It’s the L.E.A.S.T. we can do

A simple and proven guide to service recovery

Picture your customer, her brow furrowed with frustration and her arms crossed tightly across her chest. Her lips are pressed into a thin line, and her eyes reflect a mix of disappointment and irritation. She gestures animatedly, expressing her dissatisfaction with the product or service she received. Despite your attempts to appease her, she remains visibly upset, her body language tense and her voice edged with frustration. This image captures the essence of an upset customer — a potent reminder of the importance of delivering exceptional customer experiences to avoid such situations.

When a customer has unmet expectations and/or their experience goes sideways, it’s important that you work to recover by having a thoughtful and effective process that you — or anyone on your team — can follow. This is a “Moment of truth” in the eyes of that customer — an opportunity to demonstrate care; how you handle difficult situations; your willingness to reach resolution, and; your desire AND ability to help turn things around. Although it can seem like a daunting task, when you have a solid process and you follow it, success is just on the other side. And developing this skill can be quite rewarding.

A commitment to service recovery is what separates average companies from remarkable ones. So here’s your 5-step process for service recovery:


It’s a basic need. We all have a desire to feel heard, yet many people will tell you that they don’t feel they are listened to enough in life. So, be a great listener! Distraught customers have a need to vent and may be at a point in their experience where you’re the first person to really listen to them. 

Even if you’ve heard their same concern or situation from others a thousand times before, it’s important that you fully hear them out. Don’t cut them off … even if it’s to rush into a solution. Take it a step further: prove you’ve listened fully by recapping what you just heard. Nothing diffuses a bad situation quite like demonstrating active/engaged listening. Apathy is an experience killer. Empathy is your friend.


Empathizing takes listening to another level. If listening says to others, “I hear you.” then empathizing says, “I feel you.” People have a desire to feel understood. As that customer is sharing their experience, imagine how that must have felt for them (even if that is different from how you would personally process a similar circumstance). Let your voicetone convey your concern. Allow a deeper level of care and understanding to come through in your delivery. 

You might even say, “Wow. I can only imagine how that left you feeling.” Those ten words have the power to foster connection with a stranger … and leave them feeling understood and cared for. 


If you have a tough time with apologies, it may be because you hold apologies in the same regard as guilt, blame, fault, and/or shame. Let’s reframe that. Instead, this is about taking ownership/responsibility for their experience. It may not be our “fault” … but it’s still our problem. You may not see it as a “big deal,” but it likely is to that customer … a sincere apology is always justified and appropriate.

Some examples of how to apologize:

“I’m sorry you had to endure that.”

“I’m sorry you had to experience that.”

“I’m sorry that things didn’t go more smoothly for you.”

“I’m sorry this happened.”

“I’m sorry that we’ve let you down.”

“I’m sorry we didn’t do a better job for you.”

If you were the customer, wouldn’t this type of apology make you feel a little better, and cared for … as long as it was sincere? Apologizing might just be the most important step when working to calm a customer, proving that you care, suggesting a willingness to make it right, and exhibiting humanity. 

This part gets missed too often, and that’s a huge mistake. Even if you follow the rest of this formula by listening, empathizing, solving, and thanking, the customer may end up feeling incomplete without a sincere apology. It’s critical. Thoughtful apologies are underrated. It’s an easy action that takes very little time and effort but can add tremendous value and work wonders in de-escalating a bad situation. 


Now that you’ve heard them out and sincerely apologized, it’s time to solve the issues. Take ownership and see it through. Even if this means involving other parties, be sure you’re doing more than simply “Passing the buck.” Make a warm connection to the team member(s) who will take the baton and run with it … but be sure to follow up, ensuring promises are kept and that the customer is left feeling complete … if not WOWed. Note: sometimes, it’s too late to solve – it’s water under the bridge. In these cases, the customer needs to know they’ve helped affect positive change; that the conversation did more than fall on deaf ears with no intentions of improving, if only for the sake of others down the road. 

