Recently I rented a condo for my son in Whistler, Canada, so he could take his new bride skiing for her birthday. We made the reservation several months ago, were given a confirmation receipt, and told that all the instructions would be provided about two weeks in advance. Instructions such as: address, check in time, and how to get the key. Important things, right? About a week before their departure, my son called in a panic. No such communication had arrived. So, we had to drop what we were doing to find out what happened.

Our thoughts vacillated between – did they have a reservation, was the reservation lost, or did someone just screw up? The following week was agonizing with daily phone calls and emails trying to get the simplest of information. Was this trip going to happen? Surely it shouldn’t have been that hard. Then the day before departure, an email arrived in his inbox with all the details he’d been waiting for. It seemed rather anticlimactic after we had built ourselves into such a frenzy. Now that the long awaited email had finally arrived, the drama became a moot point. How do we the customer, who had suffered through this week-long agony, deal with the time lost and the negative energy expended to resolve the issue?

The rental agency was very kind. A staff member recognized they had dropped the ball and arranged for a condo upgrade that included its own private hot tub. For my son, there was a silver lining in the cloud. So happy ending!

But it doesn’t always turn out that way. I experienced a similar problem a couple of months before and my issue was also resolved at the last minute. Unfortunately, I didn’t get upgraded to a nicer place with a private hot tub. I guess I didn’t have the right customer service rep. As I look back at these two separate instances with a similar problem, but one having a better payoff, I realize the silver lining was not in the upgrade, but was in the entrepreneurial lesson learned during the crisis.

The rental agency’s system for notifying their customers two weeks in advance with the details had a huge flaw in it, coupled with inconsistent customer service. My son had a representative who owned the problem and tried to create a happy customer. I was not so lucky. My loss of “time” in dealing with the problem, coupled with my anxiety, my pain, and suffering was never rewarded.  So, it set me to thinking, maybe some representatives aren’t empowered to help a customer or maybe some just don’t care. I used to work with an insurance agency where the customer service representatives were empowered and given a budget to send out gifts or notes when they feel the need. Sometimes it was a thank you card or gift for getting the sale, or just a token of appreciation, or similar to our situation, to appease someone who had a bad experience. The point is the company allowed their staff to take ownership of their relationships.

As business owners we don’t need to empower anyone else. The responsibility lies with us. So, the lesson I learned is not only do I want to be known for a great product and service, but I also want to have a great reputation for treating my customers with care and love. Their time is precious, so I want to make sure their experience with me is positive and not negative. I might not always be able to deliver that but it will never be from lack of trying.

The silver lining of this experience was imagining being in the shoes of my customer and using that experience to help me be a better business owner.  I hope my silver lining will be an inspiration for your customer service guidelines.

By Janet Elie

Internet Marketing Specialist