By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
It all started five years ago.
This guy, whom we shall call Bob, took a job that entailed sitting in a small cubicle with a computer and a telephone in a large office building in downtown Phoenix. About 40 times a day, that phone would ring and on the other end would be a discontented, irate, upset, agitated, frustrated person.
Sometimes the cause of this distress was justified, sometimes not, but it always had something to do with problems encountered in motels. Motels you have probably stayed in, eight or ten of the biggest midlevel-franchise chains around the country--but, at Bob's request, we shan't name them.
It was up to Bob to calm and appease these people, figure out just what it would take to bring them back to Earth in a considerate, polite fashion. In 300 seconds or less.
Bob--whose previous work experience included film-industry jobs, record-store manager, waiter and butcher--discovered, to his surprise, that he was quite good at this.
These days, he's still in the large office building, but has worked his way up to supervisor of a crack, patient team of 40 people who take the calls and make guests happy. Or try to. It's all part of the dicey world of customer service, better known as the complaint department.
"People go to motels for everything in life from conception to death and everything in between," says Bob. "Everything happens in a motel room, and you hear the best and the worst stuff. Everybody's got to call and tell you about their wedding-night problems, prom night, spring break--all the rites of passage go down in a motel. And we get the stories."
Bob is a thin, bespectacled Marlboro Light smoker in his mid-30s with an unlined face. He's funny, he's sarcastic, he's understanding and he used to be a butcher. But you already knew that.
For someone who's spent five years of workweeks on the receiving end of other people's gripes, he's amazingly serene. "We do have stress-management training courses. I've been sent to stress seminars," he reveals. "Different people handle it in different ways; I've seen people in the bathroom throwing water on their face, shuddering."
But even the pro has been rattled. "The one that got me the worst was this little old Southern lady who called me 'asinine,' she called me 'hateful' and 'asinine.' I couldn't believe she had said that to me, because I don't think I possess those qualities.
"And I actually had to look up the word 'asinine' just to see the full definition and make sure she wasn't even partially right. That one really shook me up."
But who can blame the public?
You're out on the road, tired, beat, and all you want is a clean room and fresh sheets. Is that so wrong? Of course not, Bob agrees.
"We want to put people in a room, make sure they've got a place to sleep, make sure the room is sanitary; we want 'em to get a nice shower in the morning, we want it to be quiet if possible. But if there's railroad tracks a quarter-mile away, or if the weather's bad, there's nothing I can do about that. We don't guarantee we can make you perky for worky the next day."
Some folks, to hear Bob tell it, are just looking for trouble. Some are downright pests, and others defy definition.
"A lot of the complaints are so incredibly petty--you get the guy who intentionally puts a gum wrapper under the corner of the bed, or under the corner of a cigarette machine, and comes back every day to see if the housekeeper has found it.
"I got one yesterday that was unbelievable. This woman in Florida had left her mother--who has 'a touch' of Alzheimer's--in the care of a housekeeper at a motel and was paying her $50 a day under the table to kind of watch her. The woman called me from Connecticut and said the housekeeper had taken off with her mother. What happened was the woman didn't come back, and the housekeeper didn't know what the hell to do. There wasn't anybody there to take care of this woman with 'a touch' of Alzheimer's, so she [the housekeeper] took her home.
"What did [this woman] want me to do? Find her mom? Punish the housekeeper?"
Bob continues. He is on a roll.
"A guy wanted a 50 percent refund from his $50 rate because his girlfriend was, as he said, raped. They used the 'sexual assault' term when I called the property. His allegation was someone had broken in the room, raped her, and he wanted 25 bucks back. When I called the property, they said, 'Yeah, she was just down here, she looked about 16. She didn't say anything about the alleged incident; she was standing at the desk eating potato chips.'"
One more tale: "There was a woman who had checked into a motel to die; she was a terminal cancer patient. Her room was opposite a county morgue, and the view from the room was that of bodies being carried in and out all night. She complained about the view."