Thursday, July 3, 2008

Learning from failure

Why is it that someone slipping on a banana skin is funny, while other people laughing as you take the fall is no joke at all? I mention this because I am still laughing at the misfortunes of one of my Fallon colleagues, Laurence Green. The man is a fantastic storyteller. I’m no fan of flying or bad hotels, so when I see an article headed 'Traveling without toothpaste', I feel the pain before I read the first paragraph.

Laurence’s account of a nightmare flight and hotel deserves to become a classic of the travel genre, and even better, he pulls some smart customer service tips out of the experience. The scenario is simple. Laurence is caught in one of those “we’ll be taking off any minute (read hour) now” flights that inevitably heads for a substitute airport. The first big service snafu occurs on landing when the pilot announces that he’s “sorry for the anxious moments”. As Laurence relates, he wasn’t even aware there had been any such moments! Then of course once they stumble out of the plane there is no one to assist them. Here, Laurence gets dramatic. “There is only one person who can help and they’re trying to get hold of him. (Cut to image of Cary Grant, or similar, sleeping next to beautiful wife in full uniform. Him, that is, not her. The big bedside phone rings. He’s wanted at Midway.)”. Eventually Laurence gets to a Hilton and the customer-o-meter plunges further. His examples may seem trivial when you’re comfortably settled at home, but if you’ve ever been far from everything familiar, in a place you don’t want to be anyway, you run on emotion. Laurence’s attempts to find a corkscrew mean the mini-bar sensor charges up a storm of bills, and (of course) the toothpaste never turns up. The final blow is the delights of self service checkout out in the morning.

Laurence lessons from all this?

• If you can’t walk the customer service walk, don’t talk it.
• Don’t paint customer service onto your organization, live it.
• Exploit crises as customer service opportunities.
• Be careful what you say and how you say it.
• Don’t get greedy.
• Don’t outsource customer service to the customer.


Sophee McPhee said...

I believe one would be wise to apply many of Laurence's lessons to any significant relationship in life. Whether it is a romantic, friendship-based or a business relationship, long-term success and sustainability rely on authenticity, trust, mutual benefit (i.e. give & take) and an eye for growth opportunities/finding new ways to meet each others' needs. It's amazing how many people have fruitful relationships in one aspect of their lives, yet malnourished ones in other areas (e.g. successful account managers with failed marriages)...after all, at the end of the day, aren’t all relationships based on the same general principles?

Mary@GoodlifeZen said...

Congratulations on an interesting blog, Kevin.

Although this post is narrow in focus - taking as examples customer service disasters during 1. class travel - there are also wider implications.

Every interaction with another human being is 'customer service' or 'service to another'. Adapting your lessons to this wider field could mean:

# Don't just talk about kindness and respect, live it.
# Every difficult interaction is also an opportunity.
# Be careful what you say and how you say it.
# Walk in the shoes of another.
# Don't outsource kindnes and compassion.


Peter said...

Ironic that sometimes the most obvious things an(y) organistaion could/should be doing are lost between the trees of the big picture...

Piotr Jakubowski said...

I've always found that acting nice and calm usually gets a similar response. There are however, situations where that is impossible.

A few years ago I had a similar situation when I was flying back from a trip to Asia. My trip to LA took about 20 hours, then my trip from LA to Des Moines (which should take about 5 total) took another 25. And this was long before that JetBlue issue at JFK became a problem.

I think the most important aspect of the whole situation is for these companies to hire people who are their brand. When people live your brand, they are a lot more in touch with the customer service aspect of it as well.