Avoid Useless Guarantees

A wildlife tourism business near my neck of the woods has just fallen foul of the Advertising Standards Authority.  Click here to read all about it.

They did so because they used an ill-conceived and poorly implemented “guarantee” on their website.  And today they are reaping the rewards of that crass implementation in bad publicity.

What Is The Purpose Of A Guarantee?

It is to mitigate the risk to which a customer is exposed when they choose to buy from you.

If they get what you promised, everyone is happy.  If they don’t get what you promised, they can invoke your guarantee and get their money back.

The whole point is to get a new customer to experience your product or service.  If it doesn’t work the act of invoking the guarantee and getting their money back (or whatever the guarantee says it’s going to do) is just as much a part of the customer experience.

Make your guarantee simple, clear and deliverable and it will work for you.  It will cause people to make bookings and it will defuse people who aren’t happy.

Riddle your guarantee with clauses and caveats, or even worse misrepresent it altogether (as was the case with the tourism business noted above) and what you’re doing is taking the pin out of a hand grenade and tucking it down your trousers.  It will go off.  Only fate can tell you when it will go off but when it does it’s going to make a bit of a mess.

Bloody Useless Guarantees

If you’ve worked with me before you might have found that this is an issue I get annoyed about.  You see, guarantees work.  They work very well but they must be built with customer satisfaction in mind.  In other words you should take pride in paying out on your guarantee.  That’s how it works.

However my experience of hoteliers in general is that they hate guarantees.  Or at the very least, they don’t understand how they’re supposed to work.

I’ve seen some belters in my time.

There’s the omnishambles that is the “best price guarantee”.  Usually accompanied by a nasty little process designed to prevent people from invoking it.  Honestly, you can do better than that.

A particular favourite of mine was the “fresh linen guarantee” I noticed in a hotel I was staying at.  The inference in my mind being that without such a guarantee I could find myself sleeping in soiled linen?  I mean, we’re all kind of expecting linen to be fresh when we arrive.  No matter what the standard of hotel.  This particular guarantee didn’t fill me with enthusiasm.  What’s next?  A “clean pint glass” guarantee?  Perhaps dinner will be served on a clean plate?  I could hardly contain myself…

When Good Guarantees Work

The best example of a good guarantee working is the Premier Inn “Good Night’s Sleep” guarantee.  It is brilliant in its simplicity and it is easy to invoke.

I was staying in one of their hotels once and the people in the room opposite were having a party.  You know the sort of thing, drunk people running up and down the corridor at 3am banging on all the doors and thinking they’re funny.  The poor night manager couldn’t do much to calm them down.  So I mentioned my lack of sleep to the receptionist in the morning.  The response was instant.  Full refund of the price for the night, processed back to my card.  No debate.  No argument.  I was tired, but I was fairly happy someone was on my side.

…And When They Don’t

This example shows you just what can go wrong when invoking a guarantee goes wrong.  Unfortunately, it’s also with Premier Inn.

I had booked for people to stay at a particular city centre hotel.  They found the bed linen was almost see through and the bathroom towels full of holes.  Plainly the stuff was knackered.  They asked for it to be replaced.  The replacement linen was also knackered. (…maybe we should have had a fresh linen guarantee eh?)  So they mentioned this to reception on checkout.

“No problem”.  Said the receptionist.  “We have a Good Night’s Sleep Guarantee”.

However because the rooms were booked on a company account, she had to call a central office to get the refund made.  It was a Sunday morning.  After waiting 15 minutes with the phone unanswered, she handed over a card with a reference number on it and a number to call.  The card made its way to me on the Monday morning.

I called the number.  No answer.

I called it on Tuesday.  No answer.

I called it on Wednesday.  No answer.

I emailed them on Thursday.  TEN DAYS later I got an answer.  Not much of an answer though.  It appears some employees needed training in how their guarantee worked and one in particular made me very angry indeed when he refused to process the refund.  They made their great guarantee really hard to invoke.  There’s a penalty for that.  It’s the hand grenade I mentioned above.  Pin removed, down the trousers it went…

Two months later a manager contacted me and processed the refund – £60.  And gave me another £60 in vouchers.

Meanwhile I had stopped all our company hotel bookings going to Premier Inn and had started using IHG hotels or Travelodges instead.  I’m the boss.  I can do that.

Not honouring a simple guarantee cost Premier Inn thousands of pounds worth of hotel bookings.

…and of course I tell lots of people about it.


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