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Have you ever made a mistake? How about one that directly impacted one of your customers, clients or guests? We've all made mistakes, but it's how you deal with them that's the real important issue.
You'd think the more money you spend the better service (and the faster mistake resolution) you would receive. Well, turns out nothing could be farther from the truth. Let me tell you my experience with two airlines I had last month. Both are US carriers. Both made mistakes. However, that's really where the similarities end.
If you know anything about providing good service to your customers, then you know that mistakes are one of the best opportunities to make a positive impression on your customers. Actually it's not the mistakes, but how you handle them that makes or breaks the relationship with your client.
[Side note: Ever since I've heard Horst Schulze, the former CEO of the Ritz-Carlton, speak about service (read more on that in "What I learned about service from a wise hotelier"), I've become very interested in watching how the brands I use provide customer service and am working hard to build a customer service focused company myself.]
Mistake #1: I booked a business class ticket to Asia on United Airlines (@United). Price of the ticket $2,445.76. Multiply that by three for the rest of the team that is flying with me and we're spending close to $7,500.- on that flight. When we arrive in Saigon 5 out of 6 checked bags don't make it. Even though they are tagged 'Premiere Service' and are supposed to be off the aircraft before any other bags. 2 days later 4 out of the 5 missing bags make it to the hotel, but the 5th bag -one of my bags- takes a full week to get to my hotel. But it's not the mistake that makes me upset with United Airlines.
Mistake #2: I booked a flight for my wife and daughter to evacuate before a hurricane hits Florida on Spirit Airlines (@SpiritAirlines). Price of both ticket $318.11. Their connecting flight in Houston is overbooked, so they decide to give up their seats for a free travel voucher and a flight later that day. Houston had just been hit by a hurricane a few days earlier, and Spirit's systems are down, so all of this is being done by hand. When my wife checks a few days later, there are no travel vouchers to her name and the call center tells her that their records indicate she was on the Spirit flight, even though Spirit paid for a change to fly them on United.
OK, like I said mistakes happen - we all make them - it's in how you solve them that makes the difference. In the interest of full disclosure, I personally have made the exact mistake that United had made, when I worked for an airline in college. I routed a bag onto the wrong flight and my boss at the time sat me down once they figured out what had happened and explained to me the inconvenience I had caused one of their customers. I never made that mistake again.
"A key principle in fixing a problem is to resolve the customer's sense of injustice–of having been wronged or let down." write Leonardo Inghiller and Michah Solomon in their book Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The secret of building a five-star customer service organization. "You can find a way yo restore the smile to almost any customer's face, wether it's a free upgrade or a more creative offering."
Let's look at how these two companies address their mistakes. On the face of these two examples, you would think that United would be much more interested to solve a mistake they made to a $7500 customer than Spirit would want to solve a mistake they made to a $300 customer. Well I was surprised too. Here's what happened:
As a small business owner, I am always reevaluating the priority and focus of my business. Last year I looked at all of the processes that go into creating a visual content production and automated many of them. In January of this year, I had the opportunity to watch “Design Disruptors,” and began thinking about at the UX or User Experience I create for my clients. This film challenged me to provide world-class service to my clients.
A few weeks ago, I was hired as a director of photography and first cameraman to cover the leadership conference of a medical company. The keynote speaker, Horst Schulze, talked all about providing world-class service. (You can read “What I learned from a wise hotelier.”) Even though his keynote speech was tailored to a medical company, his words focused the ideas and concepts, that are swirling around my mind for the last few months. That evening I ordered a book called “The new Gold Standard,” which describes the philosophy behind the world-class service at the Ritz-Carlton.
Listening to Mr. Schulze passionately speak about the four priorities every excellent company focuses on, clarified much of where I had to begin, but I wanted to experience this service for myself.
My family and I had found a super-affordable airfare to Aruba.When I saw that the island had a Ritz, I knew what I needed to do. A few hours after we’ve checked into our beach cabana, two of the gentlemen at the Ritz approach us:
“Mr. Depuhl, we’d like to give you and your family a gift, courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton,” Jason says. He’s been the gentleman, who’s been providing us with excellent service at the Ritz. It’s been a few hours since we’ve settled into our Beach Cabana, here in Aruba and the ladies and gentlemen are more fabulous than I expected (and I came here with very high expectations).
