When the Unexpected Occurs

Recently I was with my eight-year-old grandson at a well established hotel near Chicago. We were staying at a location convenient to our next day plans to visit Lamb’s Farm, where he plays all day with farm animals. Patrick and I are best buddies; we love our adventures together and were having a pretty good time — until suddenly the electric power failed. We were in an 8th floor room at 3:30 p.m. It was 97 degrees outside; we lost lost air conditioning, water (no pressure), and lights. Hmmm.

Immediately, my grandson looked to me. I calmly told him we’d wait a half hour to give the hotel time to give us an update. Meanwhile, we had enough light from the window to continue reading the Deep Sea Facts book we had been enjoying together.

Fifty minutes later, having not heard from the hotel, I called the front desk. "It’s being worked on, I assure you, Mrs. Patrick," the clerk told me. "It isn’t anything the hotel did, so we can’t be sure when it will be fixed, but we’re confident the electricity will soon be restored. Technicians are en route."

Okay…. Assuming the power outage must be area wide, I called my daughter to change dinner plans, as we were going to eat in the restaurant located in the hotel. I asked her to push back dinner plans to 7 p.m. so we’d have time to come up with a potential Plan B. I didn’t want to leave the room yet — would my key work to get back in? Plus, it was eight flights of stairs down. If we left, it might be dark before we got back. But should we wait until dark to leave?

It was getting hotter and we didn’t have any drinking water, but we’d manage for a while longer, I decided.

Half an hour later, the room left me feeling very, very claustrophobic, without any circulation or the ability to open a window. I called the front office again.

"Our technicians are on the way," she repeated. "Their office is over an hour away. Meanwhile, there is nothing we can do."

"Your technicians? Is this an area power outage, or is just this hotel affected?"

"Just the hotel," she admitted. "The restaurant has power. You could go there."

"Actually, I’ve just decided to cancel my reservation for tonight," I told the clerk. She promptly gave me a [wrong] phone number to a [sister] hotel far away, because all of that chain’s Skokie rooms were now booked.

"Can you send someone up to help us down?" I asked. "We have a lot of luggage. Is the stairwell lit? I want to know it’s safe before entering with a child and a lot of bags."

I heard her ask someone near her to go up to the eighth floor to help us down. "Why?" the person asked. My clerk replied, "The elevators aren’t working. Are the stairwells lit?"

"The elevators are working," the other person snapped. "Tell her to use those."

I soon left for a Marriott Hotel — one I knew and trusted — annoyed that all of the communication with the other hotel had been initiated by me (the customer), and that the limited information provided by the hotel was, in fact, misleading. And I’d been unnecessarily stuck in a hot hotel room, wasting time that we could have better spent.

When I checked out, the lobby was teeming with angry hotel guests shouting at very harried employees for not telling them what was going on. More people seemed to be leaving than were retained by continual "we don’t know, but we’re confident" replies.

Staff was trying to keep the lid on things, reluctant to give up bookings. They tried to maintain the status quo when, in fact, the new situation was what they should have been addressing with customers.

Managing change: The one constant in any workplace is the possibility of an abrupt change that could require damage control. And that translates into the need for leadership. A leader provides crisis management, which includes giving onsite staff enough information and authority (in this case) to contact hotel guests, explain the situation, tell them what steps are being taken on their behalf, and ask for their patience. There was no incentive given to ever return, nor was a phone number provided for available rooms at different hotel chains. Disappointing.

Next time, "coulda, woulda, shoulda."