Service recovery… on the flip side.

My faith in service recovery has been restored!  Many of you remember my tale of a cancelled flight and the subsequent call at 2 am that was a complete service recovery failure.  If you missed it, check it out here.

Then, this morning, I get the following email (different company, different situation), that is again an attempt at service recovery. To me, this one is so many light-years better than my previous example, I just have to share it in it’s entirety.  I don’t even think you need much context, I think you’ll get the drift.

Pretty spectacular, huh?  Before we go any further, I will not hesitate to recommend SuperheroStuff.com for any of your superhero stuff-type needs.  I needed buttons.  You might need a t-shirt or a hoody.  Here is a direct link their site: https://www.superherostuff.com/

Now, I hope we can all agree that this was a great way to handle a lack of inventory. Since I’m all about the learnin’, lets break this down to see exactly what they did so we can all up our service recovery game.

  1. Addressed me by my first name. This is personal to ME!
  2. Stated the problem quickly (and in a humorous way). ‘Holy Inventory error Batman!”  Showed they knew what the problem was and weren’t afraid to admit it was their fault.
  3. Again admitted it was THIER problem (“we had a snafu”) then stated its impact to me.
  4. They apologized. Early and sincerely.
  5. Used soft language (“I was wondering if there was another item you might…”).  No demands (“You gotta pick new ones” or “you’re going to have to drive to Charlotte” – see previous post for more on THAT one!)
  6. No robo-choices (“we’ve substituted 5 other random buttons”)
  7. Made the resolution easy (and their responsibility).  I just had to pick 5 other buttons (link included) and viola – done!  Even brought back a little humor!
  8. Apologized again and told me they appreciate my business.
  9. Showed more humor and consistent branding/theming in the signature block.  But ALSO included a real name. Imagine responding and addressing the email to: Black Widow?

Was there anything else you noticed?  How would you have reacted if you got this same email?

Most importantly, how many of these things do you or your teams do when responding to a guest concern or situation?  I think one of the great things about this is how quickly they admitted wrongdoing and started proposing solutions.  Gave me no time to stew and get disproportionately angry.

Have a great service recovery story to spin?  Let me know!

Thanks for reading!

www.performanceoptimist.com

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The 6 words I didn’t want to hear at 2 am

Thing is, I had already planned for the exact situation described by these words in the middle of the night.  In fact, I was kind of excited about it.

How about some context…

My wife and I were at dinner at a friends house and I had put my phone on a table away from where we were sitting. When we got up to clear the table after dessert, I decided just to peek at my phone since I was traveling to a conference the next day.  That’s when I saw this text:

Okay. Flight cancelled. Not the entire flight, just the first leg.  With the amount of traveling I do, this was bound to happen, right?  Not a big deal, I will call the number and get rebooked.

Except, when I called the number, I got an automated system telling me that the department I was trying to reach was extremely busy and that I should call back later, then the system hung up on me.

Three more attempts, same result.

Again, I get it. Everyone and their brother was trying to call in at the same time.

I checked my connecting flight out of Charlotte (CLT) and it was still listed as scheduled and on time.  So, worst case scenario, I would drive to Charlotte (2-hour drive I had done MANY times) and catch that flight.  It was shaping up to be a nice weather day, so I actually started looking forward to driving the convertible to Charlotte and having a little less airport time than usual.

I tried calling the number one more time.  This time I had the ability to leave a callback number, since they said the hold time would be in excess of 4 hours. Yeah, YOU can call ME back, please.

So, at about 2 am, the phone rings.  I was asleep, but I got up and took the call.

After being on hold for a few more minutes, an agent came on and asked how she could help. I said, “You, well not you personally, but American Airlines cancelled my flight tomorrow and I was told to call this number to get it rebooked.”

Silence as she looked up my reservation.

The next 6 words I heard, even though I was already preparing to do this very thing, made my blood boil.

The attendant came on and said, “You’ll have to drive to Charlotte.”

No context, no apology, no asking about my circumstances or if driving was even an option. What if I didn’t have a car?  What if I was unable to drive and relied on someone else to get me from point A to B.  What if this wasn’t a 2-hour drive for me, but a cross-country flight? What if, what if, what if?

Feeling my face getting warm, I asked, “So since the airline canceled the flight, are they going to pay for a rental car, gas, a shuttle, anything since this is a major hassle?”

I sensed a slight scoff/chuckle/sigh… “No”, was the only answer I got.

Why was this making me so upset when I was planning to do the thing she just told me to do in the first place?

Probably because it was no longer my choice. Probably because I still expected some sort of resolution from the company that put me in this position in the first place.  And probably, most likely, because the agent made no effort whatsoever to empathize or even understand my situation.  She had likely been on the phone with hundreds of others just like me, but that doesn’t matter. To help me, she ideally should get try to find out more.

