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Getting Unstuck

Elevator (c) Naomi Karten

Thereís one thing I like even less than being stuck in an elevator, and thatís being stuck and forgotten. Not that I was totally forgotten on this particular occasion.

I was at one of those big city hotels, the kind with a center atrium 30 stories high and glass elevators from which you can peer down at guests the size of ants in the lobby below.

I was alone in one such elevator, heading to my room on the 22nd floor. For the first 21 floors, the ride was uneventful. Suddenly, just as the 22 lit up on the display, I heard gears meshing and the metallic ping of (gulp!) a part falling off ó and the elevator screeched to a stop.

I waited for the doors to open. They didnít.

I pressed the Door Open button. Nothing. Nervously, I pressed the button for the 22nd floor, then the floor buttons for all the floors. No response.

I pressed the alarm button.

Through the elevator intercom, I heard a deep, soothing voice. What seems to be the problem? the Voice asked. I explained, Iím on the 22nd floor and the doors wonít open.

Have you tried the Door Open button? he asked. I told him I had. Donít worry about a thing, he reassured me, weíll be right up to get you out. There I was in a glass prison, suspended from above by a thread, while below me was absolutely nothing . . . for 22 floors . . . and a disembodied Voice was telling me not to worry.

In times of stress, minutes feel like weeks. Again, I pressed the alarm button. And again, I heard the Voice: What seems to be the problem? Impatiently, I explained that I was still stuck on the 22nd floor and the doors still wouldnít open.

Have you tried the Door Open button? the Voice asked. What??? Was I talking to an automatic voice response unit? (Press 1 if the doors are stuck . . . Press 2 if youíre falling through space . . .). Tactfully, I brought the conversation around to the fact that weíd previously spoken. Donít worry about a thing, he responded. Weíll be right up to get you out.

I donít know about you, but when someone tells me heíll be right up to get me out, I take that to mean sometime today. A third time, I pressed the alarm button and . . . you got it! What seems to be the problem? Really! I donít know if you remember me, I said in exasperation, but Iím stuck on the 22nd floor and The Doors Wonít Open. Donít worry about a thing . . .

An eternity later, I heard two men outside the elevator. One sounded like The Voice. The other I took to be a Voice-in- Training. Together, they pried the elevator doors open. Thatís when I discovered I wasnít actually on the 22nd floor, but 6 feet about the 21st floor, with just a few feet between the floor of the elevator and the top of the elevator doorway.

OK, said the Apprentice Voice, you can jump down now. I will not, I said emphatically. You will lift me down. Which he did. They became a case study in my Delivering Superior Service seminar the next day in that very hotel.

When youíre in the service business, little things matter. Like listening (really listening). And recognizing the impact of stressful situations. And not forgetting about your customers!

I came to appreciate these things while watching the lobby ants from the 21.8th floor.

Text and graphics copyright © 2009, Karten Associates. +1-781-986-8148,


For permission to reprint, contact me at +1-781-986-8148 or by

Karten Associates
Randolph, Mass., USA
Phone: +1-781-986-8148
Fax: +1-781-394-0530