Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
Commentary
5/10/2007
06:40 AM
Brian Gillooly
Brian Gillooly
Commentary
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Frequent Traveler Fights Back!

This has probably happened to a fair number of you frequent travelers: you're being helped at a hotel registration desk, when the phone behind the counter rings. You know what inevitably happens... Yep, the person serving you picks up the phone to deal with the call-in customer instead. Well, last night, after I got stuck in Dallas on my return home from the Software 2007 show and was put up at a local hotel chain, this happened to me. Here's what I decided to do...

This has probably happened to a fair number of you frequent travelers: you're being helped at a hotel registration desk, when the phone behind the counter rings. You know what inevitably happens... Yep, the person serving you picks up the phone to deal with the call-in customer instead. Well, last night, after I got stuck in Dallas on my return home from the Software 2007 show and was put up at a local hotel chain, this happened to me. Here's what I decided to do...Now, I don't consider myself a rude person, nor particularly impatient, but this practice of giving priority at service desks, especially at hotels, to people calling in by phone just happens to strike me as, well... at the very least unusual. It's happened to me a fair number of times, and I'd often pondered doing something that I finally decided to actually try last night.

I approached the hotel counter and asked the woman behind the desk if she could please give me the phone number of a local taxi company. As soon as I finished my question, the phone behind the counter rang. The woman took the call, and rather than asking the person on the phone to please hold and then returning to my task, she proceeded to help the person on the phone. I wasn't bothered by that -- frankly, it happens so often that I don't even think I noticed she'd done it. I simply waited for her to finish so I could get the phone number of the cab company. Unfortunately, the phone rang again before she even finished with the first caller, so she wrapped up her first conversation and took the second call. Again, I hadn't paid it much mind. I did however, begin to take notice when she took a third, and then, unbelievably, a fourth call. I'd now been waiting about 10-12 minutes for her to finish with these calls.

More out of amusement than impatience, I looked to the other end of the counter for the phone number of the hotel, got out my cell phone, and called the number. I heard the extension in front of me ring. The woman behind the counter finished up with her fourth customer, and clicked over to my call. "Good evening, may I help you," she said.

"Yes," I answered, "I'm the guy standing in front of you, the one waiting for that phone number for the cab company?" She looked a bit confused and then looked up at me and saw me holding my cell phone. "Oh, it's you," she said, and then, rather than realizing the situation and finishing with me, astoundingly she hung up that extension and took yet another call.

I suppose in some way I deserved that for my rather cheeky stunt -- though she did finish that call in seconds and then helped me out -- I can't help but think that maybe more of us should do this until more people in the service industry -- and the hotel industry in particular -- understand that some sort of priority system should apply. After all, when I arrived at the counter, the woman was not on the phone, so, in a sense, I was "first in line." I can certainly understand taking any calls that come in during the time someone is helping a person at the counter, but a simple "would you please hold" would keep things flowing in the proper order.

I usually am uber-polite to service people when I'm travelling (my civility certainly helped last night at DFW in getting a hotel voucher; I'm sitting here at the crack of dawn back at the airport and there are a fair number of people sleeping on cots with their airline-issued blanket and mini-pillow). I plan to continue to mind my manners (my mom would be proud), so I probably won't use the cell-phone-at-the-counter thing again, but ... I wouldn't mind if you all tried it :-). Maybe it'll help hotels to rethink their front-desk service.

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