The rest of the conversation didn’t go so well, and more for the people who might be “monitoring and recording these calls for quality assurance” I did express to her just how let down and abandoned I felt.

Her, “well, you could just cancel this entire flight and rebook with someone else comment”, really set me off.  If I had any question before, there was no doubt now that her priority was to get me off the phone, not get me to Las Vegas.

Thing is, if, at 2 AM, she would have said, “I am so sorry sir, it looks like we won’t be able to rebook you on a flight to make your connection.  Can we look at alternate ways to get you to Charlotte, or maybe rebook you on another flight to Las Vegas altogether?”, this wouldn’t even be a blog post.

During the rest of the conversation, though, she made it clear that she was “over” dealing with people that she had to rebook.  I was likely not the only person who got a little upset, and wouldn’t be the last. At one point she even said that. “Sir, I just need to finish this so I can get to the other 1000 people that are waiting.”

Wow.

So I think there are two morals to the story.

  1. Word choice matters – especially when dealing with someone who you (or your company) had a hand in inconveniencing. A simple apology or acknowledgement (and willingness to take care of the situation) goes A LONG WAY.  I was ready to do EXACTLY what she was now telling me to do, but it was conveyed in an uncaring, almost combative way.  Even if she knew she couldn’t do anything but refund the unused portion of my trip, the slightest inkling to want to help would have changed the entire dynamic of the conversation.
  2. Take a break – Would it have mattered if I got this call at 2 or 2:15 AM?  Not to me. But I would imagine that the people overseeing the call center were adamant about clearing those call queues as fast as they could.  In fact, this agent may have been pushing HERSELF to the brink out of a sense of duty.  When we get pushed, or push ourselves, to our very outer limits, we can often do and say things we wouldn’t normally do. Taking a few moments to catch our breath or even expend some pent up anger can do wonders for your outlook.

Related – the topic of the “grumble station”, a spot for guest service personnel to safely and appropriately rid themselves of extra frustration-induced anger/energy, is outlined in The Myth of Employee Burnout.

As an update, I started writing this post before knowing that this situation was a result of a computer glitch with American Eagle affiliate PSA Airlines.  That being said, it’s understandable that agents would be getting pushed (and pushing themselves) to the limit to take care of their customers.  I think a little care for themselves would have made caring for their customers just a bit easier.

Thanks for reading!

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Bad service – who gets a pass?

My wife and I just spent a few wonderful days with friends in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, Crazy Horse, Wall Drug… it was a GREAT time!  We even got to stop and see my friends Cameron, Vivian and Mark at Rushmore Tramway Adventures (with a bonus ride in the Mammoth)! 

And of course, with great times come great guest service lessons! 

Because it was October, the area was in the wind-down phase of their busy season.  We caught our friends at Rushmore Tramway Adventures on the very last day of operation, and other establishments were closing up soon or were at skeleton staffing levels.

Unfortunately, two experiences stood out with underperforming/unprepared staff members, but they were received very differently.  Here they are – would love to hear your take.

  • Server 1 – mentioned multiple times that she was normally the bartender and was not used to waiting tables. The service at this restaurant was slow and inconsistent.  There seemed to be one ketchup bottle being shared by all tables (5 out 30 were occupied), and 4 out of 6 of our orders were delivered incorrectly.  When service recovery was performed, it was with an air of frustration.
  • Server 2 (different restaurant)- When asked what beers were on draught, the waiter said, “I’m not sure, it’s only my 4th day.”  He was young and timid, hoping against hope to make it to his 5th day. “Could you find out, please?”, we asked. “Sure”, he said, and disappeared.  He came back with a written list. His confidence grew throughout the meal, and when service recovery was needed this time, there was a sincere apology AND a 10% discount on the bill.  In fact, one of our pizza’s came without the pepperoni we ordered.  We were too hungry to wait for another pizza to be made, so he brought out some cooked pepperoni to add to the pizza that had been delivered.

When analyzing the groups’ reaction, it confirmed something I have believed for a long time about service… people don’t necessarily want service perfection, but they do want effort and don’t want to hear excuses.  To me, the bartender telling us she wasn’t normally a server felt like an excuse.

I think it felt like an excuse because she didn’t put forth any effort to overcome the deficit.  We joked that she was probably also responsible for housekeeping, maintenance and renting kayaks at the lake during the summer… and she would have rather been doing any of those activities at that time.

It may be a fine line, but server 2, after announcing that it was his fourth day, never returned to the scene of the crime.  He didn’t use his lack of experience as a crutch. He smiled, answered our questions, apologized for errors, made efforts to improve, and actually did improve, right before our eyes.

