In my moves to Oregon, I  travelled through California, staying overnight, since I drove alone.  Going up, I stopped in Fresno; on the way back, at Bakersfield.  Hauling a trailer, it was a difficult two days, and I was tired, not always in the best mood when I arrived.  I had awakened early, driven well over 700 miles, and had the same ahead of me the following day.

At one hotel, the lobby was full of friends of the night clerk, who was wearing a Fresno State sweatshirt.  That was fine, I thought; maybe she is going to school there and working nights.  The room, however, was not so fine.  As a matter of fact, it hadn’t been made up, something I have encountered before.  It’s very disconcerting. Once, I was told that wasn’t possible. That’s not smart to say to a customer.

I returned to the lobby and asked for another room, explaining the problem.  There was a look of disbelief, but I bit my tongue and stated the facts.  I was given another room, actually more convenient, on the ground floor, but the key didn’t work in the door.  Problem 2.  Now, I was getting annoyed.  I had been on the road about 13 hours, and I just wanted a room.  Finally, I got a key to work, but the handle was stuck.  I returned yet again, and finally got in the room.

There were no apologies, no sense of embarrassment, and no sense of realizing I was a stranger in their town.  That happens too often, even when–or perhaps because–a person is old, like I am.

The next day, I checked out, and nobody asked me anything.  I didn’t say anything, either.  In a way, I understand the lack of interest.  Many who work the night shift, and I have, aren’t paid well, chronically poor, and are trying to get by.  They aren’t in any better mood than I am.  In a sense, their whole life is full of 750 mile daily drives with a trailer, except they are going nowhere.  I try to keep that in mind when I eat at Denny’s, leaving a larger than usual tip, even for poor service, because these people need the money, and I can afford the extra $2 that might just make their day.  Dear Prudence, a Slate columnist, taught me that, when some stockbroker wrote her and said people didn’t deserve great tips.  She ripped him a new one as only Dear Prudence can.

Fast forward a few months, and I am back in Fresno, now at a different motel, because I vote with my wallet. I had the sense to stop early at a Denny’s in Bakersfield for dinner.  The manager had a problem customer at the cash register, who couldn’t figure out his discount and answered “none” for tip. Yes, he was rude, but she should have asked somebody to seat me sooner.  I waited a long time, but the waitress was good and quick.  When I wanted to pay, I could have done without the customer ahead of me using a $100 bill, so the waitress had to find the manager to get change.  Still, I gave the waitress a good tip and arrived in Fresno more rested, but still tired.  I parked the car and trailer where I could, and as I walked to the reception, a woman ran up to me, asking me if I were checking in.  I said I was, and she opened the door for me.  She had checked on another room.  She might have even made it up.

The young woman asked me whether I wanted upstairs or downstairs. That I appreciated, as was the chance to move the car-trailer closer to the room.  I noted her pleasant accent, thought she was South Asian, and asked where she was from: India.  We started talking about India and her life.

Her father wanted her to marry some rich man who would care for her.  She didn’t like that idea and came here in 2007.  She has earned a BSN, now working on her MSN.  Because of regulations, she is not allowed to teach English, although hers is impeccable.  I can understand keeping jobs for locals, but we need many more good English teachers.  I had the same drive, the same stress, but I spent 15 unnecessary, but interesting minutes with the check in clerk. She felt her job was important, because it was a job, and jobs mattered.  She was going to be successful, and if she stayed here, America will do well by her.

The only problem with my stay was a stuck flapper valve in the toilet the next morning, which I adjusted.  Had the same woman been on duty, I would have told her when I checked out.  Alas, somebody took my key and only said good by.

Thoughts to the American hotel industry:  Talk to your customers. Show some interest in them using body language and tone of speech.  I taught myself to watch body language, and I can spot interest or disinterest in me in a moment.  I also can effectively use my body language to say things I wouldn’t dare say verbally. Tell your employees to learn to read and to use body language; it is far more important than “Have a nice day.”

Thoughts to American business:  Stop your “3-4 minute” surveys. I’m not interested, and I doubt most are. They are statistically invalid and poorly written. You want to make the customer happy?  Fix broken systems.  Every time a customer complains, you have a broken system. Fix the system, and listen to your employees, too, for they likely know a lot more about your customers and systems than you might think. You ought to ask every customer one question, only one absolutely essential question:

“How could we have helped you better?”  Trust me, people will speak.


2 Responses to “FRESNO”

  1. Dennis Says:

    Welcome to Fresno … they think they’re better than Bakersfield for indiscernible reasons.

  2. Mike Says:

    Figured a central valley post would get your attention. I didn’t write about Taft 🙂

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