When Things Go Wrong – And They Will!

Posted on 19. Nov, 2010 by in Managing Experiences

“Disaster recovery” is something that large organizations trained in quality control principles recognize to be a necessary component of their operations.  They know exactly how they want a process (like guest registration at a hotel) to proceed, but they also recognize that occasionally things won’t go as planned.  In these few instances of failure, they provide a roadmap for employees to put things right.  These roadmaps (for many different anticipated failures) are their disaster recovery plans.

At the Ritz

A disaster recovery policy at one time in place at Ritz Carlton Hotels has become a legendary example.  Reportedly employees were given “Ritz Carlton dollars” to help ameliorate the angst of guests who encountered problems during their stay at a Ritz property.  Maybe requested turn-down service wasn’t rendered.  No problem; the housekeeping staff or front desk personnel could offer the complaining guest a complimentary manicure or dessert.  Employees were kept in reasonable tow by being allocated a fixed number of Ritz dollars every week which they issued to guests to pay for the proffered offering.

Despite the specifics of the Ritz-Carlton example, disaster recovery is generally not about “buying back” a customer or guest.  Instead the philosophy is to show concern that an organization didn’t live up to the needs or expectations of a guest and is truly sorry.  Obviously if turn-down service isn’t provided, there’s likely a systemic problem with scheduling or personnel that needs to be corrected – but the more immediate “guest-facing” solution is to show concern and regret by doing something that will be both unexpected and appreciated.

Disaster Recovery Isn’t Well Known

My reason for this particular blog is that while big organizations generally understand all of this, disaster recovery may not be understood or appreciated by smaller organizations.  My case in point, is a recent dinner at a local restaurant.  My wife and I invited several couples to join us at a new restaurant we had discovered which had delighted us on several previous visits.  Upon arrival we were greeted by the hostess-co-owner and in turn we introduced our guests as referrals we wished to have experience her restaurant.

Uncharacteristic of previous visits to the restaurant, from our arrival things deteriorated quickly.  It seems that the kitchen (the hostess’s husband) was over-taxed by a full house.  Our appetizers came out in a reasonably timely fashion, but then there was an hour’s wait for our entrées.  In short, a disaster was occurring.

Thanks, But No Thanks!

When I explained to the Hostess how unfortunate the delay was, I was treated to a defensive discourse about how busy the kitchen was….and that my guests and I should have more patience.  This response illustrates how organizations without instituted disaster recovery plans often extemporaneously attempt to solve a problem.  They become rationally self-defensive.  But customers almost never want to understand the difficulties a service provider is experiencing.  From their more emotional perspective, they simply wish to enjoy timely and thorough service!  The bottomline?  When a business lacks a scripted or well thought-out disaster recovery plan, the ensuing explanations often enlarge the disaster rather than curing it.

This example also characterizes another failure of many organizations.  Diners at the restaurant weren’t the only ones aware of a problem; the wait-staff and kitchen staff should have been aware of their difficulties in meeting the evening’s demand.  In such situations, some organizations will adopt an ostrich demeanor by stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the developing problem as if ignoring the problem will make it go away.  If a member of the wait-staff had confronted the problem and had actively informed us that the kitchen was having difficulties, we would have been fore-warned and might have accepted conditions more cordially.  In addition, if a gratis appetizer had been offered it could have minimized the pain of the wait.  And, a full-scale disaster could have been avoided.

So the key learning here is to assume the worst – that you won’t always properly deliver your customers the experience you wish them to have.  In these few situations of failing you need a disaster recovery process which will lead your employees through a well-planned solution that will minimize the angst of your affected customers.  These processes will be your disaster recovery systems.


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