The Wrong Message

The note stuck to the headboard of our bed in the hotel room said, “Duvet covers & sheets are clean for your arrival.”

The grammar-conscious, observant reader would, first, notice the missing period at the end of the sentence in this note. And then wonder why whoever printed it would take the time and care to choose a friendly, handwritten-inspired typeface, print the message on a Post-it note, and put it on our headboard—but not proofread it to catch the errant period.

As important as correct punctuation is, something more significant trumps the missing period in this sentence: the overall message.

Some guests, I’m sure, wonder what inspired the local hotel manager or the executives of the hotel chain to leave such a message. Did they really think that telling guests that the linens were clean when they arrived would make them feel better during their stay?

It doesn’t.

Telling guests that the linens are clean this time only forces them to question whether they were not clean the last time they checked in. It causes them to wonder why there weren’t notes saying that the bath towels and face cloths were clean, too, and other notes pointing out that the carpet had been vacuumed and the counters washed.

We’ve stayed in this hotel perhaps ten times over the past four years and never felt the need to question whether the linens were clean or whether anything else was not up to our expectations. The note, however, landed as an apology, an apology for not having done a good job in the past and for having gotten caught in this failure. It seemed as if management was trying to make up for past mistakes.

Making sure the linens are clean, one would assume, is a given at any hotel in America. It’s a fundamental part of being a hotel, in fact.

One wonders how diners would feel if they sat down in their favorite restaurant and found on the table a note stating, “Tonight we are going to cook your meal,” or how airline passengers would feel hearing the flight attendant say, “Welcome aboard. Today, we are going to miss all the other planes in the sky and land safely at our destination.”

It seems clear that no business needs to point out that its employees have done the fundamental tasks of their jobs. Such declarations undercut the intended message, leaving hotel guests, diners, or airline passengers questioning whether they should look for another hotel, a new restaurant or a different airline. Even for the most ardent customer, it weakens confidence in the company.

Neither a company nor its customers benefit when communicators skip the effort to thoroughly think through what they are trying to say and when they fail to consider how the words they choose will actually be received.



About nine months after we last stayed at this hotel, we visited it again this past week.IMG_0437

The note about clean duvet covers and sheets is still stuck to the headboard. Perhaps more surprising, though, is that this sign (to the right) is now fastened, like a 1 ½’ x 2’ piece of art inside one of the hotel elevators.

Although trying to look up-to-date and catchy, this sign continues to stress the same wrong message first delivered by the note stuck to the headboard.

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