Wednesday, May 28, 2008


In times when businesses seem to want to have a 'cookie cutter' approach to service, a McWay of doing things, it's nice to experience how one person can humanize an entire corporation. We stayed in Dayton, Ohio last night on our way down to Nashville. We were both tired from the drive and seeing the familiar 'Fairfield Inn' sign actually gave us a warm feeling. We like the Marriott chain and stay whenever we can.

Many have complained about how these chains homogenize the experience of travel. Well, yeah, that's why I like them. Getting up at night and knowing which way to go to find the bathroom is increasingly important to me as I get older. The similarity in room layout, in the location of amenities, are things I like. They save me stubbed toes and icky accidents. Sue me.

What makes any place unique, of course, is the people who work there. No training can create a uniform personality - thank heavens. When we checked into the hotel, we were stuck between front door and middle door in a little anteroom. There were no buttons to push to have the doors magically open and we were struggling a little bit. A guy came in behind Joe and as Joe was reaching around to get the next door open he said, "I work here, would you like me to help with getting you both in?"

We said 'yes' and he helped us get in.

Both of us. Not me, the guy in the chair. Both of us, that was nice.

Then upon check in, before I even confirmed the fact that it was a wheelchair room, which I always do because though we often request it, have it guarenteed, it is often not provided, the fellow - now behind the desk - says, "I see we have you in one of our accessible rooms, I hope it has everything you need."

Once in the room for 15 minutes he called, like all hotels call these days, to ask how we like the room. Then, "if you have any suggestions as to how the room could be further adapted for the needs of customers with disabilities, please let us know."

Um, OK.

This guy, to me, is the best of what you get when you combine good training with the right attitude. He wasn't obsequious in his caring, he just seemed to be genuinely interested in getting it right. He wasn't cloying in his offers of concern, he presented himself as being willing to listen and learn. He wasn't patronizing or pitying in his tone, he spoke with simply friendliness.

I felt that I was special to him because I was a customer, not because I was a customer with a disability. This is remarkable because our interactions were about disability.

He raised the bar for me, I know have experienced the best in service.

And proved it possible.


Andrea S. said...

Wow. I've had hotel personnel be OPEN to accessibility-related feedback once I raise it, but I don't think I've ever encountered someone who specifically SOLICITED it. Now that you mention it, I kind of wish they would. That would show a sincere commitment to making the experience as smooth as possible for all their guests, including deaf people like me. And it would make me more comfortable and maybe more motivated to share ideas and feedback.

I agree, that guy has helped raise the bar--for me too. You should print out this blog post (and all the comments you collect during the day) and send it to Marriot management along with the name of that guy (I hope you got it!)

Tom said...

Here's something interesting. I've been reading your blog for months, and have no doubt read several posts like this already. I am in a service profession and yet I don't know how to act when I encounter disability. But I would like to.

It seems so subtle. From your posts I have such a hard time deducing what is patronizing and what is, like the case in this post, respectful.

I know it is obviously supposed to be genuine, which in a sense it is because I am taking the time to try and learn, but is there any chance you could provide some hints? Not necessarily in a blog post, but perhaps just in these comments.

Kei said...

Nice! My husband & I prefer Marriott properties too. The staff, whether they are someone in upper management or someone in housekeeping, have always been friendly to all of us. We usually travel with the kids, so we always take note of how people treat William. Imagine our surprise when we stepped into the elevator at the Marriott in Maine and the young man in there had Down syndrome. He was on the housekeeping staff. He took one look at William and with that look of recognition of a kindred spirit, broke into smile and said, "Hey! Hi! What's your name? So nice to meet you!" Introductions all around by the time the doors opened, and we were all smiles, including our new friend.

Andrea S. said...

Tom: Sometimes it has more to do with tone and bodylanguage (which obviously cannot be conveyed as easily in a blog post or comment) than necessarily with the exact words or actions. That may be one reason why the difference can sometimes seem subtle: it may rest on factors that aren't actually present on the computer screen at all.

I'm not sure there are simple straightforward hard and fast rules that can be explained in a few words.

It might help to try to bear in mind the difference between "helping" and "doing FOR someone." "Helping" (if it is done RIGHT) means making it possible for the person with a disability to do things FOR THEMSELVES to the extent that they are able. "Doing FOR" means you're basically taking over and not even giving them a chance to do for themselves.

It also helps to hold the attitude that the person with a disability is always going to be their own best expert on how their disability affects THEM. Not the other 10 people you have met before them who happen to carry the same diagnostic label, but THEM. And that person is always going to be their own best expert on what accommodations works best for THEM. Because even two people who carry the same diagnostic label are still going to be very different in a great many many other ways (age, size, mix of abilities and weaknesses, background, experiences, education, training, and on and on). And that means two people with the exact same diagnostic label may have dramatically different accessibility needs.

In other words, don't assume, ASK. Even if you think you already know.

You might also want to consider reading a wider cross section of disability bloggers (if you aren't already). The distinctions between "patronizing" and "respectful" might start to seem more obvious to you if you simply read more stories that exemplify the differences.

One of my strongest favorites is Amanda Baggs at -- she happens to be autistic, but she doesn't just write about autism. She writes about disability rights from a much broader perspective. (Hint: if you think she's just writing about autism, it helps to read it again and think a little deeper or broader or both.)

Also, you can find several different disability bloggers at the BBC Ouch web site, and various discussion threads at the BBC Ouch discussion board

Tom said...

Thank you, andrea! Your points make sense and are pretty much what I've been trying to apply so far.

liz said...

That guy is awesome.

Gina said...

On the subject of service - it's my experience that it is a combination of a company (e.g. the hotel chain) creating a culture that encourages service, AND the specific person and his/her approach. It takes both, and it's a hard combination to find. I too hope you send Marriott a letter.

My favorite service moment was a kid (16?) at Best Buy, who quietly showed up with a shopping basket when I'd picked out a few too many items to carry. I pointed out to him that the basket was a bit problematic to me - he said don't worry about it. He was as good as his word - that basket managed to appear wherever I browsed for the next hour. And when I headed for checkout, it was there too. All without question, without being visible, without awkwardness. I'll admit to doing some extra errands simply because it was suddenly easy to handle.

So thanks for the story!

By the way - I finished Thread of Grace yesterday and appreciate the recommendation very much. I would have missed that one without your blog. Are we going to get more discussion going on it? Or did we (your blogging audience) kind of miss that opportunity?

Anonymous said...

it is nice to see that sometimes customer service is actually service not mattering weather you are a person with a disability or not, i will need to make sure to try to stay in a few of the Marriot chain more often!