Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The 3 to 1 Service Rule: Good to Bad Service

Recently I was at a hotel, and I ran into a bit of trouble. There was some sort of electrical problem with the fire alarm, and it would constantly emit a soft chirp along with a popping sound. It wasn’t loud and you could hardly notice it when the TV was on but in the presence of relative silence the chirping kept me from sleeping.

I tried to cope with the sounds for a while but I couldn’t manage; I called the front desk. They sent up an electrical technician who recognized the problem immediately, and offered me a new room. Upon inspection the new room I found that it too had the chirp problem so I went down to the lobby to see what could be done about the situation.

The man at the front desk tried to tell me that all of the rooms had the chirp, and that he was not keen to give me another room as I was likely to disapprove of any of the other rooms that he might put me in. Aided with the information from the friendly electrical technician; I countered that his statement was not true. At this point he had no choice but to relocate me to a new, chirpless room. The reluctant front desk worker also offered to send up a breakfast coupon (which he didn’t send), and I was on my way.

After reflecting on this incident I found myself recalling the rude front desk person more than anyone else that I interacted with at the hotel. There were plenty of other people that did not share his attitude, but they didn’t stick out in my mind. The friendly electrical technician who checked out my problem, the resident employee who checked on me later and even the friendly waitress in the hotel restaurant; they all faded to the background even though they had provided excellent service.

I had fallen into a trap that can be easy to fall into for business travelers; to ignore good service but harshly criticize poor service. The funny thing is that the good service makes the poor service all the more noticeable. Had the overall level of service been lower the man at the front desk would have probably just blended in with the crowd.

By my rough estimates I figure that for every one rude service person I run into there at about three really good ones that should offset easily offset the rudeness. I guess it's easier to see what's going wrong as opposed to what's going right.

And what about that one guy that provided the bad service? He could have been having a rough day that was full of customers that had given him a hard time. Similarly he didn’t know what my day had been like. We all need to remember that everyone is human even though it can be easy to forget that sometimes after a day of travel.

Are there any service people that have really stuck out to you lately? Good or bad, let’s hear it.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Travel Gear Highlight: Sporks and Chopsticks

I've written briefly about the environmental responsibility that travelers have in 11 Usable Tips for Greener Travel. Today I'd like to continue that thought as I focus on two items that I've carried on my travels for the last couple years which have reduced my waste along the way. When I visit a restaurant that offers plastic silverware or wooden chopsticks I decline those and pull out my own. Sometimes I get some funny looks or people who insist I need a fork, but I persist because it's the right thing to do.

I purchased a Titanium spork a few years back since I figured that if someone went to the trouble to manufacture sporks out of Titanium then I should probably own one. At this point I will admit to owning a spork collection that is much larger than a spork collection that most people would care to admit to owning.

For the uninitiated a spork is a spoon/fork hybrid with the tines of a fork and the bowl of a spoon. The spork is one of those utensils that doesn't do any one thing particularly well, but rather it does two things poorly with a great amount of flare. The spork should not be confused with the foon (fork/spoon) or the sporf (spoon/fork/knife). I am fairly certain that there is a special hell for the users of foons.

NOTE: The rivalry between fans of sporks and foons runs very deeply for reasons that no one is quite sure about.

At any rate, my Titanium spork was acquired at REI and it has proven useful on many occasions. At first I found it handy when I forgot to pick up a fork at a takeout place, but more and more I've been actively avoiding plastic forks in favor of this reusable and sturdy multi-utensil.

Last year when I was in Taiwan I had one of my first meals at a food stall in an alley. While I was there a group of schoolgirls come in to eat lunch. One of these girls pulled out a small plastic case, and she proceeded to assemble a set of full length chopsticks. I had never seen anything like this before, and at that moment I knew I what kind of souvenir I was bringing back home with me.

After visiting a couple shops in Taipei I found my prize. These simple chopsticks are really cool, and they screw together at the midpoint like a pool cue. While shopping for these I also found a model of chopsticks that telescoped out from an impossibly small length. I figured these would be difficult to clean so I opted for a slightly easier to clean style.

