Posted by: Marty Fahncke | February 12, 2009

Joie de Vivre or Souffrance de la vie? You decide

For those who don’t speak French, the English title of today’s post is “Joy of Life” or “Suffering of Life”?  Keep reading to understand why…

(This is a long post, but I’m hoping you will bear with me and help me out by reading it through and offering your opinion at the end.)

A few days after posting a (very) positive review of the book “Peak” by Chip Conley, CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, I realized that I needed to plan a business trip to the Bay Area.  What better way to see if the lofty promises in the book match the true customer experience when staying at one of Chip’s hotels?

I frequently have meetings in San Jose, CA.  When I do, I usually stay at a nice Larkspur hotel, a competitive chain to Joie de Vivre.   After researching a bit, I found that Joie de Vivre happens to have one of the top rated hotels in San Jose.  That’s where I was headed, so it was perfect! 

I thought.

Turns out, JDV Hospitality is sorely lacking in meeting “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” when it comes to booking a room.  It took 5 DAYS to book a reservation.  Not exactly what I would consider “meeting my basic needs as a customer”. 

Here is the story:

Feb. 5th  I started to book a reservation using the hotel website.  They had a king room for $153 with my AAA discount. WOW, what a great deal!  Then, I noticed the company had a frequent stay club called the “Joy of Life” club.  I decided it would be a good idea to join, since I planned on staying at Joie de Vivre hotels a lot based on what I’ve read.   I registered for the club, figuring it would be better to book my reservation as a club member.  Upon clicking “Submit”, I received the following notice “Please allow us 3 Business Days to establish your on-line account.”

3 days?  Really?  That’s seems awful silly when the competition can do the same thing immediately.  But ok, I’ll wait.

Feb. 9th (Four days later) I receive a “Welcome” message saying my account has been activated.  As a special “thank you” for joining the club, they are offering me a 10% discount on my first reservation if I use a special code.

I go to the website, enter the code, and get an error saying it’s not valid.   Thinking perhaps I did something wrong, I spend the next 20 minutes trying every possible way of using the code.   No luck.  I also notice that the regular King room isn’t showing up as available.  Now I’m only seeing the “Club level” King room…for $180. 

I finally give up and send an email message to customer service asking what’s up with the code.

Feb. 10th  Customer service gets back to me.  They said “There was an issue with the promotion code that caused it to work improperly.”  “Try it now“ they said. So I do.

Now I get a NEW error saying that I cannot use the code online, and I need to “Call the hotel directly.”  CALL?  This is a cutting edge company in the heart of Silicon Valley, and I can’t book online?  The whole experience is just getting worse and worse. 

I call the hotel.  A very polite and nice woman answers and tells me two things:
#1  During the 5 days I’ve tried to book this reservation, the room/rate I wanted has sold out.
#2  She has no idea how to process the reservation using the code THEY gave me, and she will have to check with a manager and call me back. 

About an hour later, I finally hear back from the hotel.  She said the code had “blackout” dates (NOTHING about blackouts mentioned when they gave me the code by the way) and they have made a “one time exception” to let me use the code online.  Gee, thanks for making me feel like I’m a pain in the butt. 

So I use the code. 

Guess what? 

According to the website, the “special discount” is the same rate (for the Club King) that I already had with my AAA discount…which is STILL $30/night higher than the rate I originally found when I started this whole mess.

Under normal circumstances, I would have given up long ago, and booked a room at the competition, but after posting such a positive review of the book, I felt I needed to see this thing through to completion. 

So I book the reservation at $180 per night. 

I’ve now spent 5 days booking this reservation, at least 1 ½- 2 hours of my actual time, and am paying $90 more for the stay than I would have if I would have just booked durng the original session and been done with it.  But at least it’s finished. 

Or is it?

After booking the reservation, I get the confirmation email.  It looks like this:
Daily Rate: Joy of Life Club- New Member Promotion
Day 1, 2009 —— USD 180.00
Day 2, 2009 —— USD 180.00
Day 3, 2009 —— USD 207.00

What?  $207.00 for one of the nights?  Where did THAT come from?  It didn’t say that on the website when I booked.   It appears they just slipped it in there.

