Learning To Crash Part Of Learning To Fly

You are going to panic.

There is no escaping the physiology of the moment . . .

You will shrink immediately from wide angle to tunnel vision, your heart will begin to pound, your pulse will quicken. You’ll begin to perspire, though just a moment prior you commented on how comfortable you felt. Your brain, now wiped clear of any outstanding to-do list items, will revert back to the last time you trained on this very scenario.

Congratulations, you are learning to crash your plane.

Well, not crash . . . land safely at the nearest runway is a bit more appropriate. Either way, this exercise is near the top of a long list of things you will learn on your way to becoming a licensed pilot.

Sounds counterintuitive until you think about it. If your car breaks down, you wait by the side of the road. If your boat breaks down, you drift and wait for a tow. If your plane stops working, you drop like a stone, accelerating at 9.8 meters per second/squared in the direction you do not want to go – down.

Learning to crash a plane is a developmental approach with relevance in a more pedestrian application: Service Recovery.

How you respond to the immediacy of failure, the moment of truth when everything you were depending on suddenly isn’t there, is the secret to your survival. This applies to anything in life, from a pilot flying a plane to a Guest Service Agent welcoming guests to their hotel.

The difference in those two examples is the pilot will be training for something that in all likelihood will never happen.  The Guest Service Agent should be preparing for the inevitable.

The Drill

Several of my peers and Next Level Leaders in the Coast Guard, many of whom were pilots, tried to convince me to attend Flight School. In the end, I just wasn’t comfortable with “you already have the voice of a pilot” as my top, perhaps only qualification going into that rigorous program.

They were the ones who introduced me to the natural order of events of becoming a pilot, including “The Drill”,  when without notice, your Flight Instructor will kill power to either half or all the engines on your craft to simulate failure. We would laugh so hard listening to the stories of each person’s first exposure to this critical exercise, including colorful descriptions for the overwhelming feeling of panic that was common among the group.

Which happens to be the first objective of The Drill: powering through the initial panic. Pilots are trained to recover from this emotional response by working through a sequence of checkpoints, each designed to confirm a mechanical function critical to the stability of their craft.

Focus then shifts to the ultimate objective of The Drill: to keep your plane in the air long enough to land safely, somewhere, anywhere.

A learning by-product of The Drill was confidence. To a person, the pilots described how learning to fly at emergency capacity resulted in an improved approach to their normal duties. It made them better pilots, which is a good thing . . . if a vessel is in distress, or missing, its nice to know you have someone searching for you who has the confidence to push the envelope. 

Today, I can listen to seaplanes over Lake Apopka in Central Florida performing that drill on a routine basis. My reaction is always the same: I hear the plane, I hear the engine go silent, and I wonder “Is this the time?”

Then the engine roars back to life, another successful exercise, another confident pilot. 

Houston, We Have a Problem

A customer has chosen your product, your restaurant, your resort, your service. They have established expectations, some of which you may not be aware of. Things are progressing nicely when suddenly “Bam!”, something has fallen short of expectations. We are faced with a Service Recovery Opportunity.

Everything we do at this moment is focused on survival, addressing the immediate needs of your guest. Fixing or repairing the problem will follow in sequence, but not until we have:

  • regained the trust of our customer,
  • reaffirmed our commitment to exceeding expectations, and
  • retained customer loyalty to our Brand, product, or service

Many organizations have Service Recovery Models that direct a formalized approach when responding to a service failure. If your organization does not, contact me (tjshamrell@gmail.com) and we’ll work on one together. 

Most of these models follow a linear sequence. They progress from connecting emotionally with your customer or guest through steps taken to resolve the problem, to communicating the resolution to promote preventative action.

This should not be a Checklist, but a series of habit-forming behaviors that provide clarity in a moment of chaos. 

Powering Through the Panic

The customer at Table #47 just showed you the half-inch shard of glass discovered in their Caesar Salad.

Your first instinct may be to panic, which is not always a bad thing. An immediate loss of rationale and coherence reflects your emotional investment in the experience. Consider the opposite end of the spectrum, if your initial response were, “Oh, would you look at that?”

As a trained professional, you must power through the panic, then re-engage with reality to maintain the overall stability of your experience.

Consider what is most immediately at stake, at the precise moment the guest calls your attention to their problem:

There is a human being, a person in front of you. Someone who chose to dine in your establishment, who may have made plans with friends or family, who decided after intense deliberation that the Swordfish sounded perfect, and then when prompted followed your suggestion and chose the Caesar Salad to begin.

This is your guest. Much has been invested in the moment, and that is exactly where your focus should remain. Not tunnel-vision but a dialed-in focus on your ultimate objective: The survival of this relationship.   

Recovery Sensing

The guest will React to the situation, which in turn will influence how you Respond.

This critical step will communicate genuine concern for and personal investment in the guest. Your Recovery Sensing, the intuitive voice that worked so well when first engaging the guest, is the same one that will provide guidance throughout the recovery experience.