The pair that I ended up with has traveled with me ever since. The case is worn and it's now held together with electrical tape but I've grown to love the set as part of my regular travel gear.

I know it's just a fork here and a pair of chopsticks there, but every little bit counts in what we can keep out of the landfills. Together the travelers of the world can make a difference.

Do you carry any utensils with you on your travels?

This post has been featured in the Green Travel Blog Carnival, check it out for more green travel related goodness.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What I Learned From a Little Girl at O'Hare

Often, while traveling, I come across a situation which is just plain boring. Long layovers in airports particularly stand out. Airports aren't generally designed for entertainment, but rather as transit points for the weary traveler. What to do in these boring situations can be a challenge if you aren't properly prepared.

Not long ago I saw a little girl in the Chicago O'Hare airport who had created a toy made out of items that she found at the airport Starbucks. She had nested two straws and inserted a wooden stir stick into either end. This resulted in a tubular toy that could extend from about 14 inches to just over 25 inches. It certainly isn't the most technologically advanced toy, but the little girl was quite pleased with herself and her creation.

The look of pure joy on the girls face got me thinking about my own travel habits, and how I spend time at airports. From this random encounter at an airport I took 5 lessons that I'd like to share with you.

Be resourceful
Sometimes you are unexpectedly delayed and have extra time on your hands. Use what's on hand to accomplish your task; whatever it may be. You might not have exactly what you might like to have with you but with a little thinking you can probably figure something out to amuse yourself.

Being constructive is a nice diversion
The physical act of making something can be very relaxing, and it makes a nice break from regular travel activities. I try to carry around a small sewing project with me to break up the tasks of paperwork and writing in my travel journal. For me this project is usually a sock monster, but it could just as easily be a handful of paperclips that I'm bending into something interesting.

Use your imagination
This is probably the best lesson of the group. One of the traps that adults can fall into is to define things clearly. We need to remember that there are intended uses for things and then there are all of the possibilities that things can be used for. It's also important to note that not everything has or needs a purpose; amusement can be for amusement's sake, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Technology isn’t always the answer
What happens when your laptop, iPod, portable DVD player or digital camera runs out of batteries? We didn't always have these gadgets and as neat as they are they can lead us right into another trap. There are things that don't need power to amuse you: a deck of cards, a postcard or even a book (these are still widely available despite some attempts to replace them).

The simple things are best
Brilliant things are often uncomplicated and straight forward. Combine something simple, such as two straws and a couple of stir sticks, along with an active imagination and there's no telling what you have. It could be something as utilitarian as a measuring device or something as interesting as a light sword; you never know what you are going to get.

I never did ask that little girl what it was that she had made, but I think it's better that way; not knowing is good for me. For now I'll keep a copy of the toy in my desk drawer and each time I see it I'll remember to strive to be as clever as that little girl at O'Hare on my next layover.

What is your favorite way to kill time at an airport?

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Toilet Humor: A Picture Post

Loyal readers may have noticed that my posts tend to be a little sparse on the picture front. I have various reasons for this but I do recognize that a picture can do things that I can't possibly do with words; so for this post I will let the pictures do the talking (with some commentary of course).

This group of pictures were taken over the past few years and can only be called Toilet Humor:

Washington, D.C. in front of the Washington Monument. The funny thing was that most of these Port-A-Johns were locked with padlocks. Perhaps they unlock more of them for busy days; maybe people rent them as low cost housing.

Men's room at the San Francisco International Airport. Someone had to explain to me that the weight limit was describing the weight of the baby that the diaper would hold and not the amount of waste that it could contain. I was disapointed to learn this.

Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, international terminal. There was, at one point, a path that you could take to get to a restroom but this had been blocked off to add a secondary security checkpoint. The sign was never taken down and the doorway was blocked by a large potted plant. You can draw your own conclusions.

To finish off the group I present a recent picture from my visit to Boston College. That someone chose a "We Recycle" bin to catch the drippings from the broken urinal amuses me to no end. I have resisted photoshopping an extra E into the photo.

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