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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Power of Apologies, Part II (Customers)

This is Part II of a 3-part series I'm writing on the Power of Apologies. Click here to read Part I and Part III.

Today, this post is about the power of apologies when it comes making our customers happy. Business calls it "service recovery" and it really is important because happy customers = repeat customers and referrals.

Sooner or later, regardless of how hard we try, we will not meet customer expectations. Maybe we will just fall short of their expectations or maybe we will mess up royally. The first thing out of our mouths should be "I'm sorry." Yesterday, when writing about the power of apologies at work, I said there were people who never say "I'm sorry" unless it's in response to personally messing something up. It's an interesting point and very debatable. HOWEVER, with customers, whether something is our personal fault or not, we must accept responsibility and say we are sorry.

Experts say that happy customers who've had no problems with our organizations are not our most devoted patrons, however. It's not that these people won't purchase from or use our services again. They just haven't experienced the power of the apology.

The power of the apology: there is power in the words "I'm sorry", but the real power comes from the actions we take to recover from our mistakes or even the perceptions of our lapse in service.

The following is my vision of me as a customer who's now a raving fan because of the right service recovery:

I travel all the time so I spend a lot of nights in hotels. This last week, my day had been very long with frustrating travel and meetings that didn't go the way I wanted. I went to the hotel where I've stayed many times because it has a decent rate. Other people in my company stay at a different place and I've been tempted to move, but this one is fine.

I go to my room, set my bags down, and get ready to try and relax. I walk into the bathroom and find that it's not clean. Then I look around and see that the room was not prepared for a new guest...not at all. This is very upsetting to me and tops off a pretty bad day.

I call down to the front desk and let the manager on duty know my situation. I ask for another room. The manager says he'll be right up. The manager arrives and he immediately says "I'm sorry, this is not the way we like to treat our guests. Let me help you move to another room." We get on the elevator and he takes me to my new room. To my surprise, it's not an identical room, but an upgrade. That makes me very happy. Then he tells me, "Again, Mr. Hall, we are very sorry for the inconvenience. Please let me know if this room will meet your needs." I tell him it's great. He then says, "here at XXX, we value you very much. In fact, here's a voucher for a free breakfast. I also want you to know that we will investigate why your original room was dirty and do our best to see that it doesn't occur again for you or for any customer. Please call on me if I can be of any further assistance."

A week later, I received a personal note from the general manager apologizing for my inconvenience, thanking me for my business, and letting me know the issue had been taken care of and steps put into place to ensure my experience was not repeated for me or any other customers. Finally, there was a voucher for a free night's stay at the hotel.

Now, the hotel had just turned me into a raving fan. Why?

  • Both managers apologized for the problems.
  • The night manager not only fixed the problem, but he gave me a better solution.
  • The general manager let me know that the problem had been addressed for the future.
  • The GM also provided me something extra for the inconvenience I had experienced.

I was WOWED.

To me, this is ideal service recovery. I was fine with the hotel before my bad experience. However, I am a total fan of the hotel now. I would never consider staying anywhere else because of the great response when things didn't go right for me.

Do you have any other examples of the power of apologies?