You can get away with bad customer service - but it will cost you

OK, hands up anyone who has never stayed in a Travelodge.

Ha!! Just as I suspected. There are very few people that have never stayed in a Travelodge. And let's be honest, although we pretend to our friends that we are staying somewhere posher, most of us will, at some point, use Travelodge hotels because of their convenience and their low prices.

I have stayed in Travelodges all over the world, and perhaps the worst one I have ever experienced was the Travelodge in Las Vegas about 10 years ago. The place was truly awful, with paper peeling off the walls, damp and dirt everywhere, and an unpleasant musty smell. In fact, the place was a complete dump.

I'm happy to say that this particular Travelodge was knocked down soon afterwards. Thankfully we were only there for one night, simply because we'd just arrived in Vegas and needed somewhere to stay for the night, until we could move over into one of the plush casino hotels the following day.

I also frequently stay in the various Travelodges in London when I'm down there on business. In fact I have stayed in about 15 different Travelodges in London alone! So I am becoming a real expert on them! 

Last week I stayed in a Travelodge for two nights, and it was all pretty much OK. The room was a reasonable size. It was clean, quiet, compact and functional. Nothing special, but perfectly acceptable.

Apart from one thing. 

The reception staff member was really rude. I won't go into details, but suffice to say that it was one the very worst examples of hotel staff rudeness I have experienced at any hotel, anywhere in the world. EVER.

So yesterday I went onto the 'Tripadvisor' website to give a review of the hotel. I mentioned the staff rudeness, but I also put in my review that (despite this) I would still stay there again in the future.

What?!?! Am I crazy? No. It's just that sometimes even really terrible customer service can be overlooked. Why? Because if the price is cheap enough, then the customer will sometimes exercise something that American legal experts call 'willful blindness'. There is a whole raft of academic research in this area, and the concept is partially linked to something known as 'confirmation bias', a term coined by the English psychologist Peter Watson in the 1960s. It is a form of cognitive bias that results in people interpreting information in a way that confirms their preexisting beliefs.

What does this mean in reality? It means that if you only use Travelodge hotels because they are cheap, then the part of your brain that likes to receive good customer service turns a blind eye to even the most appalling rudeness from their staff. Sometimes you don't even notice the bad customer service at all. Your brain is confirming your preexisting belief: "Travelodges are good because they are cheap."

But this is a really dangerous business strategy. It is taking a 'behavioural approach' to customer loyalty (see my article dated 10.06.16) and as soon as you have to put up your prices, your customers will go elsewhere.

Moral of this story: you can get away with providing poor customer service, but only if you are prepared to be really cheap. And as we all know, that's not a good business strategy!