Here’s what I find interesting… server 1 was probably in her late 30’s or early 40’s (I am a terrible judge of age), and had a worn name tag, like she had been working at this establishment for some time. She’s the experienced one who fell back on the “this isn’t my normal job” excuse. You would think, hope and maybe even expect that with her level of experience at that hotel/restaurant, that she would be able to jump in to many different positions and perhaps not excel, but at least not act like a fish out of water, either.

By contrast, server 2 was probably in his early 20’s, admittedly in his 4th day of employment at that restaurant, and didn’t seem to possess a TON of worldly work experience.  He was the one who busted his hump to make things right.

And who knows, maybe server 1 was like server 2 on her 4th day on the job?  Maybe she LEARNED how to shirk responsibility and play the victim from the people around her and her – GASP – leaders! Since we know that leaders have a tremendous impact on employee morale, engagement and productivity, she could just be reacting to her environment.

What are the lessons?

  • Cross train early and often – to combat the “not my job” syndrome at the end of a long season, prepare those who will be with you to the very end.  Create a plan to have them ready to take on the new role BEFORE others vacate the job.  Just because it’s the end of the season, it doesn’t mean that training is automatically easier or less time consuming (if you do it right).  When cross training is done at the 11th hour, it can be viewed as a desperation move, and people will be less likely to see it as an opportunity.  Doing it early gives you a chance to reframe the conversation from “oh crap, we have to do this” to “this is what we planned all along.”
  • Encourage effort, even if not perfect – server 2 wasn’t perfect, but he did display a good amount of effort.  That effort needs to be encouraged so he will put forth the effort again. That effort might show up as learning the draught beers by heart or reaffirming the order with the kitchen.
  • Discourage the “victim voice” – Even as you reframe the conversation with early cross training, you may still hear people saying “it’s not my job”, or “I normally don’t do this”. If they say it, they believe it.  If they believe it, their actions will reflect it. There is no need to beat them over the head with “it IS your job!  Your job description says ‘and other duties as assigned!'” Instead, talk to them about their objections… maybe learning a new area brings them back to new hire fears… maybe they have gotten so comfortable (and it’s taken awhile) that they don’t feel they can achieve that level of skill in such a short time.  They need to SEE for themselves that it IS their job (and that it will be okay) before they start telling themselves that.

What do you think? What do you do to prepare your team for the end of the season?

And oh… would you have given a “pass” to server 1 or 2?  Neither?  Both?  Let me know.

Server 2 gets a pass from me.  Server 1?  Not so much.

Thanks for reading!

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Something positive worth shouting from the rooftops

On October 4-5, I was scheduled to work with the leadership team at Zoo Miami. Unfortunately, this was also the time frame that Hurricane Matthew was ripping it’s way through the tropics with an eye on the eastern Florida coast.

Because hurricanes are hard to predict further that 12 hours out (despite being talked about around-the-clock), we weren’t sure when, or how significantly, the Miami area would be affected. We got through our Tuesday and Wednesday morning programs with no issues, but it was decided that we would postpone our Wednesday afternoon sessions so that employees could prepare the zoo, their homes, and their families, and I could try to get a flight out before the airlines felt the need to suspend operation.

This is where the story gets shout-worthy.

My flight was on Delta, and so I did the responsible thing of calling the reservation number while also checking flights online that I might be able to change to. Given the call volume, my wait was listed as over 2 hours. Crazy, but expected given the circumstances.

As I refreshed my searches, I saw flights disappearing. I clearly wasn’t the only one who wanted to get out of Dodge (or Miami) earlier than planned.

I didn’t want to wait for 2 more hours and risk losing any of these flights, so I went ahead and changed my reservation online. There was a fare difference that I would have to pay for and a reservation change fee. Okay, them’s the breaks of travel – it is what it is.

BUT – I got a flight that would get me out of the way of the storm, so I was happy.

The next day, as I was waiting in the Miami airport, I got an email from my wife that included an article about airlines waiving the reservation change fees because of the hurricane.

Hmmm… wonder if they would waive mine, even after the fact. So I called.

Still a one to two hour wait on the phone. By then I would be on the plane.

That’s when it hit me. In the contact section of the Fly Delta app, it also included their Twitter handle.

So I sent this tweet.

A few clarifying tweets later and I was asked for my reservation number in a Direct Message.

By the next morning, I had a Twitter message stating that they were refunding my reservation change fee. No other questions asked.

Sweet! That takes a little of the sting out of the extra expense.

Moreover, it provides us some lessons about service recovery.