Pro Tip: when a customer is clearly fuming and emotions are running high — and after you’ve listened and apologized — it’s OK to let them know you’re going to look into the situation (with the goal of making things right, of course) as long as you make a time commitment on when they’ll be hearing back from you … and you honor this commitment. By default, you’ve also built in a cooling-off period for that person. In addition, the simple act of keeping that promise by calling them back (by the time you said you would) has earned you favor – in other words, you’ve built trust in the customer’s eyes by demonstrating follow-through; integrity.


They didn’t have to tell you about their negative experience. They could have instead chosen to NOT invest any more time on this, NOT given you a chance to make it right, and likely moved directly into bad-mouthing your team and your company via negative word-of-mouth and even negative online ratings and reviews … and they still might have … had you not jumped into service recovery mode. 

Taking the time to bring matters to your attention is a gift and they should be acknowledged for it … in that spirit: “Mr. Customer, thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. If you hadn’t, I might not have known and we wouldn’t have had this opportunity to learn and grow from it; to address it with our team and improve our process for others. You’ve helped affect positive change and I view our conversation today as a gift. Thank you!”

L.E.A.S.T. — Listen. Empathize. Apologize. Solve. Thank.

There are only 5 steps here. All five matter. All five are critical in resolving a challenging customer experience. Listen. Empathize. Apologize. Solve. Thank. And you’re on your way to a successful outcome. Heck, you might even create a “Raving fan” in the process. Some of our most loyal customers (and their referrals) have been the result of working as a team to turn a bad situation around.

Responding vs. Reacting

How pausing can have you solve problems with logic … rather than emotion

One of the many subtleties underlying impeccable customer service is responding vs. reacting. At first glance, there seems to be little difference between the two, but the following story illustrates how profound that difference can be and how it can affect your relationship with your customer.

The Dilemma . . .

As the trainer for my client’s events booked at a local hotel, I arrived early on the appointed day, a Friday morning at 7:30 am, because one never knows what last-minute issues might need attention. But the one I found facing me on this particular morning was a whopper.

Jeremy, a hotel employee whom I had met and worked with before, was the lone banquet server on staff, and he’d just prepared all four of the banquet rooms for a series of events that — collectively — over 200 guests would be attending. Jeremy was in charge of all service elements — everything from audio/video requirements to food and beverage, and some of the guests had already begun filtering in. My client — a group of about 50 people — was scheduled to be seated in one of these rooms … or so I’d expected.

After greeting Jeremy, I asked him: “I didn’t see my client’s company name on any of the room entrance placards, so I wonder which room we’re in today?” Jeremy looked surprised, paused for a brief moment, and said, “I can double-check the contract, but I believe we weren’t expecting you until tomorrow.”

Reacting vs. Responding = Emotions vs. Logic

Uh oh! I began to panic, my mind racing as emotion took over. I felt myself reddening and beginning to perspire. In short, I reacted.

But Jeremy remained calm. He needed all of about five seconds to begin offering solutions, responding by jumping immediately into a “can-do” mode. “Well, that room around the corner is actually already set up for you guys in anticipation of tomorrow,” he said. “Our hotel was going to hold a team meeting in there this afternoon, but obviously your event takes priority over that. There’s just one thing I’ll need to check, and that’s whether the chef can have your breakfast buffet food ready on time. I’ll find out now and be right back.”

Jeremy’s recovery was so logical and so seamless that, to this day, there are only three of us (on the client side) who even became aware of this scheduling miscommunication. It caused not even a ripple of distraction for our 50 attendees because Jeremy responded swiftly and confidently, reminding me a little of a duck — graceful above the water, where all could see him, but moving forward at a million miles a minute with powerful and determined feet just below the surface.

So Whose Fault Was It?

Fact is, it didn’t matter to me and it certainly didn’t matter to Jeremy. What mattered was that Jeremy responded to the need that 50 people expected to have a comfortable and equipped space . . . and he made it happen. And Jeremy teaches us a valuable lesson: that responding to a crisis with logical problem solving is far more effective than reacting emotionally. Your customers, clients, guests, members, patients, users, etc. do not expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to work with them to make things right, to reach resolution, to recover quickly. And you are held in a positive light when you do this without any finger pointing or even a hint of defensiveness.

