Wednesday evening I had the privilege of attending the Helios HR reception for award finalists at 2941 restaurant in Virginia. Receptions including cocktails and appetizers should be fun and it was quite fun until I went to get my car from the valet.
I lined up with the other guests, not worried that the line was long, we were all jovial and laughing and giving the valet our tickets. As the people behind me were getting into their cars, the panic and joking that they lost my car, was the topic of conversation. And then the line was empty and the real panic really set in. My two colleagues were reassuring that my car was somewhere, one even went up the stairs to see if it was parked in the lot, while another went to the valet shed to see what the problem was.
As it turns out the valet could not find my keys. A minor issue. However, in my mind some valet was joy riding with my fire engine red car and my children’s car seats in the back — as well as other scary, anxiety ridden thoughts.
In the end, my keys were located (by my colleague) and my car was safe and sound. But on the way home, my colleague and I talked about how this is a wonderful lesson on customer service and what not to do both with customers and employees you manage.
- Be Transparent – don’t give away company secrets but be up front with people. I would have felt completely different if the valet had come to me and said, “Ma’am, I’m really sorry for the delay, but we cannot locate your keys.” It would have eased so much anxiety that I was having. Being upfront with customers (and employees) about difficult situations alleviates the unknown and keeps everyone from assuming the worst It also begins a dialogue and in this situation I could have said, “Do you want me to come help find the keys?” The customer/employee may have a solution or a different perspective that may solve the issue.
- Take Responsibility – own up to a mistake/problem. “I’m sorry” goes a lot farther in this world then “I didn’t do it.” When we own up to mistakes with our customers and employees we are showing that we are accountable for our actions and that we want to learn from our mistakes and make them better, not repeat them. We “buy” credibility with our constituents by taking that accountability and therefore the next time we mess up, and there will be a next time, we have more rope because that constituency knows that it was not done from malice or ill-intent but rather just human nature.
- Coachable Moment – talk about the situation immediately. Don’t let moments of learning fester or wait until a formal setting. If that was my employee, I would have pulled him aside and asked him how we could have made the situation better for the customer and what we learned from the experience. I would have shared with him my views on transparency and taking responsibility.