Travelogue Part One: “Transactional” Hotel Service

Have you ever had a difficult travel experience? If not, don’t respond. You’ll make me mad.

On recent business trips, I experienced both “I-centered transactional employees” (i.e., “I put in my time; you pay me”) and “us-centered engagement employees” (i.e., “What do you need and how can I help you?”) For more on the distinction between transaction and engagement employees, read this post.

Today’s blog post shares the transactional experience. In the next post, I will discuss the engagement experience.

Lake San Francisco

On the first morning of my San Francisco trip, I awoke in my hotel room and proceeded to take a long, hot shower. After turning the water off, I stepped out on to the tiled floor. To my dismay, it had become “Lake San Francisco.” Mounds of soaked towels later, I navigated my way to the rest of the room where I changed and got ready for an upcoming presentation.

The next morning, desirous of another long, hot shower but wary of the consequences, I took precautionary measures. I figured the cause of yesterday’s flood was my failure to seal the inner shower curtain where the tub rim met the shower wall. So I meticulously sealed the open spaces. Confident, I began enjoying another hot shower.

I noticed something unusual, however. This shower had a single curtain starting at the top. At chest level, there was an inner curtain, joined to the outer one by buttons. Yet about half of these buttons were undone. I quickly tried to snap them together but was unsuccessful—most of them didn’t fit.

I then noticed funnel-like openings where the outer and inner curtains were unfastened. “Uh, oh!” I thought and peeked out. Sure enough—it was the return of Lake San Francisco!

Rumination on Transactional Employee Behavior

Later, I ruminated while in a cab heading to the airport. On the first day, the housekeeper obviously saw the mound of wet towels. While wiping off the inner shower curtain, she had to have seen the unsnapped buttons.

So why did I have a repeat experience? Was she not paying attention? Did she think, “Snapping a shower curtain is not my job”? Or did she alert maintenance, and it dropped the ball?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. If you work in the hotel industry, perhaps you can tell me. Maybe there’s a perfectly rational explanation, which I would welcome. Otherwise, this experience strikes me as a classic example of transactional, I-centered employee behavior where no one wins—not the customer, not the hotel, and not even the housekeeper who had to clean up another mess.

In my next post, I’ll share a contrasting experience with an employee at a hotel bell stand who exemplified engagement behavior.

In the meantime, if you’ve got a good travel story illustrating transactional or engagement behavior, I’d be interested in reading it—for or not for attribution, as you wish.

Jathan Janove is the managing shareholder of the Portland office of Ogletree Deakins. Follow Jathan on Twitter.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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