Saturday, August 2, 2008

Traveling Week - Hotel Internet Access Surcharges

To sum this post up in one short sentence: Can anyone believe that some hotels are still charging an access fee surcharge for high-speed internet?

Once upon a time, broadband internet access was a premium service. Eight years ago, when access to the internet was mostly dial-up, it was pretty cool to be able to go to a hotel and have broadband internet access. You might remember those days, back when it could be difficult getting DSL access. That was back in the days when AOL ruled the dial-up world. But things have come along way since that time. Now, not only do most hotels have high-speed internet, but most homes also have high-speed internet access as well.

Yet, for some reason, many of the premium hotels will charge there guests a surcharge for using the high-speed internet, typically $10 per day, sometimes more. What’s more, typically the access software maps to a Mac address, so if you connect a second computer, they will try to hit you with a charge for that computer as well. If you think about it that way, you aren’t really paying for their bandwidth, you’re simply paying them a usage toll.

For most of us now, the internet -- the internet operating at high-speed -- isn’t a luxury, it’s a requirement. It’s essential for doing work, it’s a requirement for getting a job, it’s may also be the enabler for many of your day-to-day activities. When I travel now, I use it for restaurant recommendations, location guidance, work, news, -- even long-distance or international calling with Skype. So, if you’re a hotel manager, maybe the question that you should be asking is, is this something that my customers might use as a criteria for which hotel to stay at -- I know I do, but it’s not just me. For many folks in the valley, it’s a make-or-break. It was the second or third most important decision factor for the people in my previous company -- right up there with price and location.

But for me, the biggest treat of all this week was dealing with the tech support team for the network access company. Their system is another one of those log-in (register your Mac address) and agree to pay the surcharge. For one reason or another, the system in the hotel didn't seem to want to work with my system (hard to say whether it was Apple, Firefox, or simply something with the hotel system). As a result, after arriving at the hotel very late at night, I got to spend the next hour trying to connect to the internet. This also required a call to the access service tech support line, and after about 20-minutes on the phone, he had me up and running.

This was one of those systems that allowed you to specify how many days you would be staying so that it could charge you for that entire time and (possibly) reduce the number of times that you go through the log-in screen. Not wanting to pay $13 for four hours of internet on the day that I checked out, I went for 1 day less. So I was a little surprised when I got up with one day to go before check-out and found that I needed to go through the log-in once again. Only this time, the customer service / tech support guy on the phone was a case study for bad customer relations.

During the 20 minutes that I spent on the phone with this guy, we determined the following things:
  • He couldn't find my previous case in their system
  • He couldn't see me on their network
  • He couldn't identify why I couldn't get access
During the 20 minutes, he asked me to do the following things:
  • Could I restart my browser?
  • Could I reboot?
  • Could I do a release / renew (although he wasn't certain how that would be accomplished on a Mac)?
  • Did I have a firewall running? Could I turn it off?
By the time we got off the phone, he had presented the following theories on the root cause of my connection problem:
  • There was a problem with my system
  • There was a problem with the cable
  • There was a problem with my firewall
  • I had been kicked off for downloading too much / bandwidth usage
Needless to say, this network service / access gateway provider sucked. They seriously sucked. They sucked so bad that I've been motivated to publish this post. And the take-away for hotel managers -- all of the wonderful service and the removing those charges from my bill are not going to make that strong negative go away. When it comes to customer experience, it's hard to overcome these strong negatives -- particularly when they are the kinds of things that are more likely to generate negative word of mouth.

So, if you're a hotel manager and you're considering one of these systems, I'd urge you to think carefully about the choices you make around this type of service. Consider, people will tolerate a lot of problems if the service is free (or even a nominal charge), but if you think you can charge a premium, you'd better be offering something that provides a premium experience. And these days, high-speed internet access is on par with indoor plumbing.

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