Stuff happens (you may have seen this phrase as a bumper sticker with a different “S” word). That’s right, things happen. Lightning strikes. Gremlins materialize. In our trial consulting work, there are frequent technical issues that lead to problems. With competent staff, they are kept to a minimum, but there are times when, for example, the closed circuit TV feed is bad because a cable is having a bad day. (I say bad day because inevitably we’ll switch the cable, and then, when we are back at the office after the project, try to replicate the problem, only to have everything work just fine. Go figure.) The fact that problems occur is not a problem, in and of itself. But, when a problem occurs, the opportunity to shine presents itself. Handled quickly, and calmly, everyone moves on and gets beyond it. Handled improperly, well, that story follows. We’ve had staff who froze, like a deer in the headlights, when something went wrong. Needless to say, they didn’t last long. Recently, Melissa and I experienced a colossal failure at an upscale resort – which is what prompted this post. Lightning did strike, and it knocked out the controller to the HVAC system for all of the guest rooms. We discovered the problem in our room and reported it; the hotel engineer quickly appeared. So far so good. But, it was only after our report that hotel staff learned the whole hotel was impacted. In Florida, in August, hotel rooms without air conditioning quickly heat up and ours climbed to 81◦ fast. No AC means the humidity builds fast too. With no air moving, that gets uncomfortable in short order, especially when dressing to attend wedding activities. The hotel promised a fast fix, by 9:00 p.m. or so. It was not to be, which we learned upon our return from dinner. The next promise was “first thing in the morning.” No go on that either. The next morning, it was “later today.” By then, I spoke to a supervisor on the phone. She was obviously overwhelmed trying to placate everyone, but, during the conversation told me “the last time this happened we had to have a part overnighted from Boston.” The rest of the story is that parts were brought in from Boston, and Texas, and it took another day, a total of about 48 hours, to resolve. Which brings me back to my point, being prepared. In this case, the hotel had experienced a similar problem before, but did nothing to: (1) prevent it (lightning arresters); (2) prepare for it (having spare parts on hand); or (3) having a local source. None of these failures speaks well for the hotel. It was a sold out hotel, on a weekend when most local hotels were full (making a move impractical). Finally, adding insult to this, the hotel did not make any offers of compensation, discounts, future stays, a bottle of a favorite beverage. Nothing. (I asked and received, a small discount.) But, not anticipating, not reacting quickly and not “making it right” show that the response to the problem made the problem bigger than it needed to be. Our strategy is to anticipate problems, pack redundant equipment, and to find “work arounds” when necessary to keep our clients happy. We can’t control everything (as the singing frogs in a hotel conference room once demonstrated), but we do what we can to respond to problems and minimize them. This so called luxury resort did not. They let things get hot and pretended it was business as usual. Their mistake.
Things can, and do, go wrong. People have bad days. Machines break (particularly, my computer, when I seem to need it the most!). Glitches happen to supposedly “foolproof” plans. Living life according to Plan B, and sometimes, Plan C, is part of most people’s everyday existence. What differentiates us is the way in which we respond to crises that, inevitably, arise at inopportune moments. Some of us panic; others cry, whimper, and moan; others bury their heads in the sand in hopes the bad situation will go away; others do nothing, absolutely nothing; and then there are those among us who spring into action and resolve the problem as efficiently and appropriately as possible. David’s and my recent experience in the Atlantic Beach hotel (which will remain nameless, but which is located at the end of Atlantic Boulevard, in close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean) was astounding due to the extremely poor manner in which the hotel’s management responded to a problem. Lightning strikes during the hot, rainy, summertime in Florida are commonplace. Although we never know exactly where lightning will strike, those of us who live in Florida know to be prepared for the worst, while hoping for the best, every time we experience a thunderstorm. Unfortunately for David and me, as well as several hundred other guests of this hotel, lightning struck the main operating system of the air conditioning system. Evidently, I was the first person to notice the rising temperature in our room and David was the first person to alert the hotel staff that something was wrong. However, instead of calling “1-800- FIX-MYAC,” to find one of hundreds of HVAC repair companies in Duval County, Florida, this hotel’s management staff moved at a sea turtle’s pace and had the broken part shipped from somewhere out of state. Are you kidding me? This hotel’s management had rather inconvenience hundreds of guests, including those who were participating in conferences in steaming hot conference rooms, than have their air conditioners repaired in a timely fashion. We had no air conditioning for 2 entire days, with no recourse due to our heavily booked schedule and the lack of available hotel rooms at nearby hotels. I have stayed in some hotels and motels that were “not very nice,” including two of my all time favorite motels, the now nonexistent Rush Lake Motel (located in one of my least favorite places, Gainesville, Florida) and the Flamingo Lodge (located in one of my favorite places, Everglades National Park, but sadly, destroyed in a hurricane). These motels were spartan, with bare concrete block walls, no artwork, thin towels, etc. but their rooms were clean, as well as nice and cool! If I have to choose, I choose a hotel with air conditioning, a professional and responsive staff, and clean sheets (the so called luxury hotel had dirty sheets both times we stayed there). The next time a problem occurs in life, decide whether to take the easy way out, potentially alienating one’s customers, or whether to rise to the occasion, fix the problem with a smile on your face, and look for repeat business from a satisfied customer. I know which decision I will make.