making your stay enjoyable and memorable.”

“In Any Way Possible” Became “In No Way Possible”.

I called this an Un-Branded Experience—over-promise, under-deliver. The worst of all, the pain peak experience lies exactly on the company’s claimed brand values—warm and accommodating service, help you in any way possible. The Pleasure-Pain-Gap (PPG) is maximized in a very negative way, to the extreme that the pain peaks fall into the unacceptable level. These painful experience will also be deposited as Effective Memories and will be associated with the brand once recalled. In this case, there’s only one outcome—the customer is being driven away.

Below is the emotion curve of my Un-Branded Complaint Experience in Sheraton. You will not want this to happen in your company, though.

How was my Sheraton experience ended? The case did resolve finally, after my colleague struggled on phone calls and emails with the travel agent and the travel site for another TWO days. After the case was solved, we did receive a phone message from another lady of Sheraton, claiming the case was resolved and we won’t be charged for anything extra, and please don’t be worry about that… By the time we checked out, we have never met with this Duty Manager or anyone from Sheraton management again. No goodbye, no genuine smile. Don’t ever think of an official apology on the whole case.

Now, I can remember what a Sheraton experience is. Goodbye.


  1. Sampson

    Sorry to hear about your Sheraton service experience-failure. My own equivalent was at the Marriot in Frankfurt and is entitled, “I’ve come to take away your VIP gifts!”. I’m not goping to tell the story, but you can probably work out some of it for yourself. The story did have a happy ending though.

    A recent post on Marketing and the Placebo Effect at the Neuromarketing blog provides a few simple rules that marketers should use when delivering regular service experiences: The key is in not under-delivering against the expected service experience.

    At least you have a great service experience failure story to tell at your next seminar.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  2. Sampson,

    It is such a shame that you had such a bad experience with an international 5* hotel in a very developed country! Has technology and profitability overtook intuition and compassion in this world?

    I just had a bad experience at Sofitel Ambassador Seoul. The aircon in the room I checked into wasn’t working properly – no sense of sound or wind coming from it. I requested for a change of room after two hours, my first of three nights, reckoned it should have cold-up after 120 mins. The Duty Manager said all rooms were full and sent a technician who just washed the filter and expect it to work. My room service arrived, the dessert was melting away and the waiter sweating in his jacket. I made a second call to change the room and the Duty Manager insisted that it should be working after 10 mins. I invited him to wait with me in the room to feel for himself. Suddenly my room was overcrowded with DM, waiter, technician and myself. After some time, DM decided that indeed the aircon was not working well and agreed to change my room. I was fuming by then, he should have trusted his customer !

    It seemed that rooms were available after all?! They changed me to another room, with wine and cheese as apologies. But none of these can make up for the bad handling. These incidents should not be allowed to be swept under the carpet if we were to make the world a better place.

    I wonder if there is any connection between the ‘S’ s as they all seem to excel in badly branded CEM! They all looked pale compared to a local 5* called The Landis at Taipei – the experience was so personalised though the hotel may be a little jaded.

  3. My wife and I recently spent a night at the Sheraton in Pearson Airport Toronto and had an absolutely humiliating experience. When I booked the room online it was to be pre-paid so I provided my credit card info. This was 2 weeks before the stay. Upon arrival, I was asked to provide the card again for incidentals and I did. Early the next morning during checkout, I noticed the pro-forma invoice showed “Not Paid” and I went to the front desk to find out what was wrong. I was told that my card was declined. They tried it twice more and both times claimed it was declined. At this juncture I offered my debit card even though I knew there was more than enough to cover the one night on my credit card. After 1 attempt I was told my debit was also declined and at that point the Manager escorted me down to an ATM to withdraw cash to pay the bill. It wasn’t until the next day, after arriving at my destination and checking my emails that I realized that Sheraton tried not once or twice but four times to overcharge my credit card. When I mentioned it to my wife she said the porter told her that none of their machines were working since they moved the front desks some time ago! I’m still waiting for an explanation and perhaps an apology, but I will never again stay at a Sheraton.

  4. Graham

    I agree with you–it indeed relates to our expectation and the actual experience. In the Sheraton case, what I expected was a 5-star experience but I would say the way she handled complaint is even worse than a normal 3-star hotel. I may not complain if Sheraton Towers Singapore were a 2-star hotel.

    Sampson Lee

  5. The Sheraton story didn’t end… the travel portal sent us an email lately:

    I have spoken to the travel agent this morning regarding your review. They mentioned that this is not the first time they have come across this kind of problem with the Sheraton Towers. This hotel seems to be unproffesional when dealing with customer issues, and the travel agent also faces the same problem with them. I would reccomend to you to choose an alternative hotel in the future when staying in Singapore.

    It is very disappointing to hear of such terrible service being delivered to customers in a 5-star rated hotel.

    With your permission, I will edit your review of the Sheraton Towers so that it can be posted on our website for other customers to view.

    Once again, we send our sincere apologies for all the inconvenience caused related to this matter and we will add credit points to the value of 20USD as compensation for phone calls and other expenses you incurred whilst trying to solve the issue. The credit points can be used in conjunction with your next booking with us and will be deducted automatically from the final bill.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Best regards,
    Customer Relations Manager

    I am going to book my London trip in this travel site again.

    Sampson Lee


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