This is the not the first article I have written about the subject of Customer Effort. In 2014, I wrote a story that still makes me break out in a cold sweat today. On that occasion, Vauxhall provided the case study to bring Customer Experience ‘theory’ to life. You can read the story here…

In 2017, it gives me absolutely no pleasure to have to bring the subject to life once more, with an example that may be a surprise to many – especially in the UK.

What do the towns, Southampton and Stevenage have in common? Apart from both beginning with the letter ‘S’, they are both towns in England that have at least one Premier Inn hotel. One of the largest hotel chains in the UK, Premier Inn usually have at least one establishment in most towns and cities – they are a well-known feature on these shores.

Premier Inn are also a chain of hotels with a pretty good reputation. In 2017, they have already won four awards – including ‘Best Budget Hotel Chain’ (Business Traveller Awards); ‘TripAdvisor Travellers Choice Awards’ (for some of their hotels); ‘Best Midscale Hotel Brand’ (Business Travel Awards); and a Certificate of Excellence (TripAdvisor).

If you have not come across them before, this is how Premier Inn describe themselves:

“Here at Premier Inn you can rely on us for a great night’s sleep – a sleep so good we guarantee it. You’ll love the friendly service and great value at every one of our 750+ hotels across the UK and Ireland – and now Germany, the UAE, India and South East Asia too.”

I have been a customer of Premier Inn for many years – I am therefore able to comment on the various components of this description:

  1. Here at Premier Inn you can rely on us for a great night’s sleep – YES – their beds are absolutely as comfy as they say they are – and always the same, so you will always know what to expect
  2. …a sleep so good we guarantee it – YES – this guarantee is genuine and real. I have had good cause to call on the guarantee on two occasions – both times, Premier Inn were as good as their word
  3. You’ll love the friendly service – NO – most of the time, I would agree on this one. However, if there was a guarantee associated with the service, then Premier Inn would be having to pay an awful lot of money back to their customers
  4. …great value at every one of our 750+ hotels across the UK and Ireland – and now Germany, the UAE, India and South East Asia too – YES – in general, staying in a Premier Inn is what I would call very good value for money

You may consider this to be quite a good result – 3 out of 4 elements of their description get the ‘thumbs up’! So, you may also be wondering why I am writing an article about Premier Inn – especially one that talks about ‘making life difficult for customers’ in the title. Allow me to explain…

When you book a Premier Inn room, either online or via their app, the customer is always given an option as to whether or not they would like to receive a printed invoice. A very simple question. For me, someone who is constantly travelling and who needs to keep track of his expenses, I do not often have the luxury of printing off receipts myself. I therefore ALWAYS ‘tick’ the box to confirm that I DO require a printed invoice.

The Premier Inn’s in Southampton (l) and Stevenage (r)

So, as I entered reception at the Premier Inn, Southampton Central at 06:30 on Tuesday morning, I expected the check out process to be simple and quick. Approaching the desk, I made eye contact with a Premier Inn member of staff who was sitting in the office beside it. I then proceeded to stand at the desk for a further 90 seconds before he decided to extricate himself from the office.

The man, whose name I did not register, stood at the desk in front of me, without any emotion on his face and proceeded to say nothing….. nothing at all. I chose to break the uncomfortable silence by asking him if I could check out AND have my printed invoice. At this point, what I received in return to my question, was a sigh. I kid you not.

Without saying anything, he looked down and started to tap away at a keyboard. He made it extremely clear that I was inconveniencing him. I had gone from uncomfortable silence to being made to feel VERY uncomfortable. After a minute or so of typing away – the man decided to speak to me for the first time:

Did you not get an email with the invoice?

This is what he said to me – nothing more, nothing less. This chap was questioning why I should have the audacity to ask him to print the invoice. I responded by saying I did indeed receive an email – but that I prefer to have my invoice printed on checking out. The response was another sigh. I did get my printed invoice in the end – I walked away from the Premier Inn slightly bewildered by the transaction, feeling like I had done something wrong.

When I checked in to my second Premier Inn of the week, this time in Stevenage (my life is not all glamour!!), I was very much hoping I had been at the wrong end of a ‘random’ experience in Southampton. I did not imagine that it would be repeated. I approached the reception desk on Friday morning, full of hope and optimism for what would ensue.

I asked if I could check out AND have a copy of my printed invoice. On this occasion, the gentleman behind reception was perfectly pleasant – he even had the decency to speak to me! However, as he started typing away at his keyboard, the same question I was asked in Southampton was asked again:

Did you not get an email with the invoice?

Although the question was asked in a far more conciliatory tone, the man made it clear that he was questioning why I wanted a printed version. Feeling slightly irritated by this – especially as it was the second time I had been asked the question in a week, I reminded him that I was fully within my rights to ask  for the invoice to be printed. I was having to justify my actions – it felt a little like being in court!

This kind of thing happening once can be described as a ‘random’ experience – twice – especially in the same week, feels more like a trend. I decided to share my frustration and irritation with my experiences on Twitter – this is what I said, followed by Premier Inn’s response:

“Sorry to hear this Ian”, but are you sure you didn’t make a mistake when checking in? This is not exactly what Darren said, but is exactly what he inferred. It must be the customer’s fault. I responded by saying I always did – in other words, don’t pin this on me!! No further response has been received by Premier Inn since.

Premier Inn state in their website that ‘You’ll love the friendly service…” – the service in both restaurants was very friendly. The two people who checked me in to both Southampton and Stevenage also lived up to this description. Yet what happened to me when I checked out of both hotels, ‘trumped’ (excuse the expression) everything. What I will remember about my experiences in two Premier Inns that week is not the friendly service. Not the good nights sleep. Not the great value for money. What I will remember is that I, the paying customer, was made to feel like an inconvenience. I was being made to feel that it is I, not Premier Inn, who need to exert the effort to print my invoice.

I want to reiterate – it gives me no pleasure to share a story that exposes how a brand like Premier Inn is making life difficult for customers. My hope is that they and others will read this article and ensure that this kind of thing does not happen again. Maybe I was unlucky – I came across the only two Premier Inn members of staff who make customers feel this way. Whatever the case, we can all learn from stories like these and how important it is to make unnecessary customer effort a conscious and intentional thing to avoid.