Hampton Hospitality

I landed my first job at age fifteen at the local mall in my Indiana hometown. During the decade that followed, I worked in approximately a dozen customer-facing jobs before settling into my first post-college permanent position in marketing. My employment history is lengthy but I moved quite a bit during that decade and there were times when I worked two part-time jobs at once, like when I was paying for college or, when that dream job in television barely covered my car payment.

I’ve worked for a large card and gift chain, a few major clothing retailers and, of course, Target (twice!) but my favorite of all of the jobs I held during that time has to have been working the front desk at a hotel in my college town. The years I spent there interacting with hotel guests and staff taught me a lot about both hospitality and customer service. There is something very personal about getting to know hotel visitors – their names, their families, their stories – that you don’t get in a retail setting. This was especially true since our hotel was an extended stay property, so many guests were there for weeks or even months.

My final position at the hotel, prior to graduating college, was training other employees on the basics of great customer service. See, I not only enjoy working with the public but I am very good at it. It’s a speciality. Which is great, because I am not good at so many other things and everyone needs to feel like a champion in at least one area of their life. And, great customer service is kind of a lost art these days. So much so that poor service has become the norm.

Our recent hotel stay in my husband’s New York hometown was so rife with customer service mistakes and missed opportunities that it warrants particular mention. The principal problem surrounding our stay was the lack of housekeeping. The dirty sofa bed we found upon check-in should have clued me in to what was to come but I was still surprised that for the entirety of our four-night stay we had difficulty getting housekeeping service, procuring enough towels for our brood and getting garbage removed from the room. In fact, for the last two days of our stay, no one from housekeeping even seemed to show up.

As a result of knowing how things should be done, my expectations are high when I travel with my family. Not so high that I won’t cut hotel employees some slack but high enough to become agitated when a hotel collects a fee for promised services it then does not deliver. So, as a gift to you, Hampton Inn & Suites, New Hartford, here is a list of five basic customer service concepts that, if enacted, could have prevented our recent experience at your property from going off the rails:

1. Teach your employees the art of the apology. This is so important and takes virtually no time. No one ever wants to admit that a mistake has been made. Especially, one that may have been caused by others. But the thing is, sometimes all it takes to diffuse a situation is an earnest apology. For example, when I check in at 9:00 at night after thirteen hours of travel time with three young children and I open the pull-out sofa bed only to discover the sheets were never changed from the previous hotel guest, suggesting to me that “it may just be messy” instead of actually being dirty, offends my intelligence. I know the difference between ‘clean sheets weighted down by a sofa’ and ‘giant ball of dirty sheets and blanket weighted down by a sofa.’ Instead of accusing me of misunderstanding, simply apologize. In fact, lead with the apology. As you are handing me a fresh set of sheets that I will then have to change myself after thirteen hours on the road with three young kids, the least you can do is apologize. A simple, “That isn’t up to our normal standards and I’m sorry for the inconvenience,” would have helped me move past the frustration of the incident.

2. Ensure your employees know to follow through. Follow through is an investment that pays off when further frustration is avoided. The first time I stopped at the desk to mention that our room was never cleaned, you should have jotted that down in the communication log so other front desk staff became aware that there was a problem and efforts could be made with housekeeping the next day to ensure our room wasn’t missed. When I stopped by a second time, the very next day, to ask in person that our room be cleaned and towels refreshed, you should have hopped on your radio and spoken directly with housekeeping to request our room receive prompt attention. Explaining that “as long as you don’t have a do not disturb sign on the door” housekeeping will circle back and clean our room isn’t sufficient. Take the extra time and make the call. Follow through. It’s in your best interest since I won’t be confronting housekeeping when I return later in the day to a dirty room. I’ll be confronting you. Which, spoiler alert, is exactly what happened.

3. Empower your employees to solve problems on the spot. This can be difficult for managers but with the right guidelines and boundaries in place, empowering customer-facing employees to diffuse service situations can be a game changer. When I awoke still irritated about the lack of housekeeping the morning of our departure, I decided to bring the issue up with the front desk at checkout. The Night Auditor still on shift advised that she could not assist in resolving the problem and that she would pass along my information to someone that could. The interesting thing is, if that employee had had the ability to solve the problem on the spot, I would have walked away satisfied. Even something as little as discounting our rate by $20.00 for the days we didn’t have housekeeping would have been enough for me to feel adequately compensated for the lack of service. Instead, I had to walk away with a vague promise that someone would be in touch.

