Have you ever had a negative experience as a customer — maybe your meal arrived cold at a restaurant, you were overcharged on a bill, or perhaps you were rudely spoken to by an employee? No matter the circumstances, I bet you remember the action (or, unfortunately in some cases, the inaction) the company took in response.
As a manager or employee of a restaurant, hotel, or any establishment that serves customers can tell you, recovering quickly and positively from a mishap or mistake — known in the business as “service recovery” — can be the difference between success and failure. After all, one Yelp or TripAdvisor review or viral Tweet can impact business for the unforeseeable future.
Here’s my recent experience with service recovery and five takeaways that managers and employees should keep in mind.
The Mystery of the Missing Sport Coat
The scene: I recently had the opportunity to give a talk about content marketing at a national higher education conference in San Diego. I was travelling the week before and had come home for the weekend for some family time before I heading out to the conference. While I was packing, at the last minute of course, I noticed that my sport coat had a stain on it from the previous week. Since I was flying in a day early to acclimate and prepare, I knew that I would have time to have it cleaned prior to needing it for dinner the following night. As luck would have it, when I stepped into the hotel room, I noticed a little cleaning slip in the closet and said to myself, “You can just get it cleaned here!” I knew it would cost a bit more, but the convenience factor was hard to beat. I filled out that little slip and called down to the front desk to find out how they would collect my item. They said, “No problem, Mr. McCarthy. We’ll send someone right up!” I put the sport coat outside the hotel room door and just had that feeling, the one when you know something is going to go wrong. I said to myself, “Stop trying to control everything and trust the system!” And that I did.
The plot thickens: A few hours later, I was out eating dinner and saw an unfamiliar number come across my caller ID. I didn’t want to be rude, so I waited for an appropriate break to check the voicemail. It was someone from the hotel calling to let me know that there had been an “incident” with the item that I dropped off for cleaning. That sounded ominous — just that word choice sounded like I was watching an episode of Law & Order. I called the number back and was advised that the incident was with the delivery vehicle (I found out a few hours later that the cleaning company was not part of the hotel and somehow the delivery vehicle had been stolen) and my item may not be recoverable. It was in their opinion that it would be in my best interest to head to a local department store to procure a replacement item.
Case solved: The hotel wound up finding my jacket, but not before I had already invested the time and money to find a replacement. In the end, the hotel wound up sticking by the instruction that they gave me and reimbursed me for the sport coat.
There are a few important lessons to be gained from this service-recovery incident.
- When something happens make a plan to address it with the customer.
- Once you deliver that information to the customer, stick to it. In the end, the hotel could have said, we recovered your jacket so the deal is off. I had still invested my time in heading to the department store, finding a suitable item, and fronting the payment money. I would have had to take more of my time to return it back to the store.
- When you have someone that is affiliated with your organization, they still represent your organization. If they make a mistake, it still ultimately reflects poorly on your brand.
- Keep the long-term perspective in mind. I was in one hotel room; however, I had two other colleagues with me. We were spending a few thousand dollars to be there. In the end, a few hundred dollars for a sport coat was a small price to pay to resolve the issue.
- Don’t forget the power of storytelling. I probably told the story of my sport coat at least 10 times at the conference, and, clearly, I’m still telling it. It could have been a negative story or a positive one. It was a positive one, thanks to some stellar service recovery.