The green and white stripped branded tote bag, Roel is holding in his hands isn’t something we expected. However, before letting you take a peek inside the bag with me, let me tell you how we got onto the beach.
After listening to Mr. Schulze and reading the book, I’ve tried to figure out how to adapt the concepts that the Ritz-Carlton has engrained into their culture, into my business.
I started emailing the Ritz-Carlton in Aruba 2 days before we left for Aruba. Actually, it ended up getting sent to the wrong email address. Turns out the email I had found belongs the former hotel manager. He hasn’t worked in Aruba since 2013. Nevertheless, I get an answer from Justine, the Executive Administrative Assistant, who’s already reserved a Beach Cabana for me. Normally a guest has to make the reservation the day of the visit. She’s also copied Milli, the front desk manager into this email since Justine won’t be on the property the day that we’re coming.
Saturday morning, we drive up to the Ritz-Carlton. I get to chat with Milli about some of the things I’ve learned about the brand, and she’s kind enough to give me one of the credo cards, that every employee at the Ritz-Carlton carries on their person. These cards begin with the credo, contain the 12 service values – one of which is reinforced daily in the morning lineup, the three steps of service and the motto of the Ritz-Carlton:
We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.
OK. Back to the Beach Cabana in Aruba, with Jason standing by our day bed, green striped tote in hand. I’ve come to the Ritz-Carlton in Aruba, to experience their world-renowned service. Mind you we’re not staying here. We’re renting a Beach Cabana for the day. But you wouldn’t know it if you are observing the way the staff is treating us. Jason hands my wife and I the canvas bag. It contains (…)
94% of small business focus on the wrong priority. It’s a pretty big mistake to make if you want to take your business up to the next level, but the vast majority of small businesses are making it today. So was I.
I’ve been making this mistake for the past 25 years. At first, I felt pretty bad about that, but then I wanted to see if other small businesses are making the same mistake. So I created a poll on SurveyMonkey and asked other entrepreneurs to rate their business priorities. The pie chart on the right shows the answer over 200 small businesses. Surprisingly less than 10% got this right.
I’ve been thinking about the UX (User Experience) I create for my clients in 2017. And I really got challenged by Horst Schulze, when I was fortunate enough to film the former CEO of Ritz-Carlton at a keynote speech a few weeks ago.
(You can read a bit more about that talk on my blog post: What I learned about service from a wise hotelier).
Mr. Schulze talked about the four priorities that every successful company needs to have in the right order to excel. Here they are in no particular order:
When I looked at my company’s priorities, I was surprised to learn that I’ve focused on the wrong priority for over 20+ years. Don’t get me wrong all four are vital to a company, but one is more essential than the other three.
You can take the poll “What’s the number One priority of your business” here and see how you stack up against other small businesses. Then let me know – are you in the 94% that get it wrong or in the 6% that are doing it right?
I for one intend to shift my company to focus on the one most important priority and that change will take place over the course of the next few months.
UPDATE: Strictly Business, the blog of the American Society of Media Photographers just reposted this article. I’m thrilled to see that their readers are selecting the most important priority of an excellent business by a 2 to 1 margin.
For the past 25 years, I’ve done it wrong. Thankfully I heard an expert talk about service and I’m going to course correct my small business focus starting today.
12 years ago, I started using a CRM (Customer Relationship Management system) to efficiently combine all client data in one place. Their contact info, calendar, tasks, documents and the process lives in the cloud and is easily accessible.
One of the aspects that I love about my job as a cinematographer and photographer is that I’m often in interesting places that are not accessible to everyone. I had the same honor last week, although I did not know that this video shoot would have such a profound impact on my business.
It started out simple enough, I got hired as a Director of Photography to oversee the filming of a leadership conference for a local medical company. It’s always fun to work with a group of skilled operators, and the company itself was fascinating, but it was the keynote that hit me between the eyes.
The speaker was former Ritz-Carlton President Horst Schulze, who is known for creating hotels with impeccable service and customer loyalty. If you haven’t heard about Mr. Schulze and you run a service company (like I do), you need to check out what he’s accomplished at Ritz-Carlton and now is doing at the Capella Hotel Group.
