The Story of the Extra Pillow

This story is from my management trainee days in Andhra Pradesh. The training involved visiting grocers and chemists trying to sell our products to them. A sales person’s life is tough and what one needs at the end of the day is a good night’s rest.


I had just returned after a very, very tiring day in the field and my head had just hit the pillow hoping for a good night’s rest when the phone in the room rang. You may be familiar with these phones in upcountry hotels (called lodges in Andhra, with a special emphasis on the alphabet “d”); elongated red bricks with just two buttons on the base unit. Press one of the buttons to call the operator and the other to call the front desk. That probably is a button too many; in nearly all such hotels the front desk guy also doubles as the telephone operator. The phone typically has about two inches thick layer of grease, residues left behind by the previous occupants of the room over the past few years, or least since the previous diwali when the last cleaning-up operation of the hotel may have been done.


Anyway, coming back to call, I picked up the receiver in a daze. Who could be calling me up at this time in this strange small town of coastal Andhra Pradesh, I wondered. A thickly accented Telugu voice at the other end rasped, ” Saar, want an extra pillow?” Before this could register on me, sleepy as I was, the voice repeated, this time with a sense of urgency, “Saar, extra pillow hona kya?” Perhaps he thought I did not understand English, perhaps he thought Hindi may be an easier medium of communication. The penny dropped. Driven by high levels of customer service the “hotel management” (the board outside the hotel proclaimed that the hotel was “Under New Management”) may have decreed that the front desk guy check with each guest at night on his overall comfort level and help out with any other material comforts to have a good night’s sleep.


By now I was awake and in full control of my senses. I looked around the bed and reconfirmed that there were two pillows placed on it. Never mind if the pillows were lumpy, they each had a bright striped handloom pillow-case. Brand new, I could make out from the manufacturer’s label glued to the case still partially visible. I use only one pillow as a habit, so I already had a pillow too many. “I do have an extra pillow”, I informed the caller and thanked him for his concern for my creature comforts. “Saar, you sure you really do not want one?” this person was taking customer service a bit too seriously! “No”, I said firmly and disconnected before he could say anything else. I did think this whole thing was a bit strange and went back to sleep.


The next morning over breakfast I mentioned to my colleague (the local sales rep) regarding this rather odd incident. He asked, “So you refused the extra pillow?” And before I could say anything he started laughing aloud. “You actually did refuse the pillow, ha, ha, ha” he went on. This was now getting curiouser and curiouser. Only when his peals of laughter subsided he revealed what the call was about. “Extra pillow” was the common code in this part of the country for a woman who would be sent across to the guest’s room to make him comfortable. In some hotels the receptionist would offer this “extra-pillow service” on a profit-sharing basis with the woman.


Really, some hotels take customer service very, very seriously!


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