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The Scary DBA

I have twenty+ years experience in IT. That time was spent in technical support, development and database administration. I work forRed Gate Software as a Product Evangelist. I write articles for publication at SQL Server Central, Simple-Talk, PASS Book Reviews and SQL Server Standard. I have published two books, ”Understanding SQL Server Execution Plans” and “SQL Server 2008 Query Performance Tuning Distilled.” I’m one of the founding officers of the Southern New England SQL Server Users Group and its current president. I also work on part-time, short-term, off-site consulting contracts. In 2009 and 2010 I was awarded as a Microsoft SQL Server MVP. In the past I’ve been called rough, intimidating and scary. To which I usually reply, “Good.” You can contact me through grant -at- scarydba dot kom (unobfuscate as necessary).

A Tale of Two Hotels

This is a long and convoluted post about my experiences at two hotels, but it has a point for DBAs and other data pros. Please stick around to the end.

I stay in hotels fairly frequently. I have friends who stay at them even more than I do. We tell each other stories about turning left in the middle of the night when the bathroom in this hotel is on the right. And, we share good and bad experiences in order to help ensure that our travels are quick, safe, and as worry free as possible. All of us tend to focus on staying at one hotel chain or another in order to maximize our benefits. My personal chain is Hilton. I’ve recently had a very bad experience and a very good one at two different Hilton hotels. Let me share this with you to help in your travels and to talk a little bit about customer service.

I stayed at the St. Charles Hilton in New Orleans for TechEd. Beautiful old building that used to be a Masonic building (some of the rooms are still set up, the workout room is a Blue Lodge and there are others too). Nice, clean hotel. A very short walk away from the French Quarter. But, whatever you do, don’t leave anything behind at the hotel. They employ a thief. I, stupidly, left something in the hotel safe. It wasn’t terribly expensive or important, but I wanted it back. I realized I had left it within an hour of checking out, but I was already through airport security. I called the hotel and spoke with someone at the desk (always get full names and write them down, lesson learned the hard way) who confirmed my personal information in their system and said they would ship my item home to me. I stopped worrying. I had left something else at a Hilton chain hotel (not that one) once before and everything was returned. The trust I had in the hotel chain was one of the reasons I keep going back. But nothing showed up at home. Multiple calls to the hotel resulted in nothing. In fact, because I didn’t have the name of who answered the phone (like they couldn’t see from the work records who was there) they basically refused to help beyond checking the lost and found. My item wasn’t in the lost and found. That’s as far as they were willing to go. I contacted Hilton customer service. They said the same thing. I reported the theft to the police in NOLA (who agreed with me, that I was stupid for leaving it in the first place, I have an incident number if anyone is interested) and that was it. The customer service here strictly met the letter of what they promised. But, it was really clear to me that they didn’t care that someone on their staff was stealing. I didn’t have a name and couldn’t prove it, so tough. No offers to compensate me for the loss (and we’re not talking big money here). Nothing other than a “sorry we couldn’t help you.” If anything, there was an operating assumption that I was lying. I was frankly quite shocked that this was their attitude. My plan was to write up this post about what a bunch of stinkers they were and look into switching hotel chains. Then I got stuck in Dallas.

The family and I vacationed in Tulsa (great SQL Server user group there) and then flew home through Dallas. But there were major storms that caused a number of flight cancellations. We had to scramble to get all four of us on another flight (they had split the family up, two of us leaving at night, two the next morning). Best bet was late the next day. Now time to scramble for a hotel. I got a room at the Dallas Lakes Hilton. Nice place, clean, yadda-yadda. That’s not the important part. The important part was, when we told the staff that we were there because of flight cancellations & didn’t have clothes or deodorant, etc., they immediately sprang into action, supplying us with all sorts of great stuff. They were nice and helpful, just as you’d expect. Story over right? Not hardly. Our waitress at dinner hears us talking about the lack of clothing & gets a flyer for the local mall (on her own) so we can go buy some clothes. The hotel lets us check out very late the next day and didn’t charge us for that. We go to the airport and our flight gets cancelled again, this time due to mechanical problems. No more flights out that night (heck, everything is booked solid because of all the other flights cancelled the previous day). So we called back to the Hilton to arrange another night. Here’s where this gets really good. We show up at the front desk, approximately three hours after checking out, and they recognize us. They then got us all our amenities again, but then went above and beyond. They cut the rate on our stay. Nick, the front desk manager and a really nice and helpful man, even went so far as to buy us a shot glass from their store so we could remember him and his hotel. It was WAY more than I expected. They absolutely went out of their way to help us out and I’m truly grateful for myself and my family.

I have two customer service experiences to look at here. The first, followed the letter of their policy, but completely lost the spirit of it. The second seemed to be nothing but spirit. Those people in Dallas did it right. We database people tend to be sticklers for following the rules. Subsequently we can be like those people in NOLA. There, for a small amount of money and a little kindness & understanding, they could have made the entire problem go away. But instead, they insisted on following the letter of the policy, to their own detriment. I was ready to quit Hilton, taking my business elsewhere and costing them a heck of a lot more money than my item was worth. The people we support as DBAs, they’re looking at us the same way. Remember how you wouldn’t set up a new development database for that dev team because they didn’t have an estimated size on the new database? Yeah, now they’re looking at MySQL or some other means of bypassing you right? That’s because you were behaving like that stupid St. Charles Hilton. Don’t do that. Behave like Nik and the people at the Dallas Lakes Hilton. Yes, they provided service. Yes, it was within their rules. But they made sure that they found all the things that they could, within their rule set, to make us happy. They CUT the cost of the room. Not because we asked or were even worried about it. But because they could and it would be helpful to us. That’s how customer service ought to be. Do what you can for the people you are working for, within the rules, but doing as much as you can for them. It will make a difference in how you’re perceived and in how involved you get with the projects you’re managing. You get the chance, daily, to influence people in a positive or a negative fashion. As much as you can, go for the positive.

Lessons for me. Never leave anything in a hotel room again. Never, ever, stay at the St. Charles Hilton in New Orleans (and I don’t recommend you stay there either, they steal things). Be nice to everyone, regardless of circumstances, because there’s a good chance they may surprise you and treat you wonderfully.

Thanks again Nick. I hope someone from Hilton sees this and lets you and all your staff know how much we appreciate what you did. Hilton should be doubly thankful to you for helping to keep a loyal customer.

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