Many years ago, I worked with a client who ran a five-star hotel in an exclusive part of London. Running a business in that area was very competitive. One of my client's key metrics was measuring the percentage of guests who returned. So, he decided to focus on what he could do to give the best quality service. He did all the usual things you’d expect: getting the phones answered quickly, delivering room service in good time, staff polite and well-presented — all that type of stuff.
Over a number of months of measuring the results, the hotelier began to notice a very strange trend. When something had gone wrong during the guest’s stay, for example a missing bar of soap or a missing remote control, if the hotel went above and beyond what was expected – those guests were more likely to return, than if something hadn’t gone wrong in the first place.
The hotelier found this discovery weird — counterintuitive — and that made him curious to put it to the test.
Over the following months, he started playing around with various scenarios. One scenario would be to get his staff to deliberately remove one remote control from a suite but not the other, so when the guest arrived, they would call housekeeping.
Housekeeping would come to the suite, apologise for the mistake and provide the missing remote control. On one occasion (and this is a true story) the hotel arranged for a chauffeur-driven car to take the guests to and from the theatre they'd booked through the concierge.
Naturally the guests were super-delighted with this. They went on to return to his hotel over and over again, told their friends what had happened, who in turn booked rooms there.
The hotelier continued these experiments over a year or two, training the hotel staff that when things go wrong, they should do more than apologise and put it right. He gradually introduced a budget for housekeeping, which staff could allocate for this purpose, giving them authority to use their best judgement. The results were undeniable: the hotel developed the highest occupancy rates in the area, with a loyal following of returning guests who chose to stay at his hotel year after year.
Thus the hotelier learned to increase customer loyalty by doing more than is expected to put something right. This concept has a name: 'Service Recovery'.
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