Schulze says “Great companies do four things: They keep their current customers, they find new ones, hopefully through the recommendation of existing customers, they make as much money as they can, and they are efficient.”
OK, granted it’s not rocket science, but this CEO is vehemently fixated on service. And that’s where I had my epiphany. I haphazardly focus on these 4 core principles as well:
Did you catch the mistake I’m making? It’s subtle – read the two lists again and see if you can spot it. Don’t feel bad if you can’t – I’ve done it wrong for a quarter century.
Let me walk through the four things every great company does
I’m good at that. Number one on page one in the organic search on Google for years. Many of my new customers find me online. Others find me through the local creative community, events and workshops I put on, etc. (Here’s how I get clients).
Last year was my best year that my business ever had. This year is on that track as well. I keep my overhead low and run a tight ship when it comes to the business framework I need to produce visual content.
Check. From the integration of my website and my CRM to automation of my business processes, efficiency and productivity are the names of the game. Not wasting resources in the creation of the video and photography productions I work on, goes right back into #2.
For crying out loud, I’m the guy that takes a picture of a Post-It note and have it create a bunch of digital assets as if by magic.
The majority of my client love the final product I create for them. The secret is simple: under promise and over deliver. Charge a fair price. Come in on budget and on time. And give something unexpected. Check out this video testimonial from Armpocket – a local company who found me online:
It’s so simple (actually that’s another quote from Horst Schulze) I have all the parts right.
But I’ve gotten it backward and that’s where listening to Horst Schulze by accident, made all the difference in my world. Here’s the way he sees these priorities:
He puts current costumers first (and probably second, third, fourth and fifth). Schulze is fanatic when it comes to serving his current customers. He says that service begins with the correct greeting, then it’s complying to your customer’s wishes and does not end until you say farewell. Where do I have my current clients? Dead last. Please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t ignore my current clients, and I have many that do repeat business with me, but I can learn a lot from the gentleman who builds the most luxurious hotel brand in the world. I’m just often taking them for granted (If you’re one of my current clients, let me say this: “I’m sorry for not putting you first and I promise you that I will do better. Starting now.)
Then I’m focused on making money – granted an incredibly important part of any business, since without running a profitable company, you’re gonna be out of business. What Schulze’s second focus? New clients. More accurately making your current customers so fiercely loyal, that his current customers will recommend his hotels to new customers.
Money is Mr. Schulze’s third point, which makes sense since your clients are the people who are paying you for, your service. Naturally, they should come before the money portion. However, he takes it a (big) step further. The former CEO of Ritz-Carlton said:
“Make as much money as you can. People see it as a contradiction between being a caring organization with integrity and making money. That’s ludicrous. Why should that be a contradiction? I wouldn’t be able to be that company that cares and has integrity if I wouldn’t make any profit. The two go together.“
So often I see creative professionals and small business owners, who have no idea of what they need to charge to run a profitable shop, because they don’t know the cost of doing business.
Last but not least comes efficiency. That’s the framework you need to run a prosperous business. Efficiency is the ability to create a product or provide a service, without wasting your resources. Being the freelance that talks a lot about how he uses efficiency, I am currently revamping my business system.
I have followed the workflow that my CRM has in place: people find me online (searchers), they find my website, like my work and contact me (leads). We start talking about the potential collaborations (opportunities), I get hired to do the job and deliver my videos and/or photos to my clients (deliverables). If you read my blog post on Post-It notes, you know that pink notes are leads, yellow notes are opportunities, green notes are jobs and blue notes are my deliverables.
Here’s where that system is going to shift to:
My primary focus will swing to serving my current clients, becoming the main focus of my business and pushing the current focus of generating new customers into second place. I love leads, really I get a kick out of the notifications I get on my phone, that let me know someone new has just filled out my contact form, but I need to realign my strategy with making my current clients the heroes of my company. Fortunately, Mr. Schulze spoke about the way to make your current clients fiercely loyal. He says it’s really easy, and if you do this one little thing, you own your industry.
All you have to do is to care a little more than the other guys.