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How to apologize the right way and keep the business

An email had just gone to corporate. Someone was unhappy. He was still in the hotel. We had 36 hours to fix the problem before he left unhappy and told everyone. The on-the-scene crash team descended on the situation.

The situation:

  1. A guest’s package was lost and two separate departments failed to follow up on the search.
  2. Housekeeping was goofing around and making a ruckus.
  3. The guest was unhappy with the under-construction temporary gym.
  4. The guest was the keynote speaker at a conference downstairs.

The response: Swarm the team to fix the problem.

  1. Email and phone apologies from the manager, assistant manager, and sales office.
  2. IT and housekeeping called with offers. Do you need a PC? A printer? A pillow?
  3. Get a big gift of wine and fruit to the room.
  4. Offer to move the guest to a different room.

The guest was out of the hotel and we couldn’t reach him. So implement a level 2 response:

  1. A voucher for a free two-night stay to make sure the guest came back and had a better experience.
  2. Gift certificates for future stays and free upgrades.
  3. A gift of a fancy book about the history of the hotel.

Result: It worked. The guest was thrilled with the response. The hotel proved that it really does care about its guests and serving them well.

Bonus: The next night, the guest found out his brother had booked a big meeting at the same hotel a few months later. The hotel saved a major contract.

I don’t know if I got a special response because I was the keynote speaker or because I’m a well-know word of mouth expert. But it doesn’t matter — a business that cares about fixing problems will assume that every customer has connections and influence. You need to make all of them happy, because you never know which one is going to be that critical contact you’ve been trying to sell to, is a blogger or a reporter, or is the assistant to your boss’s best friend.

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  1. Elizabeth Sealey - Customer Service Trainer January 22, 2010 at 12:27 am #

    Hi Andy

    Thanks for sharing this. In the UK there seems to be a school of thought that says never apolgise. I’ve experienced it myself and despite the manager saying that they “understand” my frustration nobody will ever say “I’m sorry”.

    Two powerful words that let the customer know that as a business you’re only human.

    Let’s hope some more companies latch on to this story.

    Elizabeth Sealey

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