I really only have two major vices in life: major league baseball and whirlpool suites. So I was really looking forward to combining the two on a trip to Pittsburgh last week, on a rare couple of days off.
Late that night, after watching the Pirates and Cubs go into extra innings, I finally pulled into the hotel – and after going through the pleasantries of checking in, the clerk casually mentions that, um, the whirlpool suites were all sold out.
So what about my guaranteed reservation for one? Made through the hotel chain’s own website? Here’s what I was told: “Sir, you have to understand that when you make a reservation through their (emphasis mine) website, you are reserving what we call a “flow” room. Because you showed up late, we couldn’t honor your request. In the future, if you want to make sure that you get a specific kind of room, you need to call us here at the hotel directly.”
Things actually turned out well in the end. After gently but firmly reorienting the desk clerk toward the idea that this should be his problem rather than mine – and that on my first vacation in months, sitting in a bathtub wasn’t going to do it for me – I eventually got sent to another hotel a half hour away with a whirlpool suite, and the next day they comped my room. But there is an important lesson for your business here: stop trying to explain yourself to customers.
Think about it. Do I care about “flow” rooms? Do I appreciate being lectured about being late? (Which wasn’t my fault, but rather the Pirates’ relievers.) Or having it implied that *I* somehow made a mistake by reserving a room on *their* website? Do you think I could possibly have any positive reaction to any of this?
It is our human nature, when we screw up, to try and explain it. Or worse, to imply that it’s somehow the other person’s fault. And yet this is the customer service equivalent of throwing chum to the sharks or pouring gasoline on a fire. It is a good thing that I empathize with someone stuck behind a hotel desk at midnight, because this person will probably experience a lot of anger from customers in their career unless they learn to communicate better.
So back to you, business owner. Want to avoid enraging customers and killing your brand? Just follow this simple three-step process:
1. Don’t create stupid rules.
2. If you create stupid rules anyway, don’t tell customers about them up front: They are your problem, not the customer’s.
3. Don’t even bother trying explain steps 1 and 2 to customers. Just focus on fixing the problem.
Put another way, you should rehearse what you say to customers when things go wrong. Workshop your language until it sounds awesome. Then train everyone on your team to say it, every time. The difference it will make for your business will be incredible. Try it and see!