Yours, Mine and Ours: Handling Mistakes

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ImpossibleC’est impossible! That’s what our hostess exclaimed when my husband and I showed up for breakfast at the hotel we’d booked in Strasbourg, France. She didn’t mean it was impossible to have breakfast, she meant it was impossible for my husband to be there. Yet, there he was – alive and well – and hungry.

(Let me back up a bit. When we had checked into the hotel the day before, we discovered there had been a mix-up in our reservation. Though we booked a double-room for two, the hotel showed only a single room was reserved. The error was quickly resolved and we were told what time breakfast (which was included with the room) would be served.

Now back to breakfast. It was immediately apparent there had been no communication between the front desk and the restaurant regarding how many people from room 505 would be showing up for breakfast that morning. Luckily, it took only a short explanation in some broken French to clarify the misunderstanding, and my husband and I were soon enjoying fresh croissants and brioches.

Yet I kept thinking back to our hostess’ reaction, which had implied that we’d done something wrong. It reminded me of similar customer service situations I’d encountered that had been handled less than elegantly. Certainly, part of her reaction may have been cultural (service in European countries can differ from what we’re used to in the U.S.) Still, it prompted me to share some thoughts on how to handle customer misunderstandings—regardless of whether the customer is in the right or not.

Apologize and acknowledge

It may the customer’s fault—or not. You don’t know yet, so avoid jumping to conclusions. Even if the customer is at fault, perhaps there is something you can do to avoid other customers making the same mistake.  Could you provide clearer directions or put a process in place that will catch the mistake before it becomes a problem? Right now it doesn’t matter who’s at fault. A simple “I’m sorry. Let me see what we can do to resolve this” should work in most cases. (And really, aren’t you sorry this happened?)

Be polite and listen

Your customer is upset—he or she is being inconvenienced or is not receiving an expected service. (You may be inconvenienced as well, but part of your job in customer service is handling problems). Customers may become emotional; they may even become loud. It’s up to you to remain calm and listen. Of course, no one should ever put up with verbal abuse, but I’ve found that maintaining a calm, polite demeanor can prevent most situations from becoming overheated.

Focus on the solution, not the problem

There’s a parable I used to share when I taught a class on problem-solving. It applies here as well and it goes like this: A young woman and her two companions are hiking in the woods. A snake bites the young woman. Rather, than helping the young woman, the two companions spend precious time hunting down the snake. Needless to say, things don’t work out too well for the young woman. What’s the lesson here?  Don’t take time trying to find and fix the cause of the problem while the customer is standing front of you. Instead, focus on what you can do to resolve the situation. You’ll have plenty of time later to track down that snake!

Follow up

Once you have the facts, explain to the customer what happened, offer a solution, and determine whether they are satisfied.

Following are two examples:

“We’re sorry you encountered a problem at breakfast. We sat you immediately so as not to inconvenience you while we researched what happened. After talking with the staff, we realized the front desk had not informed the restaurant of the correct number in your party. We will work with both teams to ensure better communication in the future. We hope you enjoyed your breakfast and we value the opportunity to serve you further during your stay.”

“We’re sorry you encountered a problem at breakfast. We sat you immediately so as not to inconvenience you while we researched what happened. We see that while you desired to book a double-room, you indicated only a single room on your reservation. We will look into how we can make this clearer for customers booking online in the future. I you wish, we will change the reservation to accommodate your additional guest at the appropriate rate.”

It’s not impossible for a mistake to happen. In fact, you can be sure you will encounter mistakes from time to time. But by keeping these points in mind, you can avoid the mistake of not handling them well.

 

 

Bye-Bye Bloomie’s!

Brown Bag

Sometimes I wonder if, like Don Quixote, I’m chasing windmills in my efforts to slay poor customer service. I travel a lot and have learned to manage my expectations for good service against a myriad of rationalizations: they’re not a luxury brand, my standards are too high, he or she’s probably having a bad day, I’m having a bad day, it’s Monday, and so on. Yet I still feel a sense of disappointment when a promised service call isn’t returned or when the hotel desk associate doesn’t ask how I enjoyed my stay when I check out. Sadly, these small disenchantments seem to be occurring more and more frequently. Mostly, I just let them go. But when a favorite retailer, one I consider at the very least a premier store (if not a luxury brand), makes what I consider a major customer faux pas, then I have to pick up my rusty sword and rail against customer service injustice! Continue reading

Don’t spread the bad mood flu

flu-season-wear-mask

This year’s flu season is one of the worst. My daily news feeds are replete with tips on how to avoid catching the flu and what to do should you get it.

But there’s another type of malady that seems to be common this time of year – the bad mood flu. It can be difficult to keep up a cheery disposition during the first few months of the year– the holidays are over, the weather is cold, and folks generally seem to be tired of winter. When your job is to deliver luxury service, it can be hard enough to keep your own mood cheery, let alone worry about someone else’s. Continue reading

Own the Moment

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Nobody owns the customer, but someone can always own the moment.

This awesome quote comes from Scott Hudgins, Senior VP of Global Customer Managed Relationships at the Walt Disney Company.  I recently heard it repeated at a national sales conference for BSH Home Appliances Corporation, where I’m a senior learning partner for the Gaggenau luxury brand of appliances. Continue reading

The Other Luxury Customer

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Not all luxury customers are immediately recognizable. They may not be pulling up to your store in a Bentley or be sporting the latest couture. In fact, despite having assets in the millions of dollars, some high-net worth consumers consider themselves middle-class. Rachel Sherman, a reporter for the New York Times, recently interviewed a number of wealthy individuals who “never talked about themselves as ‘rich’ or ‘upper class,’ often preferring terms like ‘comfortable’ or ‘fortunate.’ Some even identified as ‘middle class’ or ‘in the middle.’ ” Continue reading

If you can’t say something nice…

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happy-unhappyDo you remember Thumper in Walt Disney’s film Bambi?  While watching the newborn fawn attempt to walk for the first time on trembling legs, Thumper remarks that Bambi really doesn’t walk very well. Thumper’s mom then chastises him by asking him to repeat what his father had taught him. Thumper hesitantly replies, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

The questionable grammar aside, what does this have to do with luxury service?

In any type of service situation, you may be called upon to convey a message to a customer that could cause disappointment: “I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you.” But this is not a post about basic customer service niceties such as telling customers what you can do for them, rather than what you cannot; demonstrating empathy by saying you understand their frustration; or remembering to use their name in the conversation. This is a post about how you can say things better. And luxury customers always expect better.

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Remember me? Ensuring luxury clients return again and again

happy-customer-279x300The word ‘return’ can make even the most seasoned sales associate quiver with fear. Yet the returning customer presents a golden opportunity for luxury associates to foster the customer relationship. Your mindset can play an important role in cultivating customer relationships. If you view “returns” as a hassle or something that causes you stress, then customers will sense your aggravation. But if you treat the return as an occasion to build and strengthen the connection you have to your customers, you will have laid the path for them to return again and again.

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When Matchy Matchy Works: Keeping Your Brand Message Consistent Across Channels

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wereonitYesterday I visited the website of an upscale department store brand to order my favorite Chanel blush. Everything started perfectly. The brand’s logo was displayed elegantly across the top of the page. Its signature black and white color scheme was set off by striking, high resolution images. The ordering process was easy and I was even offered three free samples upon checkout—just as I would have been had I purchased the product in the store itself. Perfect! Almost… As I completed the transaction a final message appeared on the screen: “We’re on it!”

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