As we wrapped up our half-day training, I asked to see both the hotel’s general manager and the president of the hotel group to express our gratitude for Jeremy’s solution-oriented attitude and responsive approach. Although I already knew and liked Jeremy, this episode turned me — an average customer — into an enthusiastic promoter for the hotel and its services.

Bottom Line

By responding to your clients instead of merely reacting, you too are promoting your business. And promotion translates into profit!

Your Turn

When have you witnessed — or been a part of — reacting vs. responding? Please comment below…

How to Foster a Make-it-Right Customer Service Culture

Enabling and Empowering Employees to Think on Their Feet

Nearly 20 years ago, I embarked on what would become an 11-year sales career with Rosenthal Acura. It was the mid-1990s and I felt I’d lucked out. You see, after having spent the previous 8 years in the hospitality industry, I was now working for a luxury auto dealer that genuinely focused on … hospitality. We would eventually become the “poster child” for Acura in the United States – not based on our high volume of sales, though. It was based largely on receiving high marks from clients. Our fanatical, dealership-wide attention to the client experience consistently earned us top C.S.I. (Customer Satisfaction Index) rankings.

Within my first 18 months with the organization, David, our general manager, rolled out an employee empowerment program. Simply put, this meant that every staff member – from the janitor to the courtesy shuttle driver to the service manager – could spend up to $100 to fix a customer problem and reach resolution. No approval needed. No questions asked. Just make it right. What did that mean for the client? If you were the client and …

  • Got tire-shine on your pants while standing too close to a display car, we paid for your dry cleaning
  • Discovered a scratch on your door after having the car in for an oil change, we had it buffed out (often while you waited)
  • Drove an hour to purchase a rare car part that was no longer in stock, we called around, located the part, brought it in, and shipped it (next-day, at no additional charge) to your home or office

For the record, I don’t recall being given specific examples like these to draw from. We simply knew that the spirit of the program was to (quickly) make things right for the customer and create a WOW experience.

“Whatever you do, DO NOT open the elevator doors.”

I recently read the firsthand account of a hotel guest who was (1 of 12) trapped in the elevator. Instead of trying to help 12 panicked patrons, the hotel staff chose to look out for the company’s interests. You can read the entire story here, but to summarize, the guests could have easily rescued themselves by prying the doors open, but the hotel made them wait until a repairman showed up. Why? The hotel didn’t want to risk having to foot the bill if something went wrong mechanically, as a result of those guests’ efforts. Wine & cheese were later delivered as what they must have felt were appropriate “Apology Offerings.”

Having read the remarkable hotel elevator story…

You might agree that instead of being empowered to do the right thing for their guests, this hotel’s staff was more focused on operating costs.

I can only imagine their “Make-it-right chart” looking something like this:

  • Your kid loses his teddy bear; we’ll give him a grape soda. If we happen to be out of grape soda, your kid gets an oatmeal raisin cookie.
  • We gave away your reservation; we’ll give you a couple of free oatmeal raisin cookies. If you’re still upset, we’ll throw in a shuttle ride to nearest Motel6.
  • You get trapped in our elevator; we’ll bring some wine and cheese up to your room (but not our high-end stuff). Don’t drink? Lactose intolerant? We have plenty of oatmeal raisin cookies.

Had those hotel employees been empowered to make decisions that put their guests’ well-being, interests, and personal safety before anything else, the outcome (and the stories that followed) would likely be more – shall we say – flattering.

Bottom Line: Define It

It’s not enough to declare that you provide world-class customer service. It’s not enough to have your staff sign off on a formal employee manual and job description. It’s not even enough to have thoughtful hiring standards in place. These aren’t bad ideas, but the rubber doesn’t meet the road until you have effective communication, employee empowerment, and an implementation plan to put your policies to work.

You must have regular conversations that encourage and invite your staff to define impeccable customer service. You must discuss scenarios – real or made-up – that force your employees to think critically and shape solutions. And this must all take place with a spirit of humanity and genuine concern for the customer.