4. Keep communicating. It is ALWAYS a good policy to keep communicating with your guests whether they are still in-house or have already departed. When that promised phone call never came, I was not surprised. There are obvious communication issues at work, so I wasn’t even sure my information had been passed on to the right employee that could address the problem. That lack of communication meant I was the one to follow-up on my complaint. And, when I finally reached someone in the know, I was pleased (and skeptical) when they advised that the hotel would credit my Hilton Honors account with enough points to cover a three-night future stay at the property. That was great news that I would have never known because no one ever called to tell me about it. Communication is key!

5. Don’t ignore a problem. It only grows bigger, along with the frustration of those involved. When those extra Hilton Honors points never materialized (not a surprise), I phoned the hotel again. This time, I escalated the issue and asked to speak with the General Manger of the property. When I never received a call back (not a surprise), I simply gave up. The poor customer service exhibited by virtually everyone I made contact with had been enough to overpower my desire to see this whole debacle through to an ending that was satisfactory. But, here’s the rub. When my repeated attempts for resolution were ignored by the front desk and the management staff, it may have quelled my will to fight but it only bolstered my resolve to take my business elsewhere. Ultimately, ignoring the problem has only resulted in loss of business for the hotel. Instead of losing 40 dollars to a credit for our troubles, this property will now lose 1,000 dollars a year in lost revenue from our family when we choose to stay at a different property during our frequent visits to the area. Compound that small amount by other customers being lost to poor housekeeping and overall service and the issue of “ignoring the problem” cannot be, well… ignored.

We waited years for a fresh, new hotel property to open in New Hartford so we are BUMMED to have to take our business further away to Utica but, word on the street is that the new hotel opening there has actual two bedroom suites. Business secured!

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This Probably Won’t End Well

Last weekend, in an effort to provide a diversion from moving stress, our family trekked to a recreational vehicle show in Richmond. Actually, in hindsight, that activity was no less stressful than anything else going on right now seeing as there appears to be an infinite number of places for wee kids to hide in and around a camper. So, instead of carefully considering our RV options as we casually strolled amongst the rows of available models, we basically spent the whole time panic-wondering where our kids went and forcefully removing them from storage compartments and wheel wells. It’s almost like we never learn.

Anyway, I want a camper. Like, real bad. My desire for a little, tiny, itty-bitty home away from home has not abated over the past few years. Bob (finally!) is actually kind of on board with all of this, too. I think he just wants to camp as a family and he realizes this is the only way that is ever going to happen:

This might be a tiny bit above our budget.

Comes in a skoch over budget.

The rational part of my brain knows that I’ve surely romanticized the idea of driving cross-country with Bob and the kids and a camper in tow, seeing the sights and sitting around campfires and playing board games and every other thing you see all those happy families doing in commercials for RVing. In reality, our version would probably involve a lot more arguing about questionable campsites, backseat driving made worse by the fact that we’re TOWING A GIANT OBJECT and bitterness over whose stuck hand-washing all of the dishes.

However, I still want one. Even though I have Big Questions about where all that stuff from the potty goes.

So, I feel like we’re getting closer to actually making this all happen. That is if we can decide on which type of RV to purchase. See, my camper dream began so modestly: a little pop-up with a potty so I wouldn’t have to actually venture out into the wilderness in the dark of night to use the bathroom. Then, my dream got a little bigger and I thought that having a hard-sided camper would be best for maintenance reasons and to better protect from cougar attacks. Once I’d jumped to the full hard-sided category, I figured I may as well look at ones that have a separate bunk room for the kids so they’re comfortable in their own space and will therefore leave me alone when we’re on vacation. And then, before I even realized it, I found myself rolling my eyes at the nice salesman from the dealership when he patiently explained that “no, ma’am, the RV you like doesn’t come with its own washer and dryer.” I looked up and realized, to get everything I’m ideally looking for in an RV, we’re basically going to be towing an actual mobile home behind our (as yet un-procured) vehicle:

I think we could make this work.

I think we could make this work. Bob thinks this has escalated to a level he can no longer support.

