Last week I spoke at a convention and stayed at a hotel in Miami Beach. The hotel was lovely, and I was thrilled to be there. My plan was to come in the day before my presentation, review the content for last minute tweaks, and get “caught up.” Imagine my surprise when I tried to log in and received the error message, “No Internet.” I called the operator, and she said, “It is working in the hotel, it must be YOU!” Great! I taxed my limited technological knowledge, shut down, started again and…NOTHING. No internet! I called the operator again, and asked if the hotel could check the internet or send someone to my room to help me?  She responded with a heavy sigh and said, “OK.”

I sat in my pajamas trying to talk sense into the computer when a hotel employee knocked on my door. He introduced himself and said he was the electrician, but he would try to see what he could do.

He walked in, walked out, walked in, and said, “OH MY! I just lost connection, give me a minute.” Upon return, he said, “You are the only room in the hotel that is blocked! It is not you; it is the hotel, and we have to move you.” He picked up my clothes, and we both trudged down the hallway with bags in hand. When I got to the new room he waited to see if all was working. SUCCESS, the Internet Genie had arrived! We shared moments of laughter as I told him, “I was in a fortress of solitude, perhaps that was intended!” He said, “You have a good spirit, most people would be angry. Thank you for being fun!” He said, “If you need anything, call me.”  A gracious man and a terrific employee.

That evening was the start of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, the time when one lights candles of remembrance for those who have passed. I traveled with candles but did not have matches, so I called the operator to ask if they had any.

She replied, “NO.” I explained my situation and asked if she had any suggestions?

She said, “NO.” I went downstairs to the lobby, explained my situation, and asked if anyone had a match or a lighter? All I wanted to do was light a candle and say a prayer.

NO!” Is there any alternative?

NO!” HMMM, I looked around the empty lobby and saw 10 electric candles…Plan B. I asked, do you have any electric candles?

NO!” I figured since they did not know they had them they would not miss them if I borrowed them for a minute.

By the time I got to my room, I was locked out, and had to go back downstairs. I went to the desk and was told that I could not return to my room until security escorted me and got the candles.

I BROKE THE RULES, BAD MOVE!

A BIG, burly, tough looking, security fellow came to the desk to escort me to my room. He asked what happened, and I told him the story. He stopped, shook his head, and said, “Wait a minute, you were just trying to light a memory candle?” “Yes.”  In that moment, the BIG burly guy slumped and looked down, “I am so sorry, they were wrong, and should have helped you.” I replied, “Thank you, I was just trying to find a solution to a problem, I was wrong as well.”  I gave him the candles and used my restored Internet connection to light “online candles.” All was well.

The next day, I asked to speak to the General Manager. She called and said, “Please come and meet me. I have already heard about the situation, and I am very sorry. We have dozens of electronic candles in the office, I buy them at the Dollar Store. This situation could have easily been resolved. The exceptional service from the tech fellow was erased by the cold, abrupt responses from the front desk people.  I have a new team, and they were not compassionate or service oriented.”

I told the GM, “I am an HR/People consultant and speaker, this was good insight. The situation reminded me that rules can get in the way of serving the people, and leaders must clarify the difference.” The GM said, “We have a lot of training to do, my priorities have changed. I was not clear about my expectations, and you suffered as a result.” We thanked each other for our candor and support.

How does this apply to you and your business?

The world is still in a state of flux, and it feels as though we are standing on shifting sand. Your product, operation practices, and employee base may have changed during the last year. Existing employees must adapt to change, and new employees must learn the company, values, product, practices, customers, etc. If you do not teach employees how you operate, they may revert to the practices used historically by their last employer and those may not be aligned with your desires today.

Here are five points to help ensure this does not happen in your business.

  1. Review your policies and practices to identify those that are “ironclad” and the reasons they must be followed as detailed. Topics may include safety, security, sanitation, cash handling, pricing, product preparation, etc.
  2. Identify the policies and practices that are “bendable” based on the situation and require personal flexibility and good judgement. Topics may include service, product options, individual needs (electric candles), etc.
  3. When a customer asks to deviate from an “ironclad” policy or practice the real answer may be “NO,” but that is not service oriented or an acceptable answer. Create sample responses and alternative solutions to use with customers to explain “the why” behind the “ironclad” policies and practices. These sample responses help ensure good judgement, problem solving, and empathy are used appropriately with customers. No is hard, but the why will soften it.
  4. Create scenarios to illustrate the “bendable” policies and identify boundaries that may require supervisor guidance or approval. How far can you go?
  5. Communicate and train the “ironclad or bendable” policies and practices to your team and model your expectations daily. When a situation occurs, use it as an opportunity to train your team on alternative solutions. If this question, then that answer. Have employees role play and practice responses. When they hear the words coming out of their mouth, they get comfortable and are apt to use the responses in the moment.

Remember, the customer experience can go from excellent to disappointing in the flick of a candle!

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that you will do things differently.”   Warren Buffet