LEAD through Service Failures

One of my favorite things to do is watch failure happen. That doesn’t sound very leader-like, does it? I’m not saying I like to trip toddlers or give team members impossible assignments. But how we handle failure is an immediate barometer of our leadership.

Photo Credit: SigNote, CC
Photo Credit: SigNote, CC

Failure happens. When it does, a little preparation will pay off. In my career(s), I’ve heard a lot of methods for dealing with problems. They range from “Give them a free hamburger– that’ll shut them up” to “Never give them free stuff” to complex he-says-you-say scenarios.

The best advice I ever got about handling service failures came from a theme park manager. When it comes to solving problems and recovering from service failure, we have to LEAD:

Listen. No, really. Just shut up and listen. Ask clarifying questions if you need to. Don’t defend yourself or your team. Don’t start preparing your response. Just listen.

Empathize. The key is to understand what happened from the customer’s or client’s perspective, how it made them feel. When you start to respond, lead with “Wow. I can imagine how frustrating this has been for you.” Acknowledge and validate their feelings. Just don’t dip into patronizing or minimizing or drawn-out language.

Apologize. Even if you’re sure the breakdown wasn’t your or your team’s fault, apologize. You can at least say “I’m so sorry we let you down.” Apologizing continues the validation you started by empathizing with the customer or client; a genuine apology– even when it wasn’t your fault– will win a customer back.

Direct. Let the customer or client know what you’re going to do to fix it. Let me discourage you from saying “She’s ’bout to get fired. Wanna watch?” Give the customer a brief summary of what you think needs to happen to fix the problem. At the end, ask “Is that a solution that works for you?” Take a little time and listen to how the customer thinks you need to solve the problem.

(Silent D) Do It. This wasn’t originally included. But once you’ve lined out a solution, make sure it gets done. It’s easy to walk through a canned apology and assure a customer some solution…and then carry on with your day. As soon as possible, execute the solution. Fix the problem.

I’ve used this method over and over in multiple settings. That doesn’t seem like a strong statement of my leadership! “Oh yeah, I fail all the time!” Can I tell you a secret?

Each of these skills are required in leadership anyway. We have to know how to listen. We need to step into our team’s shoes and imagine how decisions affect them. We need to humble ourselves and apologize. We need to be able to clearly and concisely communicate solutions. We’ve got to carry through and get it done.

The next time you’re dealing with a service failure– LEAD(D) your way through it!

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10 thoughts on “LEAD through Service Failures

  1. Justin,

    Some things change over time, and some things don’t. I learned LEAD with Hyatt hotels years ago and still use it today, it works great. Social Media has added to the importance of using this approach and having great customer service! Jeff

    1. Couldn’t agree with you more, Jeff! It works in almost every situation. Social media is not a new frontier– it’s just a new medium for excellent relationships and great experiences.

  2. Great post. Thanks for this reminder. I really like the “silent D” and think it may be the most important. Do it is that action part. We can successfully get through the others but, until there is action, the customer does not really care about the others.

    1. Exactly! The Silent D is often overlooked. If we don’t follow-through, though, the experience is the opposite of genuine. People think that customers have low expectations of service these days. I would argue that they want deeper relationships with fewer providers. There’s no faster way to kill a relationship than to prove yourself untrustworthy!

  3. Hey Justin: I just discovered your site through Dan Black’s. Good stuff. Like the look and this was a great post. I think listening is huge. Listening to others really brings value to them. You can never go wrong with listening more and speaking less (at least in most situations).

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