This weekend I went to two friends' engagement party in Buckinghamshire. Their spare rooms were nabbed quickly so me and a few other friends opted to stay at The Folly Inn, a nearby bed and breakfast. For £25, nice countryside surroundings and a 10 minute walk from the friends' house it seemed like a bargain.
After being driven up and down a country road by a taxi driver who couldn't find the B&B, I eventually arrived. The rooms are in a separate building to the pub which was closed. I wandered round the back and tried a few doors but they were locked. I took out my phone to call but then a man appeared.
"Hello", he said. "Hi, I've booked a room," I replied. "What's your name?," he asked in a not particularly friendly way. "Dan Martin," I said. He then walked back into the pub leaving me stood in the rain outside. He eventually reappeared, handed me a key and pointing down a path said: "You're in number four. There it is" before walking back inside the building. Not exactly a friendly welcome!
On walking into the room, I was pleasantly surprised. It look cleaned, had a double bed, offered tea and coffee making facilities and digital television. However, it was cold. I tried the radiator but it didn't seem to work so I went back to the pub to ask the landlord.
It was now open so I walked around trying to find him. Doing his 'The shopkeeper appears' skit from Mr Benn again, the landlord appeared. "My room's quite cold and the radiator doesn't seem to work," I said. "It's June," he replied sternly. "OK," I said, "but my room's cold." He then launched into what can only be described as a rant as he outlined what it costs him to heat the rooms, how he was running the place on his own and did I want him to employ more staff.
I was almost lost for words which for those who know me is a surprise! I managed to speak though and expressed my shock about how he was speaking to a paying customer who had asked a reasonable question. Then came the killer blow...
"What do you expect?," he said. "You're only paying £25."
Outraged, I pulled out the journo card; "I'm a business journalist and you've certainly given me something to write about." Unbelievably his response was: "I don't care. There's plenty of negative feedback on the internet about this place but we're always fully booked." He isn't wrong about the negative feedback; check this out!
After a few more exchanges, he eventually calmed down and offered me a heater and extra blankets. I was too angry by this point though and walked back to my room.
About 20 minutes later, my friends arrived and we wandered down the road to the party. My experience became the subject of great amusement and it didn't take long before many people were using "what do you expect?" in response to all sorts of questions.
After many hours of partying I returned, slightly tipsy, to my room. It was cold. I thought about calling the landlord but given that it was 1am I decided against it thinking I would be leaving in a matter of hours and I'd never need to return. But the story wasn't yet over...
On pulling back the quilt on the bed a rather large black beetle crawled out from under one of the pillows! "Oh for heaven's sake," I thought (it was actually another phrase but BusinessZone is a family website!). I scooped the beetle up and threw it outside.
The next morning I woke up thankfully not covered in beetles and vacated the room. I left my money on the side and walked outside. The landlord was nowhere to be seen. I could have left without paying as he only had my email address but decided not to take matters that far. All in all though I won't be staying at The Folly Inn again and if anyone asks me to recommend somewhere to stay in the area it certainly won't be on my list of suggestions!
So what are the business lessons?
It's exactly the same as the points I my made in an earlier post about Travelodge and Premier Inn.
If you're pitching to the budget market, don't think it means you can scrimp on customer service. It's massively important if you want customers to give you repeat business.
While Mr Shouty didn't seem to care about negative feedback about his business being posted online; you should. It can easily come back to bite you. If I hadn't had the run-in with him and he had explained calmly why the radiator wasn't on and had immediately offered me the heater, I would have accepted his answer and happily recommended his premises to all and sundry. Without his rant (and the beetle) this blog post would have been very, very different.