The Customer's Perception of a Guest Service Agent
I have advanced degrees in Accounting, Public Relations, Marketing, Business, Computer Science, Civil Engineering, and Swahili. I can also read minds.
Of course I have the reservation that you booked six years ago even though you don't have the confirmation number and you think it was made under a name that starts with "S".
It is completely my fault that the blizzard shut down the airport and you have to sleep in a warm king-size bed while 5000 of your co-travellers are sleeping in benches at the airport. I am sorry.
It is not a problem for me to give you seven connecting, non-smoking, poolside suites with two king beds in each, four rollaways, 3 cribs, and yes, I can install a wet bar. I know it is my fault that we do not have a helicopter landing pad.
I am a Front Desk Agent. I am expected to speak all languages fluently. It is obvious to me that when you booked your reservation for Friday on the weekend we're sold out that you really meant Saturday. My company has entrusted me with all financial information and decisions, and yes, I am lying to you when I say we have no more rooms available. It is not a problem for me to quickly construct several more guest rooms. THIS time I will not forget the helicopter landing pad. And it is my fault that everyone wanted to stay here. I should have known you were coming in, even though you had no reservation. After all, you stay at our brand of hotel all the time, 300 nights a year, and this is only the first time you've ever been to our city.
I am a front desk agent. I am quite capable of checking three people in, two people out, taking five reservations, answering fifteen incoming calls, delivering six bath towels to room 625, plunging the toilet in room 101, and restocking the supply of pool towels, all at the same time. Yes, I will be glad to call the van driver and tell him to drive over all the cars stuck in traffic because you've been waiting at the airport for 15 minutes and you've got jet lag.
I am a front desk agent, an operator, a bellhop, houseman, guest service representative, housekeeper, sales coordinator, information specialist, entertainment critic, restauranteur, stock broker, referee, janitor, computer technician, plumber, ice-breaker, postman, babysitter, dispatcher, laundry cleaner, lifeguard, electrician, ambassador, personal fitness trainer, fax expert, human jukebox, domestic abuse counselor, and verbal punching bag. Yes, I know room 112 is not answering their phone. And of course I have their travel itinerary so I know exactly where they went when they left here 9 hours ago, and what their cell phone number is.
I always know where to find the best vegetarian-kosher-Mongolian-barbecue restaurants. I know exactly what to see and do in this city in fifteen minutes without spending any money and without getting caught in traffic. I take personal blame for airline food, traffic jams, rental car flat tires, and the nation's economy.
I realize that you meant to book your reservation here. People often confuse us with the Galaxy Delight Motel, Antarctica. Of course I can "fit you in" and yes, you may have the special $1 rate because you are affiliated with the Hoboken Accounting and Bagel Club.
I am expected to smile, empathize, sympathize, console, condole, upsell, downsell (and know when to do which), perform, sing, dance, fix the printer, and tell your friends that you're here. And I know exactly where 613 Possum Trot Lane is in the Way Out There subdivision that they just built last week.
Because I am a guest service agent.
Today, I made a reservation over the phone for a woman who has stayed with us recently. She asks if we still have her frequent guest membership number on her profile, and I say yes. She asks for it. I read it back to her. The last character is the letter 'E," so I say "E, as in 'elephant.'"
And she says, "P?"
"No, E, as in 'elephant.'"
"Did you say P?"
"No ma'am, E. As in 'elephant.'" For God's sake. Elephant! ELEPHANT ELEPHANT ELEPHANT. I realize that there is a 'P' in 'elephant.' But I really, really, really thought that my reference to the word 'elephant' would indicate the first letter of the word. I suppose, I could have assumed wrong.
Case Number One:
Guest with an Indian accent: "Hello, is it safe to drink the tap water?"
I realize that there are likely places in America where the tap water is not safe to drink. I have never been to any of these places. I was pretty sure that in most urban - and suburban - areas, there is a lot of tax money paid to infrastructure management, which includes city or county water management. However, there are certainly places somewhere that have slipped through the cracks.
