Surviving Shattered Expectations

It had been such a pleasant interaction up to that point.

A subtle nod from the Front Desk agent indicated she was ready to receive the next guest, whom I escorted to within arm’s reach of the desk and wished a memorable stay.

When the agent retreated to the back office and returned carrying a white envelope, I knew something was about to change.

In an instant, the demeanor of our executive from Atlanta, who only moments before had filled the air with delightful praise and gratitude for the opportunity to stay at one of her favorite resorts, became anything but pleasant.

The sudden, almost violent whip of her head and heat-seeking, nuclear glare into the depths of my soul told me recovery was “on”.

Get over here!” she commanded, to which I quickly obliged.

What ensued was a classic example of shattered expectations, highlighting the importance of a proper response when the jagged finger of accountability is pointed directly at you.

“I Feel So Sorry For You, Tim”

This was my greeting when I first arrived for Lobby Ambassador duty that Thursday evening.

By Friday morning the resort would be filled with professionals affiliated with Estate Planning, many employed within judiciary and fiduciary occupations that support the industry’s operating platforms. Pretty high-powered group.

Unfortunately, a glitch in our reservation system the week prior had allowed more people to reserve rooms than we had rooms available in the resort. When I arrived in the lobby, the number of arriving guests who would receive notice of their predetermined relocation was down . . . I say again, down . . . to 57.

Many were agreeable to the terms: we had arranged for complimentary lodging in a neighboring resort, including shuttle transportation and dinner that evening.

Some were not, although few were as emotionally charged as our executive from Atlanta.

While she kept repeating that she would be staying in the resort, there was one thing I was certain of: she would not be staying in the resort.

The relocation roster was determined by the conference planners and any detour would only confuse the situation and shift the burden of acceptance to another guest.

My ambition was to somehow shift emotional momentum in a more positive direction.

Available: Space to Vent

Allowing her the opportunity to verbalize her frustration appeared to be working.

She had already referred to us as “arrogant”, the first time I had heard that phrase used to describe our organization. What she said next sparked my curiosity and led me to believe she was coming to terms with the reality of the moment.

“Why didn’t you call me?” she asked before whispering, “I would have canceled my trip.”

I prefaced my interest as the Director of Learning, and asked with genuine sincerity why she would cancel her trip? The reservation fiasco hadn’t impacted the conference agenda, wasn’t that the reason she was here?

She confided that the conference agenda was of little value to her. Networking was her ambition: a continuous cycle of engaging with clients in public spaces, then retreating to her room for supporting calls and emails. This was her intended pattern for the next three days.

Without the convenience of a room in the resort, her strategy would be rendered ineffective and the overall trip not worth her time and effort.

We reached the convention floor just in time for the next shuttle. I thanked the guest for her candor and apologized once again for the disruption to her plans.

She nodded solemnly and thanked me for my patience in return.

More Freefall Than Change

While service recovery models will reference a variety of “re” words . . . relate, react, respond, respect . . . the underlying reality is that something has fallen short of expectations, changing the once anticipated landscape and threatening the loyalty of the individual involved.

Your sole purpose is to ensure that the guest, customer, patient, or client trusts you enough to remain loyal and choose your product or service again.

That’s what you’re hoping to recover in a service recovery process.

Begin by recognizing that the person is working through a natural process of change . . . Awareness, Awakening, Acceptance.

Only in this case it feels more like a freefall than gradual progression. But the sequence remains the same, along with tips on how to respond in the moment:

Just Keep Breathing, Just Keep Breathing

Breathing is important not only because it sustains life; it also keeps you from talking.

By not talking, you’re able to (a) listen for why the other person is upset, (b) better understand exactly what fell short of expectations, and (c) determine valuable service recovery clues to incorporate into your response.

Listening also helps the impacted person work through their range of emotions, allowing them to reach awakening more quickly, and hastening acceptance of a somewhat adjusted reality.

That’s where you come in . . . just keep breathing to manage your pace.

Keep It Personal

Shattered expectations are hard enough to deal with one-on-one, let alone in front of an audience.

This was the case recently when returning an item to a big yellow and blue European-based furniture outlet. We had front row seats as a highly agitated customer went toe-to-toe with one of the store’s managers, passionately voicing her displeasure with damaged kitchen cabinets and threatening to hire an attorney.

There was little eye contact from the manager, non-empathic body language, and a tone somewhere between aloof and unsympathetic, which intensified the emotional reaction from the customer.

We know because we were next in line, with about 15 customers gathered behind us.

Find someplace where you can respond and recover on a more intimate basis, i.e., an office, seating area, outside if occurring inside. Or take a walk . . . anything to communicate your sincere, personal investment in discovering a solution.

Promise Not To Pacify

Promises are going to be part of your response and ultimate recovery solution, providing necessary reassurance to foster trust and renew confidence.

Avoid making promises that simply pacify the guest or customer, shallow guarantees offered to control the flame without extinguishing the fire: “I promise your room will be ready on time for your next visit.”

Remember that you’re promising to be better; commit to actions with depth, over which you have control and the capacity to deliver. No one wants to be disappointed twice . . . make sure you’re walking the walk.

But I Know, It’s Nobody’s Fault

Assigning blame and finding fault is part of human nature. Not a good, healthy aspect, but a part, nonetheless.

They also have no place in responding to shattered expectations. Stay in the moment . . . what’s done is done, your successful recovery will be centered on moving forward, not looking backward for blame or cause.

After the fact, well, that’s when you can research elements and occurrences that contributed to falling short of the mark.

In the case of our executive from Atlanta, she set the wheels of disappointment in motion by making her own reservation to save the $600 conference registration fee. That meant when it came time to evaluate who would be relocated, she appeared as just another tourist in town to enjoy the theme parks and local attractions.

And it had been such a pleasant interaction up to that point.

This Is Tall Tim, And I Am At Your Service! 

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