  • Have multiple ways for your guests to contact you. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised that the wait to speak to an agent was as long as it was. These weren’t exactly normal travel conditions. Lucky for me they also had people monitoring Twitter (and I’m guessing other social channels). Oddly enough, it never even dawned on me to approach one of the Delta employees working the multiple gates in the H concourse of Miami International. Don’t know if they could have helped, but they were there. That’s at least three different ways to contact someone for resolution.
  • React quickly. Again, I don’t really blame Delta for the long phone waits. I do COMMEND them for the quick response via Twitter – not only to correspond with me, but also to actually issue the refund. All they asked for was my reservation code, and the next thing I know they are refunding my fee.   I didn’t have to fill anything out, go through an inquisition or prove my case. I would imagine the agent did their research without needing me… they looked up my reservation, saw that I was originally scheduled to leave at 9 am Thursday morning and did in fact change it the night before to leave 16 hours earlier. From my original tweet to the message coming through stating my refund was being processed, it was less than 10 hours. I had the refund for this BEFORE my original flight was supposed to take off. DANG!
  • Make it easy for your employees. I don’t know what the process was behind the scenes, but for my tweet to be received, researched and processed within such a short period of time, the process has to have some efficiency to it. Make it easy for your employees to take care of your guests, and they will. Make it complicated or convoluted and they will find every excuse to circumvent your service initiatives.

Want more customer service and service recovery resources?  Check out the LeaderTips: Guest Service ebook!

So, the outcome could be seen as me getting a refund and us learning some things about service recovery. But the story doesn’t end there.

When I got on the plane, I was sitting in seat 1C. I got to talking with the guy in 1D, and told him that I had just booked the flight the night before. He said, “that’s strange, that seat has been booked for weeks.”

How and why he knew that was puzzling, until he said…

“I’ve been in seat 1C on my last 83 flights in a row. I tried to get it on this one but it was taken when I booked the flight.”

Needless to say, we switched seats so he could make it 84 flights in a row.

He then said that he ALWAYS flies Delta. He said, “I know it’s a big company, but they always take care of me.”

So it’s a story about a refund, lessons on service recovery and LOYALTY. Taking care of people leads to loyalty.  I know I felt taken care of by the agents monitoring Twitter that night.

And THAT is worth shouting from the rooftops!

Thanks for reading!

Matt

visit-me-wwa

The best service recovery is providing good service!

I had the pleasure of speaking with my good friend Sheryl Bindelglass recently, and we got to talking about customer service (big surprise!).  She was telling me about some horrible experiences she had lately and how they were eventually resolved.

The first was a multi-faceted airline mishap that compounded one bad experience upon another.  One flight was late, the next flight closed its door early, no one in the terminal seemed willing or able to help, and when it was all said and done (after Sheryl’s 24-hour cool down period), she called and was on hold for 2 hours and still was never connected to a person she could talk to.

So, she sent a tweet.  Within 22 minutes there was a response on Twitter, stating how sorry they were and inquiring if there was anything they could do.

Sheryl tweet

Now, don’t get me wrong… I applaud the quick response and offer to assist.  I just wonder if so much effort would be needed on service recovery if their regular customer service… um… didn’t suck.

Along the same lines, Sheryl told me about an experience at a restaurant where the manager came over to remedy a situation and handed them his business card.  Not only was it his card, but it was also a $20 voucher for a future visit.  How much time, effort and energy went into the process of making that card that could have been spent fixing the service issues they had so the card wouldn’t be necessary?

We all know that people make mistakes and we won’t be able to eliminate ALL of the need for service recovery, but as leaders we can (and should) be looking at the situations that cause people to complain so we can try to eliminate THOSE.  As an example:

When hearing this story about the airline, I asked Sheryl why they would close the cabin door early?  She said that it states on your ticket that they reserve the right to do that.  Okay, but why?  Are they trying to make up time?  Especially when you have people that are not on board yet, wouldn’t you give them until the advertised time to get to the gate to board the plane?  Maybe there are legitimate reasons, but look at the cavalcade of frustration it causes.  This wasn’t a mistake by a well-intentioned employee, it was a willful act made possible by a policy.  Somewhere there has to be a leader in that organization that can connect the dots and see what sort of havoc this caused.

If you are worried about the rash of negative publicity that is possible on social media enough to have someone monitor those outlets 24/7, then you should also be worried about eliminating the conditions that created a need to complain in the first place.

Here’s the kicker… even with all of the shenanigans and bad service happening, if ANY of the employees that Sheryl interacted with (before the tweet) had simply said “I’m sorry”, that tweet would have never been sent and you wouldn’t be reading this post right now.

Sometimes the best defense IS a good offense.

Thanks for reading!

Matt

Prepare your teams to play great offense this year!  Give them the training, coaching and guidance that they need to succeed!