ethno-analytics

Experience Blog

The Ethnography of Experience

The Opposite of "Placid"

Gary C. David, PhD
www.ethno-analytics.com

 Welcome (back)

Welcome (back)

Every year, for the last 10 years, my family and I have been coming to Lake Placid, NY on vacation. Our first trip included me doing the Ironman event up here. Not satisfied with spending thousands of dollars to needlessly suffer for over 10 hours one time, I did it again the next year. In a weird epiphany, I looked around and said, “Hey, this place is surrounded by mountains. Those look fun,. We decided to ditch the Ironman and just return to enjoy the Adirondacks. Best decision I ever made. We are so drawn to the place that we come up in December as well to enjoy what it has to offer in winter.

 Remember me? I won stuff too.

Remember me? I won stuff too.

Lake Placid is best known for the 1980 Winter Olympics. Of that, it is best known for the “Miracle on Ice.” You wonder what the town would be if the US Men’s Hockey Team lost to the USSR. I imagine the whole town economy would collapse from the absence of knock-off t-shirt sales with the world “MIRACLE” on them. The men’s hockey team was not the only story from that Olympics. Eric Heiden won 5 gold medals in Men’s Speed Skating. FIVE! You don’t see any posters around town of Heiden. No t-shirts of him in his glory. The closest monument is his figure at the Olympic Ice Oval, where his face it cut out for you to get your picture taken in his body. The faceless Eric Heiden body is all we have. I wonder if he hates the US men’s hockey team.

Family vacations can be stressful affairs, especially with small kids. Coupled with my unique ability to engage in catastrophic thinking, they can be really stressful. So anything that can be done to mitigate the stress is welcome. Having a regular place to visit creates a sense of predictability. We stay at the same spot, do many of the same things, enjoy the revisiting of familiar places and nostalgia of past vacations. Some might find it boring; I find it to be a relief.

It was great to arrive, and finally get to the place we were staying. Being the internet age, we tried to get on the Wi-Fi right away. Nothing. No Wi-Fi access. We couldn't even get the server to come up. Then the server would magically appear. Then it was magically gone. Then it was back. Then it was lost. WTF. The Wi-Fi was like a fleeting apparition, whose visage was only momentarily visible, only to vanish in the mist. With three kids on electronics, and me needing to do some work, this would not do. We had to resurrect the Wi-Fi, make it incarnate once again.

 Not this "Phil", but TimeWarner Phil

Not this "Phil", but TimeWarner Phil

A call was made to the front desk, but they couldn’t solve my problem. They suggested that I follow the instructions "by the phone" and call TimeWarner to ask them what the problem was. I called TimeWarner, and listened to the pleasant melodies of being on hold. While on vacation, I was in customer service wait mode. Wonderful. My call was finally answered by Phil. Phil tried to trouble-shoot the problem right away, but couldn’t. He needed to check something else. More waiting on hold while on vacation. Phil came back, and said something about the location where I was staying was doing work to their network. I must be away from an access point. They are moving them around, or something. He couldn’t help. I should call back the front office and talk to them. Alrighty then. Thanks Phil.

Calling back to the front desk, I’m told by the manager that they have been having some problems at the building where I was staying. Excuse me? For how long? Not long. How long is not long? Not long. How long until it is fixed. We don’t know. A week? Shouldn’t be a week? A day? Don’t know. Besides, the manager told me, Phil should have been able to help you. I protested that Phil assured me that he couldn’t help me. I have no reason to doubt Phil. Well you should call Phil back and tell him he should be able to help you. As much as Phil and I got on well, I didn't want to call back.

Let’s pause there. I am being told, while on vacation, that I should middleman between Phil and the front desk in the debate over who is responsible for my lack of Wi-Fi. While I am happy to mediate between B2B entities as part of consulting, I don't want to do it while on vacation with the car not even unpacked, and for free. I told them that they should call Phil. Talking to Phil is not my job (no offense, Phil). My job right now is vacation. I am a vacater. I am in the act of vacating. Not in the act of being a B2B couples therapist and trying to help them resolving their communication issues (and my Wi-Fi).

Being solution focused as a customer in these situations is important. “What other options do we have because we need Wi-Fi?” The manager told me that if we needed Wi-Fi-, we could just come to the front office and use it. Let me get this straight. If my kids want to use Wi-Fi, which is all the time, we need to go up a hill about a ½ mile (800 meters for you international readers), and hang out in the lobby? “And I need to do work as well,” I stated. “You’ll have to come up here as well to make sure anything goes through,” was the response.

 Looking at mountains (on my computer)

Looking at mountains (on my computer)

Well that’s not going to work. I loved the idea of lounging in my pajamas in their office, drinking coffee, feet up, typing this blog. I was tempted to do that just to make a point. But that joy would have been tempered by the kids not being able to get online.

“Can you move us? This isn’t going to work,” I inquired. I was told, “Well, we have another unit, but it has NO mountain views.” It was like a dare. You can have Wi-Fi, but it is going to cost you mountains. You can’t have both Wi-Fi and mountains.

We’ll take the Wi-Fi and forgo the views. Besides, I can always pull up images of mountains from the internet through the Wi-Fi, but I can’t get Wi-Fi from looking at the mountains. The decision seemed obvious. Returning to the office to get new keys, there was no apology. No acknowledgment of the effort we had to go through to move, or even talk to Phil. No mention of, “We’re sorry about that. We hope that the new location works for you. Have a great vacation.” We were clearly putting them out by having me talk to Phil, and doing new keys, and I felt like I should apologize to them.

The good news is that the new location has Wi-Fi. And I am able to look at the mountains on my computer screen. I was thankful for the new location, and thankful for the blog content. I was disheartened by the lack of willingness to acknowledge this moment. We work hard all year for vacation. We want to have a pretty seamless experience. We want it all to come together in a way that gets us far from the stress of our regular lives. As nice as Phil was, I didn’t want to spend a lot of time with him on the phone. And I was sorry that this prime moment to deliver a better customer and vacation experience was missed. It wouldn’t have taken much to make it a net positive versus negative. But even that extra effort seemed as elusive as the Wi-Fi in the original accommodations.