The large city in the extremely populated state where my hotel is located, is absolutely not one of them. There is a Starbucks at the other end of the shopping center. Do you think they have a Starbucks in a place where the drinking water isn't safe? What the hell do you think they're making lattes with, Zephyrhills?
Me: "Yes, our tap water is perfectly safe, if a little too soft."
Case Number Two:
A phone call. A guest gives me a date, and I quote him a rate.
Idiot: "Is it any cheaper to book online? Because I'm looking at your website right now and it's showing the exact same rate."
Me: Do you realize what you just said? "No, if the rate is the exact same online, the total cost would be... the exact same."
Case Number Three:
Another phone call. A woman, who inconsiderately calls at 3pm, which is both check-in and shift change, wants the Allstate Insurance rate, which is a really effing good negotiated rate. So much that I almost hate to give it out. She asks what it is, and I quote it to her.
Woman: "Do you have anything cheaper?"
I feel this is a rude question, to be honest. And it annoys me that she assumes it is my job to find and hand her the lowest available rate, even though that defeats the purpose of business.
Me: Do you qualify for anything cheaper? "Not during the week, no."
Woman: "Okay. Do you have a website?"
Me: "Yes, it's brand.com."
Woman: Typing. "Is that www.b-r-a..."
Me: Sigh. "www.b-r-a-n-d.com."
Pause. Tick tock tick tock tick tock I stopped being paid 3 minutes ago. 3 minutes and 30 seconds. 4 minutes.
Me: "Would you like to take a look at the website and call us back?"
Woman: "Yes, I want to look at it, but I want to do it while I'm on the phone with you."
Me: You've gotta be kidding me. I do not have the time, patience or the inclination to hold your hand as you walk through the website, you inconsiderate flaming imbecile who cannot even figure out how to type a proper URL. "I'm sorry ma'am, it's check-in time now, we have guests waiting and we're very busy. Can you please call us back after you're finished looking at the website?"
Thank God she said yes. Because I would have absolutely gone postal on her if she had whined about it. I am absolutely not here to be your interweb tubes coach. And I'm not going to sit on the phone with you, after having told you that there isn't a lower rate (it's a $40 discount, that's pretty frigging good) while you attempt to find a lower rate just to prove me wrong. I simply do not have time for you or your idiocy. Call us back when you realize you're wrong and could have saved both of us time and energy by just doing what I told you to do.
A snippet of a conversation I overheard today, while someone on my staff was checking in a guest whose room is direct billing to his corporate office:
Desk agent: "I'll just need to see your credit card for a security deposit, please."
Guest: "Are you going to charge me for anything?"
Agent: "We'll authorize a $25 security deposit for incidentals, which will be returned to you once you check out. Is this a debit card?"
Guest: "No, it's a Visa card."
I am so glad he didn't say that to me, because I would not have been able to stop myself from laughing out loud or rolling my eyes. As it was, I rolled my eyes from around the corner, where no one could see me.
Edited to Add: Today when a man came to the desk to check out, I said, "If you'd like to leave it on your Visa card, you're all set."
And he said, "Leave what on my Visa card?"
I tried very hard to control the words that wanted to spew out of my mouth and was successful, but wasn't so good with my tone. It came out a little sharp when I answered,
It was all I could do to not answer, "Your rental car," or "Your hooker." I swear, I genuinely, seriously worry about these people performing everyday tasks like driving a manual transmission and balancing their checkbooks. Purchasing groceries. How in the world do these people function?
Guest: "There's something wrong with my lock. I keep getting a red light when I swipe my key."
Me: "Just a red light? I'm sorry about that, I'll re-code your key for you. Would you like to test it on the business center door before you go all the way upstairs?"
Guest proceeds to dip (not swipe) they key upside down.
Me: "It looks like you're using it upside down. Just flip it over, and it should be fine." Smile. This is where the conversation should end, when the guest starts to feel like an idiot. But no........
Guest: "What about this arrow at the top?"
