Handling Mistakes Like a Boss

We’ll all make them. If you’re in business long enough, stretching and growing, you’ll have multiple opportunities to fix mistakes.

Mistakes: I affectionately called them “growth opportunities”.

When we were early on in our business growth, I will never forget some words from a guest. They stung. They formed the way our business grew.

When we first opened the historic hotel we didn’t have any existing clientele for the B&B side of things. We had some weddings booked, hence the opening deadline! We had a one-hundred-year-old building, but it hadn’t operated, being consistently and predictably open as a hotel, for many decades. This afforded me some flexibility in schedule. (So I thought.)

After eleven months of restoration, we opened the boutique B&B hotel with a giant staff of three. (3 ½ if you counted my husband who already had a full-time job.) We had met an excellent local baker to create breakfast goodies for our guests, hired one housekeeper to start, and I filled in the rest. I transferred from being a historic building restorer to a boutique hotel owner and operator.

As expected, bookings were not every day which was great because I did not wish to be tied to work and open every day. My vision was for a retreat wedding venue with accommodation, not a regular boutique B&B (to my MOST pleasant surprise, the B&B became a fabulous part of operation).

We were very fortunate to be located in a tiny town of 650 people. Ours was a destination, not a drive by. I loved this about our place. I could see the allure of Mayberry town, it was not far from major metropolitan areas (less than two hours), offered a dramatic change in climate (over 300 days of sun a year), and a welcome disconnecting environment. We had no TV or phone, but plenty of quiet and scenery.

I fell in love with the area and knew others would too. It filled a much-needed void for people.

All idyllic scenes and romantic notions aside, I was in for some good “growth opportunities” on my journey!

Typically, if I left the hotel and someone called, my goal was to return messages within 24 hours. Looking back, that’s pretty bad for any hotel, B&B, etc. but, at the time, with my romanticized view of the world, I thought it was fine. We didn’t have on-line reservations, the phone connection was the only way to go.

 One would be older patron left a message and I returned it later. We kept missing one another, playing a rather lengthy game of phone tag. I’m not sure that I returned her calls always within 24 hours either (this might be my memory making the situation worse, I don’t honestly recall). It took days to finally connect.

What I do recall were her words after days of trying to connect.

She said, in a bit exasperated, a little terse, yet still polite tone:

“I’ve never had such a difficult time making a reservation”.

Ouch! Smack me in the face truth. Her words could have not had a more direct hit. She was articulating something I was obviously feeling guilty about.

I wish I knew who she was and could thank her now.

She gave me a truth bomb that was not only embarrassing but right on the money. She was right. I could have told her all the excuses and reasons I had to justify the horrible service but really, who cares? Certainly not her. She just wanted to make a reservation.

I owe her a great thank you because that moment was one that helped to shape the way our future organization would respond to complaints. We trained to follow this guide as closely as possible. It was not always pretty, fun, or pleasant to eat crow but it served us, time and time again to win hearts and loyalty of our guests.

  1. Apologize
    Some people have a problem with this. Time to get over it, look outward, not inward. An apology is not admitting guilt or somehow demeaning oneself, it’s acknowledging someone else’s inconvenience. This helps the person know that you empathize and can understand that the error caused them to be delayed, annoyed, etc.
  2. In Person
    If not in person then over the phone, if not over the phone then in writing. ALWAYS we wanted to connect in person first, if not possible, then by phone. We tried to never make the first connection via email. Human relationship and connection happen best the closer you are to the person. It’s much easier to forgive an in-person apology than one via email.
  3. Do it Fast
    Don’t wait a week or a day. Rip that band aid off right away. Taking more time only makes the anxiety level rise for me (or the staff making the call), and allows the guest to stew longer providing more opportunity to talk about the poor experience. This is easier said than done but I still strive, to this day, to put this into practice. It seems to become a bit easier over time. A bit. . .
  4. Rectify the Problem
    Offer solutions that address the slight. People like to be presented with options and choices so when it was possible to do so, we did.
  5. Exceed Expectations
    This was my most favorite thing ever. Exceeding expectations. In staff meetings we’d pose problems: wrong room booking, late dinner, noisy neighbor, etc.

    1. I’d ask staff to put themselves in a situation where they were the customer that had been slighted.
    2. I’d then ask them what they’d like the business to do to fix the problem for them.
    3. THEN we’d ask, what could the business to surprise you? What would you not expect?

This role play was so much fun. People’s eyes would light up when thinking about what would make them giddy and happy. (Side note: It was fascinating to watch staff faces as they were coming up with times they’d been on the receiving end of errors. Their faces were brooding. To watch the change in their faces when they thought about what the company could have done to really make their day – it was joy washing over their face!)

Exceeding expectations, always, but most especially when a mistake had been made, formed the foundation for our service. When we exceeded expectations, we turned a gaff into a heroic story that the customer would retell to others.

We know people talk about their experiences. We know they’ll talk to others about their experiences with our businesses. To catapult growth at any time, and most especially when we make errors, exceeding expectations is the sure fire way to grow.

Customers love it, and honestly, our staff did too. It made them proud to be on a team that valued and treated people in such a special way.


samantha-irwin-25

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