The challenge is staying engaged with the guest. This will not be difficult if the guest remains calm, softly asks for a replacement salad, and continues with the dinner experience. Please do not mistake an absence of outward emotion as progress in Service Recovery . . . this relationship is still hanging in the balance.

However, please do appreciate the opportunity for more subtle dialogue and continue working to regain the trust of your guest.

It will be a different story if the guest becomes visually upset, wondering out loud how you could be so careless as to put their health in danger. Although you would like to contain an emotional outburst, part of it may be the guest’s way of processing, either frustration or embarrassment. Pay close attention, venting may provide clues to help guide your Service Recovery.

Whether the reaction is subtle or verbal, your commitment to regaining the trust of your guest must be clear to everyone involved. Most importantly your guest.

Recurrent Training

Experience will factor into the abilities of a service professional to successfully navigate Service Recovery. Most of this experience will benefit your Recovery Sensing, recognizing the various “tells” of a customer that will guide your efforts to regain trust.

Reflecting on our initial topic of discussion, even the most experienced pilots will continue to perform The Drill. Why? The formation of habits. When faced with complete loss and failure, these habits bypass panic and proactively address the needs of the aircraft. The secret to forming these habits is Recurrent Training.

Impactful, experiential exercises benefit the individual, and your entire team. There is always something floating around the fringes of society to train on, whether it is terminology, phraseology, or sociology, in general. Perhaps it is a drastic worst-case scenario, like our glass shard in the Caesar Salad. Always something to practice.

Commit to a pursuit of perfection within your Recurrent Training regimen. Remember that your brain will not recognize the difference between a good habit and a bad habit . . . it will only recognize what you ask it to repeatedly do.

While your organization may have a specific Model to work from, the following are elements universal to successful Service Recovery efforts:

Whole Body Communicator

Communicate to your guest that you are “all in”. This involves the entire trifecta – body language, tone, and words. Every word, motion, and intention must reassure the guest that repairing this relationship, re-establishing trust, is your first and foremost objective.

Your posture should lean in slightly toward the guest, placing yourself in a proper position to listen to what the guest is saying. Never assume to know exactly what the guest is feeling. By placing yourself in position to listen, you will then “hear” the guest describe the impact of the present situation. They will tell you what their problem is, a key step toward Service Recovery.

Maintain warm, genuine eye contact, especially in today’s mask wearing society. Your eyes will communicate sincerity, reassuring the guest that you understand something has fallen short of expectations. This is not pity, or sympathy. It is empathy, a shared awareness of feeling and emotion, that will again communicate to the guest your genuine care and concern.

Choose your words carefully. This is when Recurrent Training becomes so valuable, because even the most well-intentioned sentiment can come out wrong, inviting a heightened emotional response. Use words to acknowledge the reality of the moment, that you understand something has fallen short of expectations.

Own Your Service Recovery

Self-confidence is the key to owning your service recovery effort. Plain and simple, your guest will not trust you if you don’t trust yourself.

Building this trust is another benefit of Recurrent Training. Openly discuss Empowerment Guidelines, explore the “what if?” of multiple scenarios to grasp an initial realm of possibilities. Then push those initial efforts into Empathic Empowerment, wherein you visualize potential resolutions from the perspective of your guest.

The self-confidence of front-line service professionals, when faced with Service Recovery, is one of the prime indicators of Cultural Health & Wellness within an organization. When you feel the love and support from your team, when the organization says, “We trust you”, there is no limit to what you can accomplish.

Bring that confidence, re-build trust with your guest, own the Service Recovery through to the end.

Resolve to the Guest’s Satisfaction

You have invested much in your service recovery efforts. The final push is to resolve the situation to the guest’s satisfaction.

We’re in service recovery because the guest has had something fall short of expectations. This could be an error on a bill or invoice. Might be the room they had reserved at your resort was not available. Food orders may have been prepared incorrectly, or service may not have been timely.

What is important to remember at this point is the human element of the situation. Any shortcoming will have an emotional impact on the guest. A billing error can be corrected with a couple of clicks in the computer. But why was I charged for Valet Parking when I didn’t drive a car?

What may sound like a simple oversight can have your guest questioning their entire experience, perhaps even their entire choice process. This may not require all-hands-on-deck, but just remember there are people involved.

Regardless of how easy “the fix”, there is still relationship repair work pending. Remember our ultimate intention is to regain trust, reaffirm commitment to exceeding expectations, and retain the loyalty of your guest to your Brand, product, or service.

Landing Safely

No one begins their day hoping to have a Service Recovery Opportunity. The better you prepare for that moment of truth, the better your chances of working through the opportunity successfully. Those chances are improved through Recurrent Training, establishing proper habits that power you through the panic, allowing you to focus on what matters most to your guest. Always resolve the situation to the satisfaction of your guest, remember the human element in even the smallest of problems.

Thank you for flying with Tall Tim Talks!

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