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Everybody does it. No one likes it.

In any job, sooner or later, staff will be face to face with an unhappy customer. Maybe you or your staff were at fault, maybe not! The reality is a disgruntled customer with the power to write and post a damaging, scathing review.

What to do? How do you gracefully transform this unhappy customer into someone who thinks your business and, more specifically, your staff who saved the day when you weren’t there, is the greatest thing since sliced bread?

Mistakes are an inevitable part of running a business. From a damaged product to an incorrect order, customers can quickly become irritated when things don’t go according to plan. However, it’s not the mistake that defines your business, it’s how your staff handles it.

“More companies are realizing that delivering great care is not just the right thing to do; it also makes great business sense. Seven in 10 U.S. consumers say they’ve spent more money to do business with a company that delivers great service,” said Raymond Joabar, Executive Vice President of American Express’ servicing organization.

Imagine your staff confident with their skills to transform irritated customers into people who love your business. This not only increases customer loyalty but also leads to positive word-of-mouth marketing.

The BIG Mistake

In the Power of People Academy one of my favorite examples of transforming a VERY uncomfortable guest situation comes from my own extremely anxiety producing mistake. A hotelier’s worst nightmare: Double booking.

It’s a busy Friday night in the summer and our hotel is booked to the brim. Guests are checking in, people are excited for the weekend, staff is bustling. I’m just about to leave and let my team work their magic with guests when one of my staff comes to me with a problem. They’d just checked people into room #15 for one night and found a ‘folio’ (the written companion record for a guest stay) for a DIFFERENT couple for room #15 for two nights.

When I saw the second reservation and realized what happened I immediately began to sweat. I’m not going to lie. We were in deep doo-doo. There was no other hotel in this town, no air B&B, nothing.

The nearest lodging was another 25-minute drive away from us. On a busy weekend in the summer, it was VERY unlikely they’d have a room available. Literally there was “no room at the inn”.

I thought maybe I could catch this couple before they left Portland and took the hour 40-minute drive to us. So I called.

No luck. They were on their way. This was getting uncomfortable.

Quickly I called the hotel 25-minutes away and blurted out the emergency to the poor woman answering the phone. I was hoping to get everything out in hopes she’d have mercy and an open room. Miracle of miracles, they DID!! Friday night was secure.

Decision Time

Saturday night room #15 was open with us. Problem solved for night #2 IF they chose to give us a second chance!

What would you do? Would you send your guest to your competition and have the guest pay for their hotel room? Reasonable?

Paying for their lodging on Friday night would, most likely, meet expectations. Our goal was to exceed expectations and transform some ticked off people into super fans.

For this VERY uncomfortable situation, just securing alternate lodging wasn’t going to cut it.

I turned to staff and asked them,

  • “What would blow you away as a customer?”
  • “What would have to happen in this situation to make US their #1 place to book in the future?”

I took the uncomfortable job of greeting these guests when they came to check in. (To really make matters worse, upon arrival they said they were so sad they almost didn’t come, their dog died that morning. GHAD could this be any more horrible?!!)

What happened? I put on more deodorant and used the three-step process to fix the error and transform these guests.

Because we had multiple trainings on utilizing our 3 steps to fix mistakes, staff decided:

  1. Pay for their room and treats Friday night.
  2. Saturday we’ll comp their room, wine, and our coffee infused, buttermilk chocolate cake.
  3. Gift them with a certificate for two nights’ stay to be used by them or given as a gift.

How Did it Go?

This couple ended up writing one of the nicest reviews we’d ever received. They tipped staff generously. Staff were beaming, they were honored and proud to be empowered to take care of these guests. And I went home for the weekend.

Besides being a heck-of-a-lot of fun for staff, empowering staff with training to create happy customers is key to creating a profitable, successful business (and being able to put your feet up).


If you’re interested in training that empowers your team to transform customers to loyal fans EVEN WHEN mistakes have been made, check out The Power of People Academy

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