We all know the story of the frog prince; this, however, is the story of a queen who turned into a toad.
My tale begins in room 222 of what I will call Hotel G. in Budapest. As I write, I can look out beyond the room's French doors and see the Danube River sparkling nearly blue on this sunny Sunday afternoon. Boats glide by with residents and tourists alike standing on their decks, snapping pictures of one of the world's most beautiful cities.
The street in front of my room hums with excitement. Cars dart competitively around each other, and electric trains wheeze to a stop as they negotiate a sharp turn beside the hotel.
The Hotel G. reigns over Budapest's other hotels. During the last hundred years, countless rich and privileged souls pampered themselves with its splendid appointments and mineral baths. The pools feature shimmering tiles, glimmering water and tasteful decor; the attendants make you feel like their most important guest.
Other wonders impress at every turn. Getting off the elevator, I stopped to admire an enormous stairway framed by a magnificent stained glass window that could have graced any cathedral. Morning sun streamed through its glass, creating multicolored shafts of light that crisscrossed the hallway and danced on the opposite walls.
How could the Sheraton, Hilton or Hyatt ever compete with this regal lady?
At midnight, I dropped into bed exhausted. But during the next three hours I woke up five times as a shrill, high-pitched noise penetrated every corner of my room. From 3 a.m. on, sleep deserted me entirely. The sound came from those same picturesque electric trains slamming on their brakes as they turned the sharp corner. This piercing sound occurred every three to five minutes and lasted about 15 seconds.
I tried stuffing toilet paper into my ears, but that didn't help. Then I jammed the spare pillow over my ears, with no success. Finally, I retreated to the bathroom, closed the door and attempted to sleep in the bathtub. That kept the sound out, but the tub was much too small for my huge frame. The sound continued to plague me for the rest of the night.
At about 6 a.m. I gave up and decided to take a shower. I opened a fancy box to get at the beautifully wrapped bar of soap. Designed like a flying saucer, it behaved like one as well, flying out of my hands many times and sending me on a frantic, stooping hunt during my shower.
Also in the bathroom were four packets, two yellow and two blue, of a similar substance. I assumed one of them was shampoo, but the writing on it was too small to tell if it was that or body lotion. (I don't know about you, but I don't wear my glasses when I take a shower.)
As I checked out at 8 a.m., I asked to talk to the manager. I described my problem, and he immediately offered to put me in another room. I explained that I had already taken care of that by checking out.
"People have complained about the noise in Room 222 before, but didn't you enjoy the view?" he responded.
I suggested that he spend one night in the room and let me know if he thinks something needs to be done. I also suggested that he rent the room out as a viewing room, not as a place to sleep.
Room 222 was 2 noisy, 2 aggravating and 2 bad I stayed there.
As individuals interested in quality, what can we learn from this example? One, outside show may attract customers, but it won't keep them. Two, people working for a quality organization must personally experience what their customers undergo. They must design their organization's processes so that the extremes, not the averages, are accommodated.
I am finishing this article five days after I left the room from hell. I am now in a small lodge in Nevsehir, Turkey, called Katadokya Lodge. It is 35° F outside, and there is an electric wall heater about three feet away from me blowing hot air on my bed. The bed is firm and the staff are friendly. I am paying less than 35 percent of what I paid for my room in Budapest. It's 11:30 p.m. and I have not heard a sound, not even a door closing, in the last two hours. Boy, I'm going to fall asleep so easZ-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Zily.
About the author
H. James Harrington is a principal at Ernst & Young and serves as its international quality advisor. He has more than 45 years' experience as a quality professional and is the author of 12 books.
Harrington is a past president and chairman of the board of both the American Society for Quality and the International Academy for Quality. He can be reached at 55 Almaden Blvd., San Jose, CA 95113; telephone (408) 947-6587, fax (408) 947-4971, e-mail jharrington@ qualitydigest.com. His Web site address is www.hjharrington.com.