Remember: Your ultimate goal is to make every customer feel 1) taken care of, and; 2) as if you’ve thought of everything. This can only result from regular trainings and conversations on the topic. Remarkable, impeccable, noteworthy, world-class customer service isn’t an initiative, it’s a quest; a relentless pursuit.

Your Turn

Have you seen or been part of a situation where the company clearly acted only in its own best interest? Share your stories in the comment section below…

Innovation and the Customer Experience

Meeting the Needs of Your Customers Isn’t Enough

“A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” –Steve Jobs

You probably own a cooler, but you’ve likely never heard of Ryan Grepper before now. Ryan is an inventor who engineered a much-needed refresh for portable coolers.

Aside from the addition of tires, cup holders, and telescoping handles, coolers have remained about the same for nearly 50 years. If I asked you how to improve this popular household item, you’d probably say you’d never given it much thought – (after all, we’ve just lived with the same general design for as long as most of us can remember).

After a moment, you might request a bottle opener or suggest better overall workmanship to avoid the broken hinges and cracked drain caps that result from normal wear and tear. Ryan found a way to address those concerns and so much more. In fact he took the concept of anticipating customer needs to a place no one has ever gone before.

The Coolest of the Coolers

The Coolest, which recently debuted on, has it all — much of it built right in: a bungee cord to stack and secure additional items while on the go, a removable divider, and integrated storage. It’s also clever enough to incorporate extra-wide tires, which make it more beach-ready than leading models.

That’s not all, though. The Coolest uses a powerful rechargeable battery, the latest lighting advancements, and even wireless technology:

Under the lid, you’ll find:

  • A waterproof LED light strip that lets you see your contents in the dark
  • Reusable serving plates that double as cutting boards
  • A rust-proof ceramic knife

On the outside, you’ll discover:

  • There’s a USB port to charge your smartphone
  • A small recessed shelf to rest your smartphone
  • A gear tie-down
  • A detachable waterproof Bluetooth speaker, and;
  • The pièce de résistance, an 18-volt rechargeable full-size blender!

Now that’s innovation.

Meeting Customer Needs Isn’t Enough

The modern automobile was born in 1886. In those early years, manufacturing was focused on functionality and not necessarily on creature comforts. But I imagine people got thirsty while driving way back then, just as we do today, and brought along a beverage from time to time. Some 70 years later, cup holders were just beginning to make their way into mass-produced vehicles.

The origami-inspired, white Chinese food container was introduced in the late 1800s. And, although the residential counter-top microwave oven was introduced in 1967, it would be a few decades before we’d see the removal of those metal wire handles from our Chinese food containers (allowing us to place those boxes in the microwave without blowing it up).

What do cars and take-out have in common? Both examples show how those industries responded (decades later) to a common customer need. Responding to needs is important, but what if there were a way to anticipate them instead?


Anticipating your customers’ needs trumps meeting their needs

There is a difference between meeting needs and anticipating those needs. (Hint: Anticipating often requires innovation.) Here are two ways to understand and appreciate that difference:

  1. If you incorporate intuitive features into a product or service from the start, you’re anticipating needs. (Ex: If car makers had thought about our desire to have a beverage handy — and safely stored — they might have built cup holders into the earliest models.)
  1. If you’re developing a solution to a problem that people have simply lived with (because they’ve never seen it as a problem), you’re also anticipating a need. And you’re innovating. The Coolest is a wonderful example.


Why you must value and embrace innovation

When you think of some of the world’s most innovative brands, what companies come to mind?, Starbucks, Google, Apple, and Nintendo have all made the Forbes top 100 list of The World’s Most Innovative Companies. Companies like these have made the practice of anticipating customer needs (innovation) a part of their culture.

Many companies have even appointed a Chief Innovation Officer, while others have chosen to make this sort of ideation and creativity a required part of everyone’s role. Either way, there’s real value here. Encouraging a culture of innovation, particularly as it pertains to anticipating customer needs can be a real differentiator.

Companies like the ones listed above are typically held in high regard, attract some of the most talented employees, make a positive difference in the business world, and often realize tremendous financial success.

The bottom line: Innovation does more than equate to anticipating customer needs. Innovation generates buzz and drives profitability.

