Every once in a while I have a bad public relations experience in my day to day life that provides the perfect platform from which to build a learning experience. This past week gave such an opportunity when a hotel guest keyed my significant other’s vehicle while I was in it, all because the wind changed directions and blew some of the vapor from my e-cigarette out of his driver’s side window in her direction. She did not approach me, or say anything to me at all.. just banged her keys on his side of the vehicle in anger, then started complaining to her passenger. She then returned two more times just to complain on her cell phone about it in front of me. During each of these incidents, she came and left so quickly I was not given any opportunity to confront her face to face about her behavior. She was part of a church group, which I will decline to identify (as well as which hotel this was at) as reviewing these organizations is not the focus of this article.
I complained to hotel security first, who encouraged me to call the police and my insurance company about the incident. They recorded her room number based on her parking ticket number, but encouraged me to take a picture of her if she came back out, and refused to speak to the owner of the room unless I did this. Of course, she never came back out. I didn’t want to call the police or my insurance company over such a minor dispute, but I did want this woman to know that her behavior was uncalled for. So before I left, I composed a clear, polite note that simply said that I didn’t appreciate her behavior, it had been reported to hotel security, and requesting that she not repeat that or any other destructive behavior towards any other guests during her stay there, and wishing her well on the rest of her visit. I attached the note to her windshield, along with the security officer’s card who I had spoken to, with his cell phone number on it. I totally expected her to complain about the note, which is exactly why it was so clearly and politely written. I also expected the hotel security officer to reinforce the note by explaining to her that indeed, the behavior would not be tolerated at the hotel.
What I did not expect was that the next day, my significant other who I was visiting would have his job threatened, and that I would be banned from the hotel. The woman did indeed call the security officer, and because she “felt threatened” by the note, the hotel felt that it was best to threaten to fire my significant other and ban me from their property. I don’t think I need to note right here that this now has became material for a lawsuit, and most certainly will lead to a lawsuit if they fire him. I also do not think I need to note that more than likely, the only reason for the hotel doing this was because it was simply myself and him against her and an entire church group, and the hotel was simply thinking in terms of how much money it had to lose should she really make it an issue with her group.
However, I do believe the hotel stands much more monetary loss on the fact that as a well known and popular local reviewer, I made some changes to my reviews that will likely lead to them losing an unknown amount of future business for taking the side of a guest that has a taste for destroying other guest’s property and banning those other guests should they have the guts to defend themselves even in the most polite and tactful manner.
This is a fantastic example of why ethics should always come first in the way a business handles its public relations. While it may be tempting to prioritize one customer over another based on how much business that customer has to offer versus the other customer, in the internet age, the playing field has been leveled so much in a way that a business really never knows how much damage the other customer may be able to do to them in the form of giving them a soured reputation that kills business with potential future customers. No matter how much money a customer represents, they cannot replace the untold numbers of customers lost on a well written, popular review that shows your business cares nothing for the well being, happiness, safety, etc. of their other customers in comparison to customers who represent a large monetary gain. This is the absolute worst form of public relations, and a business can suffer so much from this kind of PR that it can be shut down from it. Above all else, a customer wants to be able to trust that a business treats them fairly, and that when they pay for a service or product, they are getting exactly what they have paid for, the same as the next person. When it is made public that a business prioritizes some customers above others because they paid more… especially in the form of allowing those customers to harm others or their property and get away with it… it creates an absolute public relations nightmare. It also opens the door for a lawsuit that is impossible for that business to win, resulting in the need to settle out of court – and more monetary loss.
It pays very well to have good business ethics in the long run that are firmly stuck to and enforced. The temporary monetary gain and appeasement simply is not worth the long term loss that can be harvested from gaining the reputation of of being a “secular whore” – that is, a business that will allow anyone to do anything given they pay enough money to do it and get away with it.