What can go wrong may go wrong
‘’We are glad that we were able to meet your expectations during your recent stay with us. We however note that your wake up call and missed airport transfer did not meet your expectations, this is being addressed and we hope we can be of help during your next visit.”
This is an excerpt from an email sent to me in December 2011 by the General Manager of Nairobi Serena hotel in Nairobi, Kenya.
Here is an account of the series of events that triggered this email.
In December 2011, I planned to attend Convergence Africa, a conference for entrepreneurs, investors and policy-makers in Africa. Nairobi, Kenya was the host city. I went to popular travel review web portal, tripadvisor.com to decide which hotel to stay. Nairobi Serena hotel had an 87.9 per cent approval rating from travelers.
This five star hotel looked grand, imperial, and seemed service friendly…just the kind of place I needed. I made an online booking for a room and airport transfer service on the hotel’s aesthetic, easy to use website. I immediately received an email stating, ‘Dear Dr. Anderson, transfer has been confirmed. Our driver will have our paging board bearing your names at the international arrival exit.’ I couldn’t wait to get to Nairobi.
We arrived Jomo Kenyatta Airport about 2am one cold morning in December 2011. I waited for over 35 minutes for the driver at the designated point. I eventually left for the hotel in one of the airport taxis. This was service failure number one. I thought to myself, ‘what can go wrong may go wrong’.
I got to the hotel about 4am tired and disappointed. The front desk officer apologised for the mix up and I decided to let things be. My immediate challenge was to catch some sleep before the conference opened at 8am. I requested to be woken up at 6am.
The room was grander than I had imagined but at that point it was the least of my considerations. I was soon fast asleep. I woke up abruptly at 7am – obviously the front desk officers had failed to wake me up. This was service failure number two – a real nightmare. It was another vivid reminder that ‘what can go wrong may go wrong’.
There was no time to waste. I hurriedly had my bath, jumped into my clothes and raced downstairs. I didn’t fly thousands of miles to miss this headline event.
Since I was leaving the hotel immediately, I would have to miss the complimentary buffet breakfast I was entitled to. This was service failure number three! Indeed what can go wrong had gone wrong!
I approached the front desk with steely determination. Co-incidentally I teach brand leadership in marketing, sales and customer experience management in some postgraduate schools. ‘The Nairobi hotel in question was not going to get off lightly. They had promised but three times out of three instances they had under delivered’.
It’s never too late to start afresh
A senior officer on duty rushed towards me apologising effusively. I was offered a complementary return drop to and from the Kenyatta International Conference Centre , the venue of the conference. On the bus, I was given a hot cup of rich Kenyan tea and that day’s newspaper. The driver was apologetic, empathetic and genuinely helpful. I soon warmed up to him.
The conference went very well. I got back that night to find an envelope on my bed. It was a letter of apology from the hotel addressed to me. The letter chronicled the three instances they had let me down. I was offered a complimentary airport drop off and a complimentary buffet lunch or dinner. The letter came across as honest, heartfelt and most importantly it had executive support. The hotel’s Deputy General Manager signed the letter. What more could I have asked for? In an environment where organisations are long on talk about service delivery but short on execution, this was personalised service recovery in action. I was now an advocate for life.
For the rest of my stay it seemed to me that I got a little more attention from the hotel staff than the average guest. There were no more ‘incidents’ and I experienced the joys of staying in a five-star hotel. At the end of my trip, I was sad to leave. Nairobi Serena Hotel had become a home away from home.
Lessons from Nairobi Serena hotel
Here are some unforgettable lessons:
• Even the best brands sometimes get it wrong. Since what can go wrong may go wrong, don’t wish off bad service. Rather plan for service recovery. Find one reason to make it happen for the customer and don’t give another excuse why it can’t and won’t happen.
• Leaders lead service recovery from the front – with credibility, sincerity of purpose and commitment.
• The hotel created a system whereby service recovery was everyone’s business. People were not afraid to report their service failures to their superiors. Employees were also empowered to win back the customer. After the incidents, employees were told to be extra nice to me and they were! Letting your people fail forward is a great approach to service recovery!
I continue to share this experience in my classes and in avenues like this. Many times we neglect the customers we already have for the ones we desire. It is not too late to win back your disgruntled and passive customers.
Don’t let them take their frustrations with your brand to social media. As a social brand, the hotel sure has a thing or two to teach us. Service recovery starts with making a plan for ‘what can go wrong ‘ and following through with such a plan when things go wrong.
This post also appeared in the Punch Newspapers. Click Here