The iconic hotel chain created by Conrad Hilton makes a big deal out of its COVID-19 safety protocols. Yet some locations are failing to enforce the policy, and no one at the chain, once famous for its service, seems to care.
Back in mid-April, before the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) loosened mask-wearing guidelines for fully vaccinated people on May 14, Bill and Linda Smith took a road trip from Niagara Falls to Minneapolis to visit their grandchild. As Silver members of the Hilton Honors frequent stay program, the couple felt confident the iconic hotel chain would deliver the kind of service they had come to expect, and that they could count on it being a safe place to stay during the pandemic.
After all, a wide range of COVID-19 health and safety protocols were being promoted on the company’s website. Those protocols, still displayed in the Hilton website, include contactless arrival, social distancing in public areas, and mandatory face coverings. So, when Bill and Linda arrived at the Home 2 Suites by Hilton in Elkhart, Indiana, for an overnight stay on April 19, they were shocked to find people milling about the lobby and without face masks.
While Linda stayed with their luggage, Bill worked his way through a cluster of people to the front desk where he asked about the hotel’s “Face Coverings Are Now Required” policy which was printed on his reservation and promoted on the Hilton website.
“Oh, yes, we have that policy here,” the desk agent told him. “We just don’t enforce it.”
Troubled by the response, after getting to their room Bill called the Hilton customer service number to complain. He was greeted by a recorded message telling him the office was closed for the day and that he should use their online customer service on the Hilton website.
So, Bill fired up his iPad and went to the Hilton website to find someone in customer service that he could electronically chat with about the situation at their hotel. After all, Hilton had for months been prominently promoting its hotels as a safe place to stay during the pandemic, and being seniors, this was an extremely important consideration for Bill and Linda. Had they known that some health and safety protocols were not being applied at the Hilton in Elkhart, they could have stayed somewhere else.
The website offered access to an online virtual assistant, also know as a ‘bot.’ Apparently, bots are supposed to use artificial intelligence to help customers with service issues by offering helpful and contextual information as conversations unfold. They are also supposed to help live agents if they are needed by providing them with key information from their communication with a customer.
Unfortunately, the virtual assistant that Bill dealt with was short a few computer chips. In fact, as you will see from the following transcript of the conversation between Bill and the bot, the Hilton virtual assistant makes the Three Stooges sound like Harvard valedictorians.
Hilton virtual assistant: Hi there! I’m Hilton’s virtual assistant designed to answer commonly asked questions. If I can’t get you the answer, I’ll connect you with a human friend who can help. In a few words, tell me what I can do for you today?
Bill: We are at the Home 2 Suites in Elkhart Indiana. When we arrived there were 4 customers in the lobby. None of them was wearing a mask. The desk clerk told us they don’t enforce it. Is that right? We don’t feel safe in the lobby.
Hilton virtual assistant: When you check in to the hotel, let the front desk agent know you have a Hilton Honors account you’d like to add to your reservation. If you have already completed your stay, link a past reservation to your account by filling out the Missing Stay Request form. Keep in mind, requests must be submitted within six months from the date of your stay. Was this helpful?
Hilton virtual assistant: I’ll connect you with an agent who can help. You’re now chatting with Nikk.
The virtual assistant now passes Bill over to a live agent, who continues the conversation.
Nikk: Thank you for contacting Hilton, my name is Nikk. I see you were chatting with our Virtual Assistant. Thank you for your patience while I review your conversation to see how I can assist. Just to confirm, are you looking to submit a complaint?
Bill: Oh yeah. Can you tell the hotel to enforce the mask rule?
Nikk: I understand your concern, let me assist you with complaint. You can submit complaint to our escalation team and they may provide you best compensatory resolution or else you can share it with me and I will forward it to them on your behalf. Here is the direct contact details of our escalation team 888-240-6152 and Guest.Correspondence@Hilton.com. May I know how you would like to submit complaint?
Bill: Whoever can get the hotel to enforce its mask rule so that we can go to the lobby.
Nikk: No worries, let me go ahead and raise a complaint on your behalf. May I have reservation confirmation number and full name of primary guest on reservation?
Bill provides the requested information.
Nikk: I have successfully raised a urgent review and resolution request now our team may check and provide you best compensatory resolution for the inconvenience caused to you and you can also contact our escalation team for follow up at 888-240-6152 and Guest.Correspondence@Hilton.com.
Bill: Thank you Nikk. I can be reached by email or phone.
Nikk: I have already updated all details in request and our team may communicate with you over the email.
Bill: Okay, great. Would like to hear that the mask rules will be enforced by morning. Cheers.
Unfortunately, the mask rules were not restored by morning, and Bill and Linda had to again navigate past people not wearing masks in the lobby as they left the hotel to continue their journey.
Even though his complaint had been escalated as ‘urgent,” Bill heard nothing for several days so he followed up with Hilton when he reached Minneapolis in the hopes of getting an explanation. He received the following email:
Date: April 26, 2021 at 8:53:25 PM CDT
To: Bill Smith >
Subject: Hilton Guest Assistance Case #8599XXX
Thank you for contacting Hilton Guest Assistance regarding your recent experience at one of our properties. I would like to express my sincere apologies that your expectations fell short of our high service standards during your stay. I have forwarded your concerns to the Management team at the hotel to allow follow up within 3 days. It is our hope that this matter will be resolved to your satisfaction and that you will continue to choose Hilton Brands for your future travel needs.
Corporate Guest Relations Specialist
Despite the escalation of his complaint a second time, as of the publication of this story on May 24, Bill had still not had an explanation of what happened and why. Not even a canned excuse from a virtual Hilton Service Manager!
This outcome suggests that Hilton may have an issue with some locations not enforcing corporate policy on COVID-19 health and safety protocols. It also suggests that the customer complaint process at Hilton is broken and in need of repair (especially the Hilton Virtual Assistant).
In defense of Hilton, I know from a visit to one of their hotels in Ottawa last October that some of the chain’s locations are doing a great job of enforcing health and safety protocols during the pandemic. However, this was not the case at the Elkhart location, and loyal customers like Bill and Linda deserved a better outcome from Hilton in terms of both experience and follow up.
Furthermore, when choosing a hotel for a stay, the entire travelling public has a right to expect that every hotel chain will deliver on its advertised protocols around health and safety during the pandemic. If Hilton cannot consistently deliver on its commitments, it should state so on its website and promotional materials.
Ironically, Conrad Hilton started with a single motel in 1919, and built it into one of the most successful hotel brands in the world through hard work, trust, and excellent customer service. Sadly, the extraordinary hotelier must be turning over in his grave at the very thought of promises being broken without regard for the safety of guests, bots frustrating his best clients, and his customer service department ignoring them.
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