Workplace Wisdom

Nearly Sleepless in Seattle

Here’s the scenario: It’s 11:15 at night in Seattle. Daughter and I are trying to check into a moderately-priced airport hotel for a layover on our way to Vancouver. The complication is that I am inadvertently traveling without my credit cards. (Don’t ask!)

Here’s the backstory: Spouse had called the hotel earlier that evening from New York, while Daughter and I were still on the plane, to ensure that we’d be able to check-in smoothly despite my lack of plastic. The hotel had assured him it would be OK. But based on hotel policy, they wouldn’t just charge the card I had used to make the reservation. If I couldn’t produce the plastic, they wanted written authorization by fax. Since I was on a plane and couldn’t fax my signature to them, Spouse gave his card and faxed an authorization with his signature instead. Then he emailed me to make sure I had his card number so that when we arrived, we could check in easily and get right to bed.

Here’s the result: Desk clerk cannot find the fax in either of “the two places it should be.” He says that’s OK — so long as he can have my credit card for incidental charges. I explain that I don’t have my card with me. He says that’s OK — Spouse can take care of it when he checks in. I explain that Spouse is not checking in — he is home in New York and faxed the authorization to use his card because he wouldn’t be here in person. Desk clerk is stumped and says he can’t check us in.

I explain again and ask him to read Spouse’s email, which he refuses. He tells me the policy again, and we both appeal to the more tenured desk clerk. Senior desk clerk says if I contact Spouse and get a new authorization faxed over, they can check us in. I explain with some intensity that it’s almost 2:30 in the morning in New York, and I don’t want to wake Spouse up. I offer Senior Clerk the email, but he also declines.

I’m about to set up camp with Daughter in the lobby when Senior Clerk has an inspiration — or gives in, I can’t tell which — and says that so long as Spouse faxes them a new authorization before we check out in the morning, he can check us in now.

Whew! I thank both clerks and Daughter and I stagger to our room. I email Spouse asking him to re-fax early in the morning, and I tell him to ask whichever hotel staff member he speaks with to put the fax in the red book or the file box — the “two places it should be.“ Then Daughter and I finally settle in after being awake for 21 hours — nine of them in transit.

In the morning, I call Spouse, who hadn’t checked his email yet. He has a little cow, because he had worked so hard to make everything all right. I feel terrible. He calls the hotel, and then calls me back to let me know everything’s OK.

Here’s the explanation: The fax was in the “other” office all along — having arrived four hours before we reached the hotel. Why? Authorization forms are sent by the accounting office, which has a different fax number from the front office fax, and since no one’s in accounting after hours the fax never reached the front office. The accounting silo didn’t communicate with the front desk silo. When information doesn’t transfer between silos, and policies are simultaneously very tight, humans, and customers in particular, can get lost in between.

In this case, the humans were Daughter, who was afraid we wouldn’t have a place to sleep and was distressed by the disappearance of my usually unshakeable equanimity, and me. I couldn’t believe they wouldn’t take my credit card number without the physical plastic or Spouse’s without a faxed piece of paper — which could have been forged or falsified much more easily than the email, including his credit card number, that came from Spouse’s address to mine.

It seems unlikely that the hotel had never encountered this problem before, or that it would never happen again. Each department had extremely clear procedural steps to follow that didn’t dovetail with each other — but hotels are open and conducting transactions 24/7, so their procedures need to operate round the clock too.

I thought of stopping at the desk in the morning to say that there were information-flow issues that needed resolving and suggest a procedure to correct them — but I didn’t. Daughter had already given me clear feedback about my failure to be cheery and pleasant with the desk clerks, and I didn’t want to fall into frustration and over-intensity again. Plus, neither the hotel nor the clerks were asking for my help.

Thanks to Spouse’s excellent work, the hotel in Vancouver — incidentally a much lovelier place — had no problem checking us in. I’m now en route to a different Seattle hotel, where a FedEx package with my credit card is already waiting for me.

Onward and upward,

LK

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