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Published: Tuesday, 8/17/2004

If we could see the problems, why couldn t the manager?

The Brickeys this month visited friends and relatives in Florida, and, on the advice of one friend we reserved a room at a beachfront hotel. He had stayed there some years ago and raved about it. The hotel rated three stars or diamonds or whatever in the guidebooks, and its Web site proudly listed its awards.

But when we checked in, something didn t seem quite right. There was a faintly musty odor, and the carpets seemed damp and somewhat gritty. It also looked like the maid hadn t quite finished her chores.

The desk clerk seemed a bit surprised by this information. Well, it is the rainy season, she explained, and you know how careless some of these young people are getting their clothing all clogged up with sand.

She booked us into another room in the newer wing of the hotel. So far, so good. We didn t even mind paying a few bucks more for the upgrade.

The next evening, after an arduous day of ocean fishing, we returned to the room for a much-needed shower and found no towels. Not even one.

It s only human nature: Once you discover a major problem, you start looking for minor things, too.

By the end of the evening, we found plenty to criticize the lounge, the pool, the coffee maker, the attitude of the staff. And we concluded that the hotel probably doesn t deserve a single star or diamond, much less three. We checked out early the next morning and moved to another hotel. The desk clerk seemed insulted and defensive when we unloaded our litany of complaints.

We wouldn t be surprised to find the hotel under new management the next time we return, if we ever do.

Where was the manager? What sort of company can sit back and watch its reputation slide?

The unfortunate hotel is symptomatic of what happens when businesses become victims of their own success. Too often, management gets complacent. They rest on their laurels and quit taking care of business.

Customers who buy goods and services with hard-earned dollars are very observant.

They can see the quality of the product, the demeanor of the staff, the length of the lines. They don t always complain.

They simply register their displeasure by taking their money elsewhere.

In recent years, American bankruptcy courts overflowed with companies that lost their ability to compete and to make money.

And many others managed to stay in business only by selling out or merging.

Strangers shouldn t have to tell a company s owners and managers what is wrong.

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