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It's Story Time: Blame the Front Desk
By Steve Cokkinias
The Front Desk of a hotel is "complaint headquarters". If a hotel guest has a problem, what do they do? Complain to the Front Desk....and usually these complaints have nothing to do with the Front Desk at all. Not happy with your meal at the restaurant? Complain at the Front Desk. Room not cleaned on-time? Call the Front Desk. Jacuzzi bubbles in the Health Club too hot for you? Contact the Front Desk. And in 1996 when I worked at the Front Desk in Orlando, Florida, U.S.A., the complaints at the 1,500-room hotel became a bit of a game for me and my co-workers. We started competing with each other to see who could handle the strangest complaint, the angriest guest, or the most bizarre situation, and to see who could solve the problem and make the guest happy fastest. We developed a sense of pride in solving bizarre problems. But as usual, there was one irrational customer that stands out as unique.
It was an otherwise normal and quiet evening on the 3pm to 11pm shift. Catherine our supervisor was manning the phones and computers behind the scenes, and my co-worker Grant and I were handling duties out front at the desk. On this particular night, a European gentleman was checking-in, and Catherine happened to be at the Front Desk and got hit with the preliminary blast. I was in the back, behind the scenes, just returning from my dinner break, when she burst through the door and exclaimed "I've got a real crazy one and I CANNOT deal with him. Who wants him?" This was a challenge I could not resist.
"I got it!" I replied, and I put on my invisible "problem resolution hat" and walked confidently out the door. "Good evening sir" I bellowed with a charming smile, "how can I help?" His reply was memorable:
"I have been illegally taxed by your country and I DEMAND a refund!" he shouted, and he banged his fist down on the marble countertop. "It is against the LAW and I DEMAND retribution and compensation!" Naturally, I had no idea what he was talking about, but a few questions later, I began to get the picture.
As it turns out, like many thousands of guests per day from around the world, this guest arrived at Orlando Airport, rented a car, and drove to his hotel to check-in. And along the highway to the hotel, just like thousands of other tourists in their rental cars, he passed through 2 toll-plazas, at which he had to pay two U.S. Dollars each. And THIS to him was an illegal taxation, as he was not a citizen of the United States, and had been forced to pay taxes to a foreign government by the toll-booth operator. An international incident was unfolding.
I tried my best to explain that the hotel was not owned by the government, and as such we would not be able to reimburse him. He rejected my reasoning. I explained that everyone who drives on that highway has to pay at the toll plaza. Utter rubbish, he replied. His voice echoed throughout the lobby as he was now turning red in the face, threatening to write to Washington,and cursing the day that his nation ever allowed freedom to our petty American colony back in the 1700's. A small crowd of guests and employees had gathered in a semi-circle behind him, to observe this noisy scene, and what was going to unfold. And I soon realized that logic was going to get me nowhere. So I decided to agree with him...because I had to win.
"You know what?" I began to shout back. "I agree with you! You are absolutely right! This is completely unfair!" The crowd stared at me like I had lost my mind. "This CANNOT be tolerated, and as a citizen of the United States I CANNOT stand by and allow this injustice to go on!" The guest himself had even stopped his ranting, and quietly stared at me, nodding in agreement. "YOU sir, have opened my eyes to this unfair situation! And I feel personally responsible to make things RIGHT!" And with a Zorro-esque flair, I flipped aside my uniform jacket, pulled out my wallet like I was brandishing a sword, took 4 dollars out, and literally slapped the money down on the marble counter in front of him. "There you go!" I shouted. "That should solve it, and I will claim back this expense from the President himself if I have to. This illegal toll-booth situation has to STOP!"
The guest stared at me with his eyes and mouth wide open, slowly slid the money off the counter and into his pocket, and quietly whispered "I'm glad you see it my way." He turned around quietly and walked off towards the elevators, and as soon as he was out of sight, the crowd burst into applause. It was one of my finest performances and from that moment on, I became the guy that was called to handle the guests that no one else wanted to deal with. And there were many more over the coming years...
About Steve Cokkinias
Steve Cokkinias is the Founder & CEO of InnSense Leadership (www.innsense.com) which he established in 2012 after a successful 17-year career in the hospitality industry that included senior positions with Ritz-Carlton, Westin, and Sheraton in the U.S.A, Caribbean, and Asia. An inspiring and sought-after speaker and executive coach, Steve has delivered energizing programs on service, leadership, and talent management to a wide range of international companies. During his 9 years as General Manager in Kuala Lumpur, his hotel was named "Best Employer in Malaysia" 4 times consecutively by Hewitt & Associates, earning him a place on Human Capital Asia's "Hot 40 - Asia's H.R. Superstars". In 2010, Steve was named Malaysia's "General Manager of the Year" by the Hospitality Asia Platinum Awards. His new book, "InnSanity - Leadership Lessons from a Lifetime in Luxury Lodging", is due for release in early 2013. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow Steve on Twitter: @stevecokkinias.
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