I always enjoy Paul Carr's writing. I came across this post of his this morning, talking about how Hotel Tonight now appears to maintain a "list of influencers" -- people who have been very vocal in their complaints -- then calls the hotel when the influencer books in order to ensure that the customer has an ideal experience.
It's both funny and insightful. While I've personally been following the Hotel Tonight app since it was first introduced (also Paul Carr's writing about it) and I've recommended the app to others as an excellent solution for a common problem, I've never used the app personally. Why? Early on, I was curious what hotels that the used and considered 'qualified'. But for me, somewhere between not having the right need and the right opportunity, using Hotel Tonight for a stay hasn't happened.
At the same time, I must admit that I have been influenced by Carr's complaints about the service. I started out having a great deal of trust in the app, but after reading about some of Carr's problems, I've been very hesitant to use it personally. When you're in a 'crisis' moment, there's nothing worse that not having a solution that you can trust, but sometimes that's all you have left. If, on the other hand, you're thinking about spending your own money on some sort of surprise special occasion night, the idea that you wind up getting put up in really crappy room -- or that the booking is unreliable -- is unsettling.
My point is, word of mouth has had influence, both on my behavior and on Hotel Tonight's business practices. And, at the same time, having just completed another United Airlines flight with Premier status on no special treatment, I suspect that United Airlines believes that word of mouth will have little or no influence on their business -- particularly as my audience is much smaller than Pando / Techcrunch.
More of my Whining about United Airlines
FYI, for those that are curious, here's a basic summary of my flight experience. Flights were delayed or canceled by severe weather, so some customer tensions were high. The people part of United's business were all exceptionally friendly. In the United Club, I even saw a service worker -- not working for tips, just servicing the free food counter -- go out of her way to help some older lady who was traveling with her husband and was looking for the raisins and yogurt they usually had out in the morning. Really nice people.
And then there was the flight: the 737-800/900 has the older style of seats with more room in the seat pocket (better than the miserable new Airbus seats), enough to hold my Macbook Air or a water bottle. That being said, I was once again about 30th on the list of upgraded travelers and sitting in the back of the plane with an inch or so less legroom that I would get on a base-fare flight on JetBlue.
At some point, you begin to formulate a customer experience equation question: if customer service and the core product are independent but related, how crappy does a product have to be where no level of excellent customer service can elevate it to the point where you win the business?