A recent lost luggage experience with Express Jet reminded me why most companies fail when things go badly. First and foremost, they don't recognize the grand opportunity inherent with all mistakes...the ability to surprise people with immediate and unexpected results. Instead, they think average...offer an apology, maybe a credit voucher and try to do just enough to get the complainer out of your hair for the least amount of trouble and money. These are the companies that miss the point...and the chance to be much better than everyone else...and to win.
The key to all customer complaints, screw-ups and problems is to shock people with actions they don't expect (in a good way, of course). If you do anything less than that, you're mediocre. Here's more insight why it rarely happens...
Accepting Responsibility- Most employees are taught to apologize. Very few are given the latitude to say "it's our fault". Apologizing is important...it's expected. But, accepting responsibility is vital...it demonstrates a genuine interest to solve the problem and make someone happy...and, it's rarely done at the front line.
Front-Line Ownership- Almost every organization sets-up rules and policies which get in the way of efficiently solving problems at the point of customer contact, which is precisely when and where customers want action. Often, a lack of investment and trust in the staff sets-up a fear-based bureaucracy with layers of supervisory approvals necessary to get anything outside of the rule book accomplished.
Improv and Immediacy- Most employees are trained to follow rules and scripts which are developed around prescribed scenarios. The problem is that most customer issues don't follow the script...they happen because somewhere, someone colored outside the lines. And then, the system fails because there's no prescribed answer and time is needed to obtain blessings from bosses to move off the script. Customers don't have time or the patience for your system...they go somewhere else.
There are two objectives every company should put at or near the top of their strategic plan...1. Hospitality First- infuse your organization with a hospitality attitude...give people what they want, and deliver it in a meaningful way; and, 2. Trust- Allow every front-line team member to solve every problem. Find a way to do these two things well, and you will be way ahead of everyone else.
Oh...and as far as my luggage, After a dozen phone calls, three e-mails, two trips to get things I desperately needed, and a debate with the Albuquerque GM about receipts and audit policy (long story), my carry-on bag arrived a week later, albeit in a pretty rough state. The hassle factor is alive and well...just like I expected.