Cockroaches and Grass Bugs: 4 Customer Service Mistakes Never to Make Again
I’ve been traveling a lot lately – from San Francisco to Gold Coast, Australia and back, then to Sydney and most recently to Fiji. Fiji is my homeland, and I returned after almost three years feeling very nostalgic. I was very low on sleep, and had to overnight in Nadi before my flight to Suva. All I wanted was a good night’s sleep. What I was going to get, I could not have imagined.
Full disclosure: I am deathly afraid of cockroaches.
It was 8pm. I checked into The Gateway Hotel, and when I got into my second-floor room, the baby cockroaches scuttling around startled me. The porter said to me, “Would you like to change your room, ma’am?”
In my fatigue, and genuine desire to make it through the short stay – I was getting up at 4.30am for an early flight – I said no, and that I would manage. I also thought that there would probably be cockroaches in the other rooms.
I understand that I am in a tropical place and bugs are commonplace. But, cockroaches in my hotel room gave me the creeps for two reasons: (1) I have a phobia, and (2) they are carriers of disease. According to the World Health Organization:
[Cockroaches] are proven or suspected carriers of the organisms causing:
— typhoid fever
— viral diseases such as poliomyelitis.
In addition they carry the eggs of parasitic worms and may cause allergic
reactions, including dermatitis, itching, swelling of the eyelids and more serious
This is serious, folks.
I showered, ordered some dal and rice, and went to brush my teeth after dinner. There were cockroaches near my suitcase, on the bathroom wall, and inside my toilet bag, including crawling on night guard (yes, I grind my teeth at night).
First, I jumped out of my skin. Then, against my personal principle of doing no harm, I removed the cockroaches from my toilet bag, which harmed a few of them because they were babies and hard to handle without pinching them in my Kleenex. A larger one was heading to my suitcase and I shrieked and threw a bar of soap at him – he got squashed and I immediately felt terrible. I’ve lived with bugs all my life and typically, if I’m not scared of them I’ll pick them up and take them outside, or ask someone else to do it. I was alone and by now, very disturbed.
I realized I could not sleep in this room for fear of having cockroaches crawling all over me in the night. Also, I could not bear to kill any more of them.
It was close to 11pm. I called the operator and she immediately sent over a porter with a key to an alternative room. I walked out in my pajamas and followed him with my stuff.
We entered the second room, also on the second floor, and there was a cockroach waiting for me. We went to a third room, this time on the third floor. Same story. At this point I was half laughing, half crying from the ridiculousness of it all and the porter was laughing uncomfortably as well. He suggested I talk to the Duty Manager. I agreed. He summoned the man.
The Duty Manager arrived and looked at the third room.
I told him I could not sleep with cockroaches in the room for fear of having them crawl all over me.
He turned to me and, to my astonishment, said the following (I’m paraphrasing):
“These are not cockroaches, they are grass bugs. They come into rooms because of the lights. You left the door open, that’s why they came in. You can’t just keep moving from room to room. You have already tried three rooms, what do you want to do now?”
I stared at this man, and incredulously responded, “I’m pretty sure they are cockroaches, not grass bugs. And, I did not leave the door open, they were there when I walked in. I want to sleep and I can’t sleep if there’s a chance they will be crawling all over me.”
He replied, “So what would you like to do ma’am?”
“I’d like to talk to someone else, since you’re not being helpful.”
I realized that he wasn’t going to help me, and he had placed blame squarely on my weary and shocked shoulders. “I’m not going to stay here,” I said.
“As you wish,” he responded, and walked off. The porter, poor chap, stayed with me outside the third room while I thought of Plan B, and later helped me get my bag to the lobby.
I texted my family in Suva and was determined to stay up all night at the airport if necessary. I changed out of my pajamas in a changing room by the pool (cockroach there too), and took a shuttle to the airport. Luckily, by then my parents had found me a room so I took a taxi from the airport to a different hotel. To his credit, the Duty Manager at Gateway had decided not to charge me for my 2-hour stay in the room or my meal when I tried to settle my bill.
This time, my hotel room – the fourth of the night – was clean and cockroach-free. I sighed with relief, slowly allowing my adrenalin to subside. Eventually, after managing to remove the Indiana Jones movie scene where bugs are crawling all over the place, from my head, I slept until my alarm woke me at 4.45am. Precious 4 hours of sleep.
As I reflect on this experience, I note that I was not angry, although I probably had a right to be. I had a genuine need: a safe and peaceful night of sleep.
The Duty Manager made several mistakes, he:
- had zero empathy for my situation,
- lied about the cockroaches being grass bugs,
- refused to brainstorm solutions with me, and
- failed to take responsibility for the condition of his hotel.
The Duty Manager left me with no choice but to leave with the resolution to never come back. His rude attitude and appalling behavior were completely against Fiji’s famous style of hospitality, and unfortunately negated the courtesy of the rest of the hotel staff.
Even if the critters were grass bugs, which they were not, I deserve to sleep without having any bugs, especially not ones that are carriers of diseases, crawl all over my belongings and me. A clean room is a basic requirement of any hotel, and should be enforced by a health code not just in Fiji, but everywhere.
I have written a review on tripadvisor.com about this experience; it has been read by over 300 people, which indicates the high level of interest among tourists. My mom wrote a letter to the local newspapers to alert the general public and tourists about this issue – it has not been published, likely because no one wants to call out Gateway. I think if we are to solve any problem, we must be willing to identify it and speak about it openly.
To the Gateway Hotel’s leadership, I would suggest the following steps to correct these customer service mistakes:
- internally, find out why that duty manager didn’t care, and help him connect with his empathy and practice it,
- add some procedures to your training where staff rehearse how to proactively and conscientiously come up with strategies for overcoming the issue a customer is having by first understanding the customer’s point of view,
- train staff to collaboratively find harmonious solutions to guest’s challenges (design thinking and behavioral science techniques might help), and
- immediately address overall cleanliness issues the hotel is clearly having.
Solutions for me might have included some combination of the following: re-cleaning of a new room, escorting the cockroaches out, using natural repellants, and failing all else, offering to help me find another hotel.
Other travelers may become really angry in a situation like this, and that will continue to erode Gateway’s reputation, and Fiji’s image as a tourist destination. That would be awful, because the Fiji I know is a beautiful, friendly, and positive place.
All I wanted was someone to understand what I was going through, and help me. The person who was in a position to do that chose not to, and what matters is how to change that situation so that we can be true leaders in customer service by honoring its roots: empathy, respect, and an open perspective.
Let me know your thoughts about my experience, and by the way, check out the cockroach and grass bug below – they do not look so alike that I could not tell the difference.