Ahhh, holidays. I use that word, holidays, in both senses: a break from the regular working life usually spent with friends and family that often involves travel, and the traditional celebrations occurring near the end of the calendar year. They are both often full of fun, relaxation, stress and conflict, and often all at the same time. This year, for me anyway, my breaks (yep, you read that right, breaks-plural-intended) during the holidays once again highlighted how good customer experience leads to greater investment.
First up: Thanksgiving. This year, my family and I decided to do things a little differently, and headed to the beach. We’ve been renting a home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for 20 years now for our summer getaways, but frankly this time the home we rented was palatial. The amenities were all top-of-the-line, the kitchen Emeril-worthy, and the views phenomenal. We spent our time walking on the beach, exploring several wildlife preserves (we saw an owl, a black bear, and countless heron, geese and ducks), and generally taking the time to truly relax. Late fall and early winter may now be my new favorite time to visit the Outer Banks.
It was on the return from one of these day trips that my wife and I discovered that there was a problem with the hot water. Or, more properly, with the lack thereof. We chalked it up to having run several loads of laundry and the two (two!) dishwashers at the same time. However, later that evening we noticed that we all felt a little chillier that we expected. The thermostats all seemed to be indicating that the heat was on, but registered much cooler temps than they were set for. An investigation of the circuit breakers and outside HVAC equipment didn’t yield anything obviously wrong, so we resolved to bundle up with more blankets, suffer through some very cold showers, and call the rental firm in the morning.
I spoke to the firm’s manager, who promised to have a maintenance team member stop by as soon as possible. As soon as possible was about 15 minutes later, and the engineer quickly diagnosed the problem: saltwater corrosion on a key valve used by both the hot water heater and the HVAC system. She made the necessary calls, re-routed the connection for the hot water heater and ordered a replacement part for the primary valve. This meant one more chilly night ahead, but we took it in the spirit of adventure and the engineer could not have been more attentive, professional or competent. Plus, she had both a great sense of humor and of how to use it to diffuse what might have been a house full of upset vacationers.
So, a problem arose, and the rental firm reacted promptly, professionally and competently. What amazed me is what happened next. The manager of the firm called the next morning to confirm the hot water was indeed running hot, and that the engineer had explained the next steps to restore the heating for the house (it was, and she did). Then the manager apologized, sincerely, for the disruption to our vacation. She let me know she had informed the owner of the situation, and wanted to make certain we knew they were both monitoring the situation and would keep us in the loop. After apologizing, she expressed gratitude that we were taking things in stride (which made me feel badly for her. The kinds of negative reactions she must get from others!), and offered to extend our stay by two or three days as a means of expressing their sincerity. We had to decline (those darn kids and their need for schooling!), but we headed back north, not only refreshed and energized, glad for the time away to celebrate Thanksgiving, but pleasantly bewildered by the level of service we received.
And this is where I say in my best infomercial host voice, “But wait! There’s more!”
A day after our return we received a call from the vacation rental firm’s manager. She had been looking for ways to express her apology for our inconvenience and gratitude for our reactions, and found something she thought we might be able to take advantage of. A summer vacation rental during the same period we will be returning to the Outer Banks had just cancelled, and would we like to shift from our rather small and older sound-side home to one that was much larger, newer and on the beach? For the same cost as our original rental? Well, heck yeah! While the firm may be losing a little bit of prime-time income from the property, they’ve gained a raving fan. One who has not only been telling anyone and everyone planning an Outer Banks vacation exactly who to call (and now blogging about it, too!), but one who has also already rebooked for next Thanksgiving!
The lessons learned?
1. Acknowledge the issue
2. Resolve the issue as quickly, professionally and as competently as possible
3. Communicate early and often
4. Train your team on how to deliver great customer service interactions, and give them the tools necessary to do so
5. Where feasible, compensate for the issue
So, do you have any examples of good-vacations-gone-bad-then-gone-good-again you can share?