Ruling at recovery: Five ways to make mistakes “moments to remember”

My mom was recently in Colorado visiting us. One evening when I got home from work, there was a bouquet of flowers on the counter. My mom has quite a green thumb and these flowers seemed to be dying. It was unusual, so I asked, “What’s the story with the flowers?” My mom laughed and proceeded to share with me that she had gone shopping for flowers for our front porch.

She told me that she was looking for a certain type of flower and was not able to find it within the store. This particular store employs greeters who also connect with shoppers as they exit. As she was on her way out, the gentleman asked my mom, “Did you find everything today?” She said, “No, I was looking for this particular flower and didn’t find it, could you help me?” He said, “No, but would you like some free flowers?” He handed her a bouquet of dying flowers. Always one to be gracious, my mom thanked the greeter and headed out to her car. On the way out, she almost immediately found the flowers she had been looking for in a promotional display. She zipped back in the store to pay for the flowers and tried to avoid eye contact with the greeter, pleased that she had found what she came for and also a bit frustrated and confused by the overall experience.  

My family and I had a similar experience just this weekend at a local restaurant. We’ve become fans of this local spot as they have a nice outdoor seating section in the back that my daughter enjoys tremendously since many other families with kiddos go there as well. When we arrived, they were quite busy and we ended up with a table in the front of the restaurant. MacKenzie wanted to go out back and see who was there in case we knew anyone and when we got outside, there were at least two open tables. I went in to ask the hostess if we could move out to the back. She shared that the tables we saw were too big to seat a group of three, but she assured me that at least two tables were likely wrapping up and they’d move us as soon as those tables vacated.

We returned to our table and enjoyed an appetizer. Our waiter came back and we placed our order. I returned to the hostess and asked again about moving and she again assured me that they would be moving us soon. Our food came, we ate, MacKenzie asked to go outside again and we did, only to find two empty smaller tables. MacKenzie asked me why we weren’t being moved and I said, “I’m not sure, but we’ll find out.” As we approached the hostess stand, she looked at me and within seconds showed a look of dread. Clearly, she had forgotten about moving us. She looked away. I took MacKenzie to our table and went inside to talk with the hostess. She said, “Sorry about that, we were just really busy in the back today.” Without waiting for a response, she rushed to a group of waitstaff and started to whisper. We paid our bill and left. My husband Scott and I discussed our frustration and started talking about other places we could go in the future.

At Canvas, we know that we exist as a credit union to serve our members. We ask for feedback from our members across all experiences including transactions, new account openings, loans and more. We know that we will never be perfect, but we ask for the input so that we can learn, grow and improve the experience. In those cases where we hear that we really missed the mark, we have a process by which our leaders reach out to our members to apologize and talk directly with our members in order to apply the learning.

Planning for service recovery is imperative to creating a culture of exceptional service. As humans, we will make mistakes. In fact, beyond human error, our systems will fail us at times too. Thoroughly understanding our approach and setting expectations with our teams about how we react when things go wrong, ensures that we will recover more quickly, retain our members, and ultimately turn those occasional mistakes into moments of truth.

From our recent service experiences, here are five ways to prepare for service recovery:

  1. Be upfront that mistakes will happen. No employee wants to fail. Most of us fear failure and the personal consequences we may face if we make an error. Ensuring that our leaders prepare our teams to know that we expect occasional mistakes and prepare our teams with resources when those mistakes happen is critical to service recovery being handled well. Without this upfront approach, errors may be hidden and leaders may not even know when they occur.
  2. Educate, educate, educate. In both of our service experiences, additional education and learning might have helped the team members to be more successful. Imagine if the greeter had known about the flowers my mom was looking for or if the hostess had a tool to ensure that even on a busy night, she remembered we were waiting. At Canvas, we have a hotline we call “3411.” It is a dedicated number for our frontline team members so that if they don’t know an answer or have a member issue where they need help, they will have a resource immediately. We don’t lecture them about how they “should have known better” and they always know that they will have a knowledgeable resource on the other end of the line. We then analyze the kinds of questions we receive to continue to grow our learning efforts with our team.
  3. Arm frontline team members with tools to quickly respond. A few years ago, I was in a Starbucks in Savannah, GA. I had just finished a run and was excited to snag some caffeine. The staff was super engaging and friendly. I placed my order and waited. 10 minutes passed. The woman who took my order looked over at one point and saw I was still waiting. She immediately said, “I’m so sorry. Let’s get your coffee right now and here is a small token because we never want you to have to wait so long.” She handed me a $10 gift card, nearly immediately got me my coffee and I was on my way. She didn’t have to ask permission, she had a plan in place and she knew how to respond when something didn’t go well. This preparation ensured she could act quickly and make things right. It’s empowerment at its best.
  4. Create appropriate offerings for when things go wrong. In my mom’s past-their-prime flower story, the empowerment had been created and the individual was ready to act to make things right. However, the offering that he was provided or that he found actually made things worse. If resources are limited or lacking, it is better to simply provide a sincere apology rather than to give a token that does not represent your organization well.
  5. Practice and role play. Even the best-intentioned and well-trained team member can get intimidated by situations that have gone wrong. In a classroom setting, we might review service recovery and it will all seem very logical. When it actually happens and a team member is faced with a frustrated or angry member, they may freeze or not know how to respond. There is no doubt the hostess at our local restaurant saw how disappointed we were and feeling that frustration may have simply wanted to avoid a tough conversation. At Canvas, we are in the midst of iteratively reviewing our new hire orientation curriculum. We recognize that while there is lots of good content, we have an opportunity to add more learning connected to how we interact with members and deal with tough situations. We often focus so much on systems and process, we do not leave enough time for how to engage with members once we understand those systems and processes. Practicing and preparing will help team members to be ready for those difficult responses and be armed with answers that will de-escalate and reengage our members.

All of us want to provide exceptional service to our members. Our frontline team members care deeply as well. Errors will still occur. Preparation and practice can help us ensure that our members are sharing stories about how well we recovered instead of asking their friends for recommendations about another financial institution.

Tansley Stearns

Tansley Stearns

Tansley Stearns is the president & ceo at Community Financial Credit Union. “No” is not a word in Tansley’s vocabulary. If there is an opportunity to bolster Community Financial Credit ... Web: Details