Would you invest a dollar in your business to make four thousand?

Small-but-important Details in the Customer Experience

moving-truckUntil recently, my wife and I had been housing much of my best friend’s furniture for the previous three years (long story). One Saturday morning, a moving company spent two hours removing all the large pieces from our home. The three movers were great. They showed up on time and worked hard. They were polite and did a careful job.

What could they have done better? At first glance … [Read more…]

How to Detect a Job Candidate’s APTITUDE for Customer Service

The most important interview question you’re (not) asking

Have you ever been excited about a new employee, only to be unpleasantly surprised when you later discovered that person’s true colors? They appeared to have a high aptitude for customer service, but – as it turned out – your favorable impression was inaccurate. You’re not alone. It happens to all of us.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the average cost of a bad hiring decision can equal 30% of the first year’s potential earnings. By now, you’ve probably seen similar stats, or perhaps even more alarming numbers. Numbers aside, the costly effects of a bad hire are more than monetary. The ramifications on your internal culture and your external brand can cut deep.

The power of one

Your front-line people are the “face” of your business. Your company’s image and its reputation are made up of countlessmoments of truth.” Whether that next customer has a positive or negative experience with that one person on the front line, customers walk away feeling something, and sharing about their experience. And they’re using words like, “they/them/those people.” For that customer, your entire enterprise is represented by the person they just interacted with. This is the power of one.

Many leaders would rather [Read more…]

How to Measure Customer Loyalty

The most effective (1-question) customer survey

When I ask business owners and customers alike what they believe the ultimate 1-question customer survey might be, the response is often the same: “Would you do business with us again?” How about a deeper question though; one that puts more at stake; more on the line (i.e., your good name and personal reputation)? You see, I believe we’re willing to suffer through more than we’d be willing to put a friend or colleague through. Enter The Ultimate Question, as defined by business strategist Fred Reichheld in his book by the same name:


What is the ultimate question?

“On a scale of 0-10, how likely is it that you would recommend [our company] to a friend or colleague?”

Lots of companies have already adopted it, so if it hasn’t yet been asked of you, you will likely begin to notice it soon.


I find it difficult to discuss the customer experience, customer satisfaction and customer loyalty without referring to Reichheld’s work. Don’t waste your time developing – an albeit thoughtful – customer survey with lots of marvelous questions. Chances are good that only a certain “type” of customer will take the time to complete your lengthy survey anyhow. And if that’s the case, [Read more…]

What do customers expect?

Addressing 4 Key Areas Designed to Turn Prospects into Advocates

What if you knew the exact formula required to create advocates; raving fans; walking billboards; brand champions; and evangelicals for you and your company? That would be one valuable formula, wouldn’t it? Well, by reading First Break All the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman you would discover that – according to Gallup research – there are four levels of customer expectations. Thoughtfully and consistently meeting these expectations can deliver a WOW factor that will convert potential customers and clients into raving fans.

Let’s get right to it. Here are levels 1 through 4, in ascending order of importance:

1) Accuracy; 2) Availability; 3) Partnership; 4) Advice/Learning

I’ll unpack them for you and illustrate what each level might look like from the customer’s point of view.

This information can apply to any industry and since it’s safe to assume we’ve all been out to eat at a restaurant, I’ll use dining experiences as the example. Suppose you owned a restaurant and committed to [Read more…]

“How do I create Buy-in?”

3 Ways to Create Ownership (not “Buy-in”)

I recently posted a daily quick tip including the timeless phrase, “It’s hard to be a prophet in your own land.” I was referring to the inherent challenges of sharing your world-class customer experience vision with your staff, in such a way that they might make it their own. As a result of that blog post, Jennifer asked the following question:

Jennifer says:

“I am the Trainer in the corporate office at my company. I have heard many comments relating to the notion that “how can you train us…you don’t do the job.” When I have actually ‘done the job’ for years before I became the Trainer. Also, I have heard comments such as “what makes you the expert?” I suppose these are all well and valid points, but how do you get that ‘buy in?’ I work for a busy call center, and train everyone from new hires to veteran employees, on new processes, to refresher classes. Some people