Even if we could decide on which type of camper to purchase, the fact remains we still need to purchase a tow vehicle to transport it. The four-door sedan Bob commutes in obviously won’t work and the minivan is a stretch even for a little pop-up camper. So, that leaves a vehicle purchase as the only option.  Bob suggested we get a big truck and I said I was totally on board with this plan because then, in addition to the RV, we could also get a horse and if you have a horse, you kind of need a big truck by default. Besides, I helpfully pointed out, how are we going to transport the horse from competition to competition as Millie chases her Olympic show-jumping dreams without a big truck? Then, Bob suddenly became less enthused about buying a big truck and said he didn’t think we should get one anymore. So, then I was like, “Well, how are we ever going to tow an RV.” Then, Bob went to bed.

We are sort of at an impasse now and Bob has suggested a six month Think About It option. Which is his way of kindly suggesting I find something new to obsess about until we move. I’m impatient but have reluctantly agreed. Regardless, Charlie is fully on board with the RV/big truck plan.

He's considering getting his commercial driver's license.

He’s considering getting his commercial driver’s license.

Whose Idea Was This Again?

We are six weeks away from The Big Move. Six weeks. Both interminable and breakneck. There have been times over the past two weeks that I have been so overwhelmed with the task of once again relocating our family that I can’t even manage to literally take a deep breath. It’s like my lungs are just as panicked as my brain. I’m in need of some serious relaxation techniques and am regretting quitting that yoga class after one lesson back in 2005.

Everything seemed to kick into overdrive last week; mortgage lenders, insurance companies, assorted inspections, contract negotiations, school registration. It all was happening and all at the same time. The phone didn’t stop ringing and my email inbox was filled with Things People Needed. I finally took some time this past weekend to make one huge to-do list in an effort to not let anything fall through the cracks over the next few weeks. If it’s on the list, I won’t forget to get it done. I may or may not have written down “shower regularly.”

The only thing keeping me from complete full-body panic is perspective. After all, it’s JUST a move. I’m not facing some horrible, unpredictable and unexpected life event. I mean, we kind of brought all of this on ourselves so the stressful finger-pointing only comes full circle. How do people do this with frequency? My best friend moves every two to three years TO A DIFFERENT COUNTRY for her husband’s career and she has four school-age children and I basically need to get a grip, is what I’m saying.

Much like animals, children can sense when you’re weak. When your defenses are compromised. When your mood is precariously balanced between “lots to do” and “imminent doom.” And, our children have been a mess lately. There is whining, complaining, in-fighting and general non-compliance. Everyone has been thrown off routine through a combination of multiple snow days and big-changes-are-coming angst. I know their behavior is a direct result of our own anxiety but it still seems egregious, amongst everything else on our plate, to have to so fiercely police the boys as they come to blows over one (1) individual Lego. Thanks for piling it on, little people in our care.

It was a good thing then, that my parents drove out for a last-minute visit last week. Their presence elevated the mood in the house immediately. There is something about the way my mother and father are always so incredibly positive about big life events that makes you feel you can accomplish anything. You need to talk, call them anytime. You have a problem, they will offer you a solution. You need something organized/installed/cleaned, they will be right over.

Not only did the number of crafts completed in the house increase by 100 percent during their visit, but the amount of packing increased by the same. In six hours last Thursday, my dining room went from completely bare to this:

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This is only one half of the room. Also, I will never part with that infant bouncy seat. I can still hear its nerve-rattling jingle in my dreams.

Apparently, if you want something done? Stick two retired people on the task. My father was running around to stores buying boxes as quickly as my mother could pack them. At one point, she took an actual thing out of my hand that I was actually using to wrap it in paper and tuck it away in a box. There are no pictures on the walls and no knick-knacks anywhere. All packed. The boys were bored this weekend and I told them to grab a game to play from the cabinet but, surprise!, they couldn’t. Because my dad had packed them all. I couldn’t believe all the progress they made in ONE DAY. They really are the greatest generation.

Of course, now that they’ve departed, I’m back to just staring at the (empty) walls feeling overwhelmed again. However, I do have a new-found confidence that it will all get done. And, if it doesn’t get done, I’m pretty sure it will get done eventually. Right? Maybe don’t answer that.