So, now I’m torn.  Should I keep the reservation, and post a review of my actual stay “in the interest of research”…or should I cancel the reservation, and never give them another shot?

I’m going to let YOU decide.  Should I stay at Joie de Vivre, or book their competition, where I’ve never had a problem?

Please post your opinion in the comments. 

Either way, the bottom line for now:  Joie de Vivre, which claims to have a goal of creating “Committed, satisfied evangelist” customers has now created a very annoyed, ticked off customer…and I haven’t even made it to the hotel yet!

UPDATE (2/17/09):  I didn’t contact JDV management about this situation, but they proactively contacted ME.  I’ve now heard from the CEO (twice), the Chief Revenue Officer, and the hotel Manager.  Now THAT’S customer service!  They have made me a fair offer if I will keep my reservation at the hotel, which I have accepted.   I’m looking forward to (and hoping for) a very pleasant and trouble-free stay with Joie de Vivre.   Thanks everyone for your opinions and votes on this ordeal.


  1. I would book the competition. That is what Washington DC has forgotten. Competition is what makes a company strong and good. Let the good companies take care of customers and they will return. The poor customer service will drive the others out of business. Too bad we don’t have a choice for governmental services!

  2. @utsteve – Good points. I appreciate you taking time to comment.

    –For my readers, “utsteve” is a friend of mine currently on a mission trip in the mountains of Mexico. Someday I dream to be as committed and serving as he is. I may be posting a blog soon asking you to support his work.–

  3. hmmmm…you are much more patient than I am. I doubt very seriously if I’d had made it to the “call the hotel” phase.

    on the flip side, Larkspur just sent me an awesome offer to come back (from the one time I stayed there, 3 years ago)….I’m fairly sure I could have gone online and instantly booked it.

    I’d probably bail. The increase on the last night would have been enough to ensure I wouldn’t enjoy my stay no matter what.

  4. @Scott Randolph — Hey, send me the email you got from Larkspur. The way the votes are going, I think I’ll be needing to book elsewhere!

  5. I’d make one last attempt to make them do right by going straight to the top. I’d send a letter addressed to Chip Conley, via FedEx. Let’s face it, the letter is basically already written. If he’s worth his salt at all he’ll see to it, at a minimum, that you get the original deal you were expecting to get.

    More likely than not though if he reads your letter, and sending it FedEx will pretty much guarantee that he or one of his top people WILL read it, they’ll bend over backwards to make you happy. And you’ll end up with a very, very sweet deal.

    • @Ernie Nicastro — I like idea of addressing my concern to the CEO, thanks for that.

      However, I don’t think I’m going to (potentially) throw good money after bad by sending a letter via FedEx. Perhaps I’ll see how the rest of the voting goes, and decide from there if I will send an email or contact them throught their site. So far, it looks like I’m canceling my reservation anyway.

  6. A long time ago I had a problem with a printer I’d bought from Okidata. I ended up going high up the food chain, VP of Marketing I believe. They ended up upgrading me with the very latest, greatest printer and picking up the old one. I’d spend the $20 or so to send the letter to this guy. If you do it and DON’T get a very favorable resolution I’ll reimburse you the FedEx fee.

  7. Hi Marty,

    Through the wonders of technology, I was just sent your post by an associate of mine here at Joie de Vivre. First, I want to apologize for the runaround you’ve gotten in your process of trying to make a reservation. Clearly, this is not a normal situation…otherwise, we wouldn’t be in business long. I’ve copied our Chief Revenue Officer Linda Palermo on this so that she can immediately figure out what the problem is. In any case, I’m very open to chatting with you about this if you’d like. My phone number is 415-248-5940.

    All the best,

    Chip Conley
    Founder and CEO, Joie de Vivre

  8. @Chip — Thank you so much for your follow-up, and for your apology. I appreciate hearing directly from the top guy.

    I’ll await contact from Ms. Palermo after she has had time to look into the problems.

    I’m happy to work with her or you to see how we might resolve the issues and turn this into a positive experience for all.


