Margo Howard: Where in the World Is Jeff Diskin?

The saga of a consumer complaint.

Editor’s Note: A longtime journalist, Margo Howard went into the family business (her mother was the fabled Ann Landers) in the 1990s as Dear Prudence. Her broad experience and understanding of human nature provide answers for the troubled — and entertainment for everyone else. Margo’s advice column, Dear Margo, appears twice a week — on Thursdays and Fridays — on wowOwow.com.

Have you ever felt powerless when you believed a company’s goods or services were substandard? Felt hopeless because you knew, deep down, most large corporations didn’t give a rat’s ass about what you have to say?

Herewith is the saga of me and Hilton Hotels.

When it started to seem like one thing after another at a Hilton in Ft. Lauderdale, I phoned the registration desk to ask to whom I could send a letter regarding our stay at the hotel. They suggested a Ms. Dominguez and supplied her e-mail address. My letter (below) lays out the situation.

To Christina.dominguez@hilton.com

To whom it may concern:

My husband and I were at the Hilton Ft. Lauderdale Marina Room 1204, Jan 24-27, with the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. The hotel was so strange I actually asked the assistant manager if this was, indeed, a Hilton Hotel, or merely licensing the name.At first I thought we were given a handicapped room; there was no tub, just a shower. I called the desk and was told the whole tower was built with no tubs, just showers. When I asked if there had been other complaints about this, the answer was: “Only from English-speaking people.” I would guess that would be most of your clientele, but I could be wrong.

Then, the one-cup coffee maker overflowed, flooding the dresser top. A new machine was brought in.

There were four hangers in the closet. (Perhaps one for each day of our stay.)

The bedside phone was inoperable, perhaps because it was not connected to anything.

Then the back of the television set fell off.

Some of the light bulbs were out.

The minibar was cold, but empty! When I asked about this, the assistant manager said they chose not to stock the minibar because they were “pushing” the other features of the hotel … I guess he meant the bars and restaurants. I suspect this effort is not an unmitigated success for people who are in their nightclothes and want a candy bar/bottled water/brandy/fruit juice, etc.

As you might surmise, this was my oddest hotel experience to date, and having traveled widely, I am pretty sure there is something wrong with the management of that particular property, not to mention the architect. The whole experience felt like being in a rich third-world country. In the spirit of constructive criticism, I thought you would like to know.

On the plus side, I should add that the room service kitchen was quite good, and the AC system worked well.

Margo Howard

When Ms. Dominguez did not see fit to respond, I went online to see who the senior Hilton executives were. The one I thought appropriate to write to was Jeff Diskin, senior vice president of customer marketing. The Website said that he was responsible – worldwide – for “efforts to successfully grow and leverage customer relationships for all Hilton brands.” Well, the customer relationship Hilton and I now had was not successfully growing.

I re-sent my original letter to Diskin, adding a note that I was a journalist (an attention getter, if not a red flag, for most business people receiving a complaint) and would like to hear from him. I like to be fair, and thought perhaps something Mr. Diskin might have to say would make me feel that I had been heard about the extraordinary number of deficiencies I’d encountered at this odd hotel.

My letter to Mr. Diskin got kicked over to a Ms. Jan Hewitt, “customer resolution manager.” Below is her letter to me:

Dear Margo Howard,  

Thank you for contacting Hilton Hotel Corporate Executive Offices and sharing your comments and experiences during your visit at our Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, FL, location. Please accept our sincerest apologies for any aggravation or inconvenience experienced during your stay regarding the overall condition of your room and the lack of follow by our Guest Relations Department. We are constantly monitoring the performance of all the hotels in the Hilton Family of Brands and our Service Centers Worldwide to measure them against high service and quality standards.

Your comments were communicated to the management team of the hotel directly for review; however, I welcome the opportunity to speak to with you personally regarding your concerns.

I have listed my direct telephone number below or you may e-mail me if you prefer. I look forward to corresponding with you at your earliest convenience.

Direct Number: 1.800.xxx.xxxx

I must say that this letter, having the feel of a form letter, reminded me of a famous story – also about Hilton. When Conrad Hilton was alive, a letter of complaint reached his desk. It was concerning bed bugs, a not uncommon hotel problem at the time. He wrote a note at the bottom of the letter to his secretary: “Send this guy the bedbug letter.” The secretary, either distracted, or dumb, sent the letter with Hilton’s note on the bottom back to the man who had sent it in the first place.

But let us continue.

Ms. Hewitt and I did speak. She said she had never before heard of an empty minibar, and apologized for all the things in the room that were falling off or not functioning. Then she offered me a “Be My Guest” certificate,” good for one night at any Hilton.

A nice gesture, to be sure, though somehow not satisfying. But then I thought: What did I expect — that they would give me a hotel? Actually, I probably hoped they would can the clearly incompetent and inattentive manager. I doubt that will happen … though you never know; I don’t think the Hilton Ft. Lauderdale Marina can afford too many more unhappy guests like me. And I probably deep down hoped I would get an apology from Jeff Diskin.

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