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.