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  April 18, 2014
It is My Fault...I Apologize...



[Note:  Irony strikes again... the blog this week was delayed until Monday due to Constant Contact’s servers going down Friday... no apology from them... just a bunch of excuses... redirection of blame...

Whereas, I do apologize to you for the delay... and I am looking into other e-mail services as a backup just so it won’t happen again... Jim]


"If you build a great customer experience, customers tell each other about that... word of mouth is very powerful." 

                       ~ Jeff Bezos - CEO Amazon.com

I recently have had two very different customer experiences...

The first situation occurred a few weeks ago as I was trying to leave Las Vegas bound for my home in San Diego.

My business had concluded sooner than expected so I went to the airport hoping to catch a flight scheduled to leave about 4 hours earlier than my original flight. 

When I arrived to the airport to check if the earlier flight was available, I was told by a very polite ticketing agent that she was unable to add me to the earlier flight but that the flight was only 40% full so it was very possible that the gate agent could accommodate my request.

I hurried through the TSA screening and made it to the gate with plenty of time.  I then asked the gate agent if it was possible to swap flights allowing them to resell my ticket on the more desirable 6pm flight.  check-inThe agent then proceeded to explain that I could indeed get on the earlier flight if I was willing to pay an additional $250 (the difference between my original discount fare and the current full-fare.)

I tried explaining to her that it would be in the company’s best interest to allow me to board the early flight so that they had the possibility of reselling my seat on the later flight because once the earlier flight left, that potential seat revenue would be lost forever.

She told me it was strict company policy.  My begging and pleading fell upon deaf ears as she just handed me a piece of paper with the company’s written policy.

I decided that 4 hours of my time was not worth the extra $250 so I waited patiently (albeit it very upset at this particular airline’s policy) for my regularly scheduled flight.

Shortly before 6 pm, this same gate agent then announced to the crowd that the 6 pm flight had been cancelled due to weather and that she would attempt to re-book passengers on a later flight that evening but that all of the other flights were already full so we should plan on trying to get a room in Las Vegas for that night.  

She also explained that due to the fact that this was a weather related event, the airline took no responsibility in housing the displaced passengers for the extra night.

Now I was looking at the gate agent with daggers in my eyes... she had the opportunity to provide some great customer service by allowing me to board the earlier flight, but she failed miserably. 

Moreover, when it was my turn to be assisted, she felt absolutely no remorse and offered no apology but with a straight face told me that "I should have paid the extra money"... insinuating the problem was due to my actions (or in this case inaction).

Needless to say, this will be the very last time I fly this airline... but in reality... they couldn’t care less...

Now contrast this experience to another one I recently had.

I recently made a reservation at a nice restaurant for myself, my wife and another couple.

When we arrived at the restaurant, I had the following exchange with the maître’d:

Me:  Hi, we have reservations at 7pm under the name Kalb.

Maître’d:  Mr. Kalb, I am so sorry, we completely underestimated the time between our earlier reservation and your reservation at 7pm.  Your table will not be available for another 30-45 minutes.  Would you please allow us to buy you and your party drinks while you wait in our lounge?

The maître’d restaurant managerthen walked us into the bar and handed a slip of paper to the bartender informing her that we were guests of the restaurant. 

When we were seated about 40 minutes later, the restaurant manager came over to our table and once again apologized for the inconvenience and told our server to bring us an appetizer of our choice as reparations for their mistake.

What was the actual cost to the restaurant to deliver incredible customer service? 

Eight drinks and one appetizer... maybe $10-$15 in true cost to the restaurant? 

Seeing that we ended up spending about $150 for dinner that night, $10-$15 wasn’t even 10% of the overall bill.  Yet, had the maître’d instead handed us a 20% off coupon for a future visit the effect on our attitude at the moment would have been negligible... I seriously doubt that there would have been a second visit to use the coupon.

These two narratives illustrate the difference in truly providing true world-class customer service and those who simply give lip-service to their customer service claims.

Every company is actually in the customer service business whether they like it or not and every employee who interacts with customers is a direct reflection of that company.

All companies, big and small, have had the misfortune at one time or another (whether it is of their own making or not) of making mistakes in the eyes of their customers.  Even if we do our very best to avoid problems and mistakes, they are inevitable sooner or later.

The most important part of customer service then is not to spend all of our energy in avoiding mistakes (sometimes mistakes are simply out of our control... such as weather conditions), but rather helping the customer get satisfaction once a mistake is made. 

This process is called "service recovery".

Providing service recovery is a critical component of the overall customer service experience and helps provide extreme loyalty from a customer base being bombarded by low-cost alternatives on a continuous basis.

Service recovery helps to take an unhappy customer and turn them into a raging fan and advocate for your business... and it really doesn’t take all that much effort!

There are four basic components of service recovery:

  1. Accept and apologize - Take full responsibility for the problem.  Don’t blame others or deny the problem exists.  Admit that there is a problem and offer a sincere apology.
  1. Act quickly to solve the problem - Once you are made aware that an error has been made, find a way to quickly remedy the situation.
  1. Empower front-line people to make decisions - When a problem exists, management must trust their front-line people to find a way to help assist the customer... no matter what it takes.
  1. Compensate the customer - The final step is to offer the customer who has been wronged, some valuable compensation (value to the customer... not necessarily something costly to the company).  The overall life-time value of a long-term customer and soon-to-be company advocate will pale in comparison to a small but valuable compensation.

Service recovery not only helps to retain customers, but also helps to attract new customers as the lore of incredible customer service spreads (and with the advent of the Internet and social media... the word spreads faster than ever).

No one has the ability to control every facet of business, but we do have the ability to control our reactions when bad things do happen. 

React in a negative way... and customers will undoubtedly leave telling others of their unpleasant experiences...

React in a positive way... and customer will be with you for life... bringing their friends with them...

How will you react the next time something goes wrong?

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we strive to bring our customers consistent products... consistent service... and consistent success.


Jim Kalb

Email -  jimk@optifuse.com
Website - www.optifuse.com
Blog - www.optifuse.blogspot.com 

Twitter - @OptiFuse

Previous Blogs

Being the Tortoise...

Human Connections...

Teeming with Success...

Unconventional Courage...

Words to Live By...

A World Apart...A Part of the World...

All Expectations...

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