Customer Loyalty: Problem Free VS Problem Freed

Customer Loyalty 1Picture this…

A hotel guest visits the tennis court with her daughter. The hotel has one child’s racquet for the use of guests but it is being used on the other court. Imagine the child’s immediate sadness at the thought of no tennis with Mum. However, the guest ends up being a real fan of the hotel?

How? By the hotel’s understanding of the difference between being problem freed and problem free – a key to customer loyalty.

Problems can be opportunities in business. I remember taking a long haul haul flight in February 2014 (completely true experience, though I’ll not mention the airline). I was in economy but had paid extra for a seat with more leg room. The video screen in the seat next to me was not working. The gentleman occupying that seat was not happy! After all, he was going to be in that seat for the next 13 or so hours.

He protested – politely – to the attendants on board but became quite frustrated when all they could say was that they’d reset the system, but still no joy. The passenger even asked how much it would cost to upgrade to business class but the staff said they had no capacity to take money on board so it couldn’t be done. He was apologised to profusel, but still left with a dysfunctional entertainment system.

Hold that thought for a moment.

Steve Martin (not the actor) reported in an excellent book “The Small Big” that it wasn’t the guests who had a seamless stay with a hotel who reported the highest satisfaction ratings and future loyalty; rather, it was those who experienced a service stumble that was immediately put right by the hotel staff.

Customer LoyaltyThe exact reason is not clear. It could be that the guests believe they received “special attention” or that they think that future problems will be handled equally well.

The key is to recognise that directing resources towards being perfect, aka “problem free”, is less likely to be effective (and be much more expensive) than directing them to the goal of resolving mistakes and problems quickly: “problem freed”.

This is only possible with a team who understands that the purpose of the organisation (be it a hotel, company or airline) is grounded in its value system, and is given the authority to act on their judgement.

Back to my neighbour on the flight…

Business class on that flight was almost completely empty and only about six feet from where we were sitting. When we’d taken off and things had settled down, couldn’t the guest have been quietly moved into a seat with a good screen? He could have been given a better meal too, but it wouldn’t have mattered all he wanted was to watch a couple of videos. If that had happened, I’d be willing to bet that he’d tell a few stories about his trip with a lot of extra legroom and more movie selection, instead of complaining to a much wider audience (human nature unfortunately) about how he suffered all the way.

Oh and as for the tennis racquet? A member of the hotel staff runs down the road to the local sports store, buys a cheap kids racquet, runs back and a grateful child and parent plays tennis. The family becomes a big fan of the property, customer loyalty is gained, problem freed!

Learn more about how you can improve your customer loyalty by checking out Ian’s advice or contacting him.

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