  9. First and foremost, my sincere apology that we have disappointed you, as our goal is to delight our customers and we clearly failed during your attempt to book with us. We improved the Joy of Life Club program last week to improve user experience as well as go paperless with the enrollment process. Unfortunately in the shift for better technology, speed and environmental care, you were negatively impacted. This is very disappointing to me as well. I hope you will give us an opportunity to host your upcoming stay so you can experience what we are known for at Joie de Vivre.

    Typically, our Joy of Life Club new members receive their Joy ID to use immediately following enrollment. Our change-over with the promotional code and to a paperless process was not nearly as smooth as it should have been. We have since resolved these issues for future guests and hope you will give us the opportunity to make this up to you. We hope you will give us the chance to have you experience our hotels and we appreciate you speaking frankly on how we can improve the experience for all potential and returning guests.

    I have sent you an email today to discuss how we can better serve you on your upcoming stay.

    Best regards,

    Linda Palermo
    Chief Revenue Officer

  10. Not a normal situation? The reason you got a response from Chip was your post for all to see. What about people who don’t have this wonderful medium?

    I’d book the Larkspur immediately and forget about JDV.

    You weren’t treated rudely by just one person but my many. They sent you a discount code you couldn’t apply and they didn’t know anything about it? They charged you more than you were originally quoted and then tried to sneak in the third night atrocity?

    I’d run the other direction and never look back.


    • @Cathy Perkins — To be fair, we don’t know if Chip would or would not have responded to me if I didn’t have a blog read by thousands. Going back to his, book I suspect he would have either way.

      Also, most of the bad treatment came from technology, not people. In your position as a website/Wordpress expert, you know better than anyone that technology problems can happen to the best of us. They happen to me, and I’m sure they happen to you.

      It’s what you DO with those problems that sets a good company apart from a bad one. (See for more.

      I’ve heard from Chip, and I’ve heard from Linda Palermo. They’ve apologized, explained what happened, and made a proposal for moving on.

      I’m waiting for a couple more key people to weigh in on this, then I’ll post where we go from here.

      Thanks so much for your input…See you at the TSS reunion!

  11. It seems so easy to blame technology but technology is only as good as the input – from people. I was a mainframe computer programmer and know that garbage in – garbage out is really true.

    I do admire your patience in dealing with this – don’t know if I would have waited so long and been so persistent.


    • @Cathy Perkins — LOL! You are the second person to mention my patience. The funny thing is, most people who really know me say I’m a very impatient person!

      I think I just don’t want to be wrong for recommending Chip’s book a few days before this all started. Patient or impatient can be argued, but one thing I can’t deny…I’m stubborn!

      As for the GI-GO thoughts. You make a good point. Will factor that into the decision.

  12. Are you kidding me? You’re still booked there????

  13. Interesting. You heard from the top guy.

  14. Oh my, I can understand how surprised and disappointed you much have been to have received such service. I’d be pretty ticked off, too, to have gone through such an ordeal.

    I am very happy to see that Chip replied directly. This especially hits home with me since I gave you Chip’s book with such a high recommendation, which led to your review, which led to this ordeal.

    I can honestly tell you that Chip is a warm and genuine person, having had the chance to meet with him twice. He and his vision for business are both well-respected. That said, can things still go awry? Of course, they can and obviously did. I completely agree with and appreciate your point that the real proof is in how problems are resolved once they’ve happened. You are generous to have kept an open mind when others might not have done the same.

    I hope it all turns out for the best and JDV is able to win you over when you are in the Bay Area. Most importantly, and selfishly, I hope to see you when you’re here.


  15. @Irene Koehler — Thanks for your feedback. Thus far, I’m very happy with the response from the company, and do plan to stay with them after all.

    As for connecting while I’m in the Bay Area, thank you so much for the invitation! I’ll be in touch. Between all the meetings and clients I have booked that week, I’m not sure…but you know me. I’ll be back there again very soon.

    (The very next week in fact!)

  16. […] A big “Thank You” to each and every one for your comments and opinions on my recent post regarding troubles at Joie de Vivre […]

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