Embrace Your Mistakes

Have you ever had a trip go awry on a client and eventually realized that it was your fault? Perhaps you didn't reconfirm the airport transfer and the limo didn't show up, or, even worse, there was a miscommunication with the hotel and there was no room at the inn for your client when they arrived at 10 p.m.

This type of problem occurs rarely, but it does happen. If you do have that distinct moment of horror when you realize that you or your staff have left your client stranded, or worse, routed them to Portland, Oregon, instead of Portland, Maine, what can you do to recover?

Danny Meyer, the amazingly successful New York restaurateur, in his new book, "Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business," advises that you embrace your mistakes. It's all based upon his philosophy of practicing the art of "enlightened hospitality." I heard Meyer speak last week at the American Express Publishing Luxury Summit, which is a dynamic event that pulls together leaders in the luxury retail arena. During his presentation, Meyer gave the following tips for recovering from a mistake and noted that if they are properly implemented, the relationship you have with your customer will be even stronger than if everything had gone perfectly.

Top Tips

    First off, put yourself in a position so that you are aware of the mistake. In the travel agent arena, this means following up with your client to see how their trip went. Not every customer calls to complain about a snafu right after it happened. Instead, some just walk away, vowing to never book your services again.

    Once you've discovered the error, acknowledge it. No one likes a backtracker. If it's your mistake, own up to it.

    After acknowledging it, apologize. Let there be no question about how you feel about the problem. Even if you perceive it to be a tiny one, say you're sorry.

    Take accountability for the problem and the solution. It's easy to apologize, because words don't cost a thing. How can you go about resolving the problem the client has experienced? Don't leave this task to someone else to handle. Resolve the issue, whether it's a refund, a discount on a future trip or waiving the consultation fee that you charged your client for trip planning.

    Next, Meyer advises that you take the opportunity to be extra generous. Wow the client with your apology. Refunds are great, but they don't make up for lost vacation time. What pushes your clients' happiness button? If they've already arrived home, send them a case of their favorite wine. Don't scrimp. Are they still on their trip? Get them the grandest upgrade to their hotel room possible. You get the picture. Kill them with kindness even if it costs you a few bucks.

      At the same time, do learn from your mistakes. If you're a manager, review with your staff what went wrong and why. Also, be sure to spell out specific instructions to prevent such an error from happening again.

      While you're at it, practice apologizing with your staff. Ross Klein, president of the Starwood Luxury Brand Group, says that W Hotels has such a practice called the "Whoops" program. "We apologize better than anyone else," says Klein.

      Personally, I think that's a great idea. No one likes to get a call from an irate client, but if you're at least prepared for it, it helps. Create a script that you can all practice from, with one of you playing the screaming client, the other acting as the contrite-yet-in-control agent. Be sure to practice going off script, too, so that the apology sounds natural; no one likes to feel they're being patronized, especially when they're furious.

      Empower your staff, if they get the call and you are not available, to not only apologize on the agency's behalf, but to take accountability and to try to win them back with a bountiful solution. Perhaps you can have a set of practices in place that allows them to choose from a list of generous resolutions.

      Last But Not Least

      Meyer suggests being accessible if problems arise. What's worse than having a complaint and having no one to speak to? That only compounds the issue 10 times over and dramatically reduces the chance of ever recovering from your mistake.

      Needless to say, there are some problems that cannot be forgiven. If your office has sent your clients to the wrong city, or caused them to somehow miss their cruise ship's departure, there may be no recovery. If that's the case, suck it up and move on. I'm sure Meyer is the first to admit that hospitality is a moving object and one that at times cannot be tamed.

      This innovative philosophy emphasizes putting the power of hospitality to work in a new and counterintuitive way: The first and most important application of hospitality is to the people who work for you, and then, in descending order of priority, to the guests, the community, the suppliers and the investors. This way of prioritizing stands the more traditional business models on their heads, but Danny considers it the foundation of every success that he and his restaurants have achieved.

      Ruthanne Terrero, CTC EDITORIAL DIRECTOR [email protected]


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