In a hotel, should we have the same service expectations from WiFi as we do for hot running water?

Time was when you couldn’t always guarantee hot running water in hotels in parts of France or Southern Europe. It came with the territory, so to speak. You knew there were were areas what this was a distinct possibility. So one could presumably excuse many smaller hotels whose ISP infrastructure is a little rickety, no?

No. In an aggressive low-margin industry, smaller hotels include free Internet access as part of their value proposition and differentiator to attract customers. It is used in the same way that “hot running water” used to be advertised in some hotels where such service could not be taken for granted.

To add insult to injury today, not only do I not have my trusty smartphone as my access point to the Internet and the world, my work, my contacts, my friends – but I’m in hotel in Cannes, France that takes, let’s be kind, a “relaxed” attitude towards the provision of Internet connectivity.

Instead, the Suite Novotel Cannes has an all-too-typical and cavalier attitude to service provision, somewhat equivalent to saying “so you have no water? Well, someone might be able to fix that in the morning. Nothing I can do, it’s not my problem. Good night.” You offer a reasonable brand (Novotel), a reasonable room, a hefty price but “free, unlimited, wireless Internet access” as a palliative. It’s a business hotel and, well, I want to get on and do some of my business – Online. Which is why I chose you. Instead I’m pinging the Internet every fifteen minutes or so to see if I can get squeeze another email in or out. It’s like sucking honey through a thin straw.

As customers, are we too mute in our responses to poor service in this area? To the “Sorry, the IT guy’s not around”; “We have no control over this, it’s our service provider” (more common); “I’m not really sure how it works, someone might be able to take a look in the morning” (most common)?

Because it’s technology, we excuse it. Running water, electricity – we understand those. If the whole neighbourhood goes dark, that’s one thing – you are not going to blame the hotel. But if the lights went out in your hotel and the water stopped flowing, just to you, you would expect the hotel to fix it pretty damned quickly. Just because the Internet access is bits and bytes and “it’s complicated” (which it isn’t), doesn’t mean that it isn’t still offered as a service and included in the cost model, pricing, and customer expectations.

This isn’t some “white whine” – I’m not claiming it’s a life or death issue (there are thankfully very, very, few) or that anyone will be harmed because I can’t get online. But I am claiming that if a hotel offers a service, it should deliver; repair it promptly if it isn’t working; and compensate customers if it can’t be restored.

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