It was 7 a.m. when we arrived in Yogyakarta, following a miserable four-hour delay and twelve-hour panic-inducing journey across the island.
We had anticipated getting in late — though certainly not that late — and getting little sleep, so had booked a nicer-than-normal hotel ahead of time.
Exhausted and starving when we arrived, we gorged ourselves at the unlimited free breakfast, took an elevator up to our room, and fell into bed, letting the plush mattress and pillows envelop us. Within minutes we were asleep.
When we got the call at noon to check out, we reluctantly packed up and waved goodbye to the king-sized bed, the glittering pool, and abundant breakfast, and headed to a hostel a block away that was half the price. The contrast was stark; the beds were two twins with stiff mattresses and the pool was small and leaf-covered. Such accommodations would have exceeded our expectations any other day, but now they suddenly felt like a downgrade. We settled in and continued to rest for the day ahead.
It was only when we returned to the hostel after a day of exploring that I started to notice something different about this place.
Being addressed by name
Whenever we returned to the inexpensive, family-run hostel, the girls at the front desk wouldn’t just say a generic “Welcome” with a forced upbeat tone and equally forced smile as the concierges had at the higher end hotel. Here, they greeted us by name.
“A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language,” Dale Carnegie wrote almost 80 years ago in his famous book How to Win Friends & Influence People.
Some say hearing your name provides validation; others say it affirms your worth. And studies show there are several regions of the brain that appear more active upon hearing one’s own name.
Whatever it is, it worked. I was tired after the day’s adventures, but being addressed by name made me feel not only remembered, but like these people were my friends — like they had my best interest at heart, and I felt more at home because of it.
Thoughtful, personalized gestures
The next day, while out sightseeing, we got caught in a rainstorm. Having brought neither raincoats nor umbrellas, we returned to the hostel completely drenched.
We asked the girls at the front desk for hot tea to warm up.
When they brought over the two steaming cups, each saucer also had a handful of chocolate Easter eggs wrapped in colored foil — the kind my parents would stuff inside plastic eggs and hide in the bushes on Easter mornings and that my mom still to this day fills the candy bowls with when people come for the holiday.
I laughed and looked over at a wall calendar. I’d been so busy and removed from life in the States that I had completely forgotten it was Easter. That these two Muslim women remembered and made that gesture was moving, and it made me feel closer to home than I had in a while.
After that, I went upstairs and emailed my family.
Putting in extra, unexpected effort
On our last day in Yogyakarta, we scheduled a morning hike to view the sunrise over Mount Bromo.
Every other morning, we had free breakfast at the hostel. When we informed the girls at the front desk that we were expecting a van at 3 a.m. to make sure someone would be there open the gate, they asked us whether we wanted breakfast. We had assumed we’d be on our own that day, so we were surprised when they told us they could make it to go. The next morning, while we waited for the van, we were each brought a cardboard box tied with a thin white rope and a cup of hot coffee. Cradling the warm cups and sipping the coffee brought us to life. The van arrived and took us to see the sunrise. We had nearly forgotten that we had a boxed breakfast, but after seeing the view, were happy to tear into the two hard-boiled eggs, two rolls of bread, fruit, and two small bottles of water. I didn’t realize just how lucky we were until I noticed the other passengers staring at our food with envy.
After those few days in Yogyakarta, I realized that I don’t need a fancy hotel or a nice pool to feel important. Whether it’s a hotel, a tour, or even just a cup of warm tea, it’s the small, simple gestures, at little to no cost to the host, that can make a service experience truly stand out.