Me: "That's... not an arrow. That's our logo."
Guest: "Well it looks like an arrow."
Me: No it doesn't. "Well...I'm afraid it isn't an arrow."
Guest: "You shouldn't put it on the keys, because it looks like an arrow." Sigh.
Me: "Maybe you could write a letter to [Brand Name] and tell them their logo looks like an arrow."
Guest: "No, you work for [Brand Name], you should tell them not to put it on the keys. Or to redo it so it doesn't look like an arrow."
Mercifully, the phone rings. I swear. Sure, we'll get right on changing the logo design for the entire franchiser because you're idiot enough to think it's an arrow. Also, it annoys me that you don't understand how franchises work. Ugh.
A man has been bothering me all morning (a nice man, but an annoying one) - he needs copies of this, he needs directions here and there, what are the pool hours, what did we serve for breakfast (all of this information can be easily found in his room and/or the business center if he would only look for it, but people are too lazy to do things for themselves. They want someone else to do it for them. And he doesn't care that I'm obviously very, very busy with check outs and reservations, and then my job on top of all that (throwing binders around looking for original documentation for disputes, making 100,000 copies for tax exemption, etc - all the things I have to do and redo on a daily basis because someone inevitably loses a crucial piece of paper or doesn't make a copy of something) and he's just standing there waiting for me to have time to make him a copy, when he could SO EASILY just walk into the business center and do it himself). But he was nice, so I tolerated him. Even though I wanted to drop to my knees and beg him to please just go around the corner and use the copy machine. It's twice as far for me to have to leave the desk and do it (and then the phone starts ringing off the hook. So I press the 'start' button and run back to the desk, and while I'm gone the copier jams and I have to start all over again).
It never ceases to both amaze and annoy me when people make it here and have absolutely no idea where they are. They can't even tell east from west. I mean, they came in on a limited-access highway oriented east and west - they had to pick a direction in which to travel to get here. But when someone asks me how to get somewhere and I begin with "Get back on (highway name) Boulevard and head west," I immediately get a blank stare. I mean, it's right there. I'm frigging pointing to it, for one thing. How in the hell did you even get here, if you can't tell east from west?!? And just a tip - if the ocean is in front of you, you're going east. If it's behind you, you're going west. Geez.
The flip side of that is people who get in their cars and just start moving in the general direction of the city, which is actually quite large, and then call because they just expected they would run into the hotel or something. So they're probably all the way on the other side of the river, 40 minutes away, asking how to get to the hotel.
Okay. I can understand if you have a GPS in your car, and maybe it's giving you trouble or it can't find us. But when you don't have any kind of GPS, and you don't even bother to print directions off of the internet before you start your car and drive off into the sunset, I have to wonder what the hell is wrong with you. Who starts driving without any idea of where they're going?
That irritates me to no end.
I realize that hotel guests probably don't know how the housekeepers are assigned their rooms, and why it's important that they don't deviate from their assignments. The guests probably aren't smart enough to think through why the vacant rooms have to be cleaned first (so that they can be guaranteed to be clean by check in time), and they certainly don't care enough to think it through.
But I'll never understand the audacity of people thinking that just because they demand stayover service first thing in the morning, they'll get it. Okay sure, ask me for it (nicely, please) and I'll arrange it for you. Someone will go out of his or her way to clean your room for you (probably clean it around you, because you won't get out of it), and then rush to get all their check-outs cleaned by 3 o'clock. As long as you ask us for it, we'll bend over backwards to accommodate you.
But don't call down at noon to ask why your room hasn't been serviced yet. I cannot give an answer to this question that doesn't sound snarky or smart-ass or even demeaning. The answer is because the check out rooms have to go first. It's nothing personal. That's just the way the business operates, and always has operated since some person invented the concept of chain hotels with set check-in and check-out times. There's only one way to make it work. And like I said, it's nothing personal. No one is trying to pick on you. But when you get offended and start huffing about how we should be taking care of the guests who are still here and not the ones who have left already or are yet to check in, I will lose my temper with you and ask you if you had checked in during regular check in hours (which you probably didn't, you were probably one of the jerks who started asking to be checked in - for free, of course - at 9am), and whether you had to wait in the lobby for a clean room. When you say you didn't, I will politely ask you to please extend the same courtesy to those checking in today.
