My assistant burst into my office with a horrified look on her face!
The General Manager of one of our premier hotel clients in Vancouver was on the line and wanted to speak with me IMMEDIATELY.
My EA warned me that he was going ballistic.
Apparently we had somehow put his entire communications network out of service earlier that morning and he had been “in the dark” for at least 3 hours.
I was the executive leader for business services at the time, and he chose to escalate the service breakdown to my office.
I took the call of course and listened to his concerns. He “wailed” on me with wild abandon. He couldn’t contain his anger; he screamed and let it flow.
His demands were quite simple. He wanted to be compensated for the lost business he suffered by virtue of having no communications service and he wanted it taken care of fast.
I told him that I was extremely sorry for our screwup (exact words) and that I would take care of this right away.
I called my sales director who was going apoplectic over the situation and asked him if there was a “secret desire” the GM had that we could satisfy and perhaps turn things around.
The sales guys had done their job and discovered through the GM’s assistant that he had been coveting an antique telephone for his office credenza for quite some time but had never make the decision to buy it. For some reason this particular type of phone was almost a fetish of his; an itch he had never scratched.
Armed with this information, we executed our recovery plan.
First, I got a check cut for him as my way of responding to the business he had lost during the service outage. There was no way I wanted to get into a negotiation of exactly how much business he thought he lost.
My strategy was to preempt that whole process. (Important side note: I didn’t tell our lawyers what I was up to as they would only tell me that I SHOULDN’T do it because it would be tantamount to admitting that we were in the wrong. REALLY?)
Next, I contacted our installation folks and asked that they get the specialty phone the client wanted and join me at his office within the hour.
Finally, check in hand, I headed to his office with my sales director riding shotgun.
About an hour and a half after his call to me our team arrived at his office.
This is how it played out.
I apologized (again) for our shabby treatment and handed him the check as restitution for our sins. Right away I could see him “come down” from his emotional peak. “It’s ok” he said. “Mistakes happen”.
I then asked the installation team into his office (with his permission of course) with the object of his affection and asked where it could be installed. He could not contain himself when he saw the phone.
Suddenly our meeting was not about the egregious way we screwed over his business that morning. And it wasn’t about whether the check actually was sufficient to recover his lost business (which by the way we were not obligated to do by law in any event).
The conversation and energy in the room was channeled to the actions we took to recover from our blunder rather than the blunder itself.
The meeting ended with our sincere apology (once again) and an offer to do more to atone for our sins if he thought more should be done.
He was quite frankly delighted with where we ended up; we could do no more for him.
This sales tale ended miraculously; it couldn’t have been better.
After the service incident and our recovery, I heard stories from other clients who recounted how this GM told the story of our service OOPS! and how amazed he was at how far we were prepared to go to make amends.
This client never left us in spite of what we did to him.
In fact his loyalty to our organization intensified over the ensuing years.
5 morales of this sales tale.
- Apologize (endlessly but earnestly) regardless of the circumstances;
- Don’t consult lawyers or anyone else; don’t ask for permission; do the right thing;
- Act quickly to remedy the offence. You don’t have much time.
- Charge sales with the role of discovering customer secrets which contain the power to recover from the inevitable client screw over;
- If done correctly, a mind blowing recovery actually build loyalty and turns the victim of the offence into a raving fan who tells everyone they touch how great you are.
P.S. This is not an isolated story illustrating the power of service recovery. Over my 33+ year career I have used the strategy to build remarkably success sales organizations.
Recovery always works. Try it and see.
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