After a sleepless night of tossing and turning, jarred awake every few minutes by the A/C roaring to life, I finally began to drift off around 7:00 AM.
Thunder that sounded like Zeus himself was chucking lightning bolts at the foot of the bed, and a torrential downpour like marbles pelting the metal roof.
I groaned and rolled over, trying to find a comfortable position on my lumpy pillow. But then the wind picked up, adding to the ferocity of the storm and whistling through chinks in the window facing the lake.
“Our firewood is getting soaked,” I told Kirby, who also could not sleep.
I got up to take a look outside. The lawn furniture was nowhere to be seen, blown back behind the house by the wind. The picnic table umbrella was at a 45-degree angle, and the rocking swing was on its side. I stepped a bit closer, and stopped.
“I’m standing in water.”
The wind was forcing streams of water in around the window where it was cascading off of the windowsill and right over an electrical outlet.
Kirby hopped up to join me, and found that water was seeping in through the front door, too, and was quickly making its way across the floor toward our bags.
This lackluster customer experience took place at an Airbnb in Granbury, Texas, where we had hoped to have a relaxing getaway for our four-year wedding anniversary. The hosts described this little house as described as a “charming oasis,” perfect for a relaxing getaway.
We did not feel relaxed.
While the house delivered on the proffered lake views, that’s where this success story ended. Unkept promises and lies of omission turned our happy anniversary weekend into something to endure, rather than enjoy.
But it was a good reminder about keeping our brand promises in the hospitality industry. To make our offerings sound as attractive as possible, it can be tempting to try to be all things to all people, writing glowing descriptions of your service and amenities.
But when guests arrive, they take your promises at face value and expect to receive what you described. If you don’t deliver in a way that meets your obligation in the customer’s mind, you’ve lost them.
Case in point — this Airbnb had a small kitchenette with a microwave, toaster oven, griddle, small camp stove, coffee pot, and toaster. The property listing also claimed to have a BBQ grill. Including these features makes an unspoken promise that this is a place where you can cook.
So we planned to grill steaks on the first night we arrived — our actual anniversary — and make breakfast for ourselves each day before heading out for activities.
As we got started, though, we ran into some issues.
First — the promised BBQ grill was really a firepit with a filthy grill grate, and no brush to clean it with. So my dear husband spent the first night of our “relaxing getaway” painstakingly covering the grill grate with aluminum foil so our steaks wouldn’t be covered in ash.
Second — this kitchenette DID include each of the appliances as promised. But a note on the refrigerator when we arrived informed us we could only use one appliance at a time, or risk tripping the breaker. A kitchen where you have to complete each item separately before beginning the next is all but useless for cooking a multi-part meal.
Did they lie?
No. But these omissions quickly eroded our trust, and it wasn’t long before we were grumbling about feeling misled.
There’s a common saying that companies should “under-promise and over-deliver.” It’s about managing expectations. Keeping your promises to customers and exceeding them where you can is how you build customer trust and generate repeat business.
In this instance, we felt that the hosts over-promised and under-delivered. And our disappointment continued.
There was a window AC unit…but it sounded like a jet engine and is the reason we couldn’t sleep the first night.
There was a “bathroom with a shower” as described…kinda. In reality, there was a bath corner sectioned off from the rest of the space by a bookshelf and a curtain. We like each other, but we’d still like a little bathroom privacy!
Plus, the water heater was so small that the hosts left a note — “Please wait 30 minutes between showers to allow water to reheat.”
In the end, the only part of the accommodations that didn’t disappoint was the lake view, and we seriously considered coming home a day early.
Are you delivering on your promises?
We didn’t arrive intending to be grouchy and nitpicky. This was our first trip as a couple since a long weekend in Denver for our first wedding anniversary, three years ago. So we were prepared to be delighted. We were not.
Think about the way you present your business on your website, social media, and listing sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor. Are you delivering on your promises?
Did you check the “Good for Groups” box on Yelp, even though your restaurant is all 2- and 4-tops? Do you tell corporate event planners that you can make them a custom menu, but try to push them into one of your pre-set options? Is your website promising hotel guests a quiet stay, even though you’re on a busy street?
Marketing language often walks a narrow line between presenting your brand in the best light and bending the truth. Bending too far may make you the initial sale, but it won’t help you with brand loyalty or positive word of mouth.
And excellent customer service often can’t fix broken brand promises. Our Airbnb host brought us fresh towels to address the flooding, and left us a bottle of wine and a friendly note of congratulations upon our arrival. The customer service was there…but it doesn’t matter.
We were promised a relaxing weekend, and instead we were uncomfortable and inconvenienced. I won’t leave a negative review — but I also won’t leave a good one.
And that’s a real shame. I love leaving good reviews.