And if you call down at 1:00 in the afternoon to ask me why your room hasn't been serviced yet, I will hold my tongue and not say that it's probably because you're still in it, and instead try to keep my tone level when I tell you that the housekeepers are still working and just haven't gotten to you yet. As my head of housekeeping says: someone's got to be last - might as well be you.
Oh, and to the guests who just came down this morning to ask for extra towels because "we didn't know you had to put the shower curtain in the bathtub," which then caused water to seep through the floor and into the ceiling of the breakfast area, finally causing 3 ceiling tiles to crumble and collapse right onto the middle of someone's table, resulting in much screaming and a free night... may the subfloor in your bathroom at home rot out as you sit on the toilet.
That is all.
This 100% made my day today. And again, this is another story I couldn't make up even if I wanted to. It's priceless.
So our registration cards have a little paragraph at the bottom stating our damages policy, which basically says there's an $X fee for smoking in the building, $X for removing any hotel property from the room, $X for bringing pets into the building, etc, and a little line for the guest to initial that they agree to pay these fines. Our desk clerks are required to verbalize these policies when checking someone in to cover all the bases - yes, you should have read what you're signing, but since no one ever does, and we don't actually enjoy having to charge people damage fees (or clean up after them), we require the desk staff to mention these things to the guests. Apparently a woman checking in yesterday evening was so offended by the notion that we would require her to initial that she won't take anything out of the room or throw a kegger or what-have-you that she threw a little fit and refused to initial it, and only after the clerk put up with her for a while and then finally told her that she couldn't check her in without her initials on the damage policy did she finally decide to just do it so she could go upstairs to her room. She simply is not the type of person who would steal from a hotel or damage a room. Period.
Fast forward to this morning when I'm working 1st shift, doing check outs. This woman comes down to the desk and tells me how offended she was when she was made to initial this policy at check in, and I expect she's about to throw another tantrum to me, but then she starts apologizing and telling me how mortified she is. It seems that she lit a little travel candle in her bathroom (which, just so you know, is a big no-no; if you manage to burn the building down, well then you just bought yourself a multi-million dollar hole in the ground) and set it on the back of the toilet... right under the towel bar.
Genius, I know. She's a smart one. At any rate, her little candle actually caught a hand towel on fire. I don't mean scorched, I mean she caught the mo-fo on fire and had to throw it in the shower to put it out. Yeah. So she came down to the desk this morning to tell me that she now understands why we have people initial that policy - because sometimes things just happen. And she could not stop apologizing and telling me how mortified she was, especially since she made that scene yesterday evening, and wanted to know if I would be charging her the full $200 damage fee.
I mean hey, that would be easy, right? She owed it fair and square. And if that's not karma, I don't know what is. But no. I told her that I'd have to check with the GM, but at most I could only see her being charged for cost of replacement. It was an accident. And since she come down and admitted what happened and apologized and clearly learned her lesson, I decided not to charge her at all (people never use hand towels anyway. We have tons in storage. And cost of replacement is like, $2). I passed it on to the desk clerk who checked her in, and she felt vindicated.
My favorite part was at the end when she said, "It was like God's way of telling me to just shut up and sign the paper."
Woman with freakishly big hair comes to the desk and shows me the bill that was placed under her door overnight.
"Is this like a receipt?"
"Yes." In fact that's exactly what it's like. It's like a receipt, only... oh hell, I've got nothing. Yes, it's a frigging receipt.
"Oh, okay. I just didn't realize they were going to charge me. So how much are they going to charge me?" I'm not even going to touch the fact that you didn't think you were going to be charged. Who are 'they?'
"Your balance is the number at the bottom."
Woman looks genuinely dumbfounded.
"What's a balance?" I point to the bolded number inside the box that reads 'balance.'
"That's your total of the charges for your stay. And you owe that amount of money, to balance them out. That's what the balance is."
"Oh, okay. I get it now."
I can't make this stuff up, kids. Know what else I can't make up? One of the desk agents put in her notice yesterday because the computer overauthorized a guest's credit card (not the agent's fault, completely a software error), and the guest threw a tantrum about having the agent arrested for theft. I'm not kidding. The the guest had someone claiming to be a lawyer call and harass the agent to the point that she told me she just can't handle the guests we take at our hotel anymore. This woman graduated from hospitality school and has been in the business for at least 5 years. And she's had it. True story.
So the late check out policy of our management company is this: regular check out ends at 11am. We will extend a late check out at no charge until 1pm. Check outs between 1pm and 4pm will incur a half-day charge, and check outs after 4pm will incur a full-night's charge. This is a standard policy throughout all of their hotels, and one which I think is quite generous.
This woman was staying at the hotel with her son to visit a local university. They are going on the campus tour, which begins at 11am, so instead of doing the intelligent thing and checking out before they go, she asks for a 1pm check out. Which is extended to her. She calls me about about 10:45 to say that she just discovered that the campus tour is two hours long, not one, and so she will need a 2pm check out (what kind of idiot comes specifically for the campus tour, but doesn't read the itenerary to find out how long it lasts?). I tell her that's fine, but I want to make sure she is aware that there is a half-day charge for rooms checking out after 1pm.
She throws a tantrum. She wants special consideration because she is there to visit the university (what the hell do I care what she's there for?). I tell her that unfortunately that is the policy of our management company. She demands to speak to a manager. I tell her that I am a manager. She asks if I have a supervisor. I tell her that he has just stepped out to go to the bank and will be back in about 30 minutes, she should call back then if she wants to speak with him. She insists that she will hold until he comes back. I tell her no. I cannot tie up a reservation line while she waits to be told the same thing I'm telling her. If she's really not going to be back until 2pm, she has plenty of time to get back and speak to the general manager. She's being a pain in my ass that I don't have time for, so I tell her she can have until 1:30 for free, not 2:00, and I will charge her if she isn't out of the room by 1:35. She insists she'll be speaking to my supervisor when she gets back to the hotel. I wonder why she thinks that scares me.
She gets back at 1:15 (guess that tour wasn't so long after all), and the GM and I are standing at the desk. She starts in on how she deserves special consideration because she has special circumstances, and the GM calmly explains to her that he's sure everyone has special circumstances, but we can't cater to everyone's special curcumstances as we're trying to run a business. He explains that, since we are near a reknowned treatment center, there are lots of guests who often need to stay later than we allow for procedures and although we are sympathetic, we also have to guarantee that the rooms are clean for the 3pm check in time. She argues a little more and then finally goes upstairs to get her things.
It's 2pm before she makes another appearance at the desk. I don't charge her because I don't want to get into a fight, even though I've been checking people in since noon.
"So you have a lot of hospital patients?" she asks as I'm checking her out.
"Yes, most of our guests are here to visit the clinic."
Smirk. "Well, you shouldn't discriminate." Excuse me? How, in her head, is applying the same policy to her that we apply to everyone else discriminatory? It's the opposite of discriminatory, you idiot. I simply cannot help but correct her.
"Oh we don't," I say. Smile. "They have to check out by 1pm too." Just like the GM told you. I hand her receipt over the desk and say thankyouhaveaniceday. She takes the receipt and looks me in the eye.
"You know, my husband is a doctor."
Where the hell did that come from? What does that mean? What bearing does that have to anything we're talking about? I can't put it together. I took a moment to try and piece together the connection, here. I'm sure I was wearing a whatthellareyoutalkingabout expression. Nope, definately no connection whatsoever. So I smile again.
"Oh, that's nice. Thanks again, buh-bye now." I wave. She turns and leaves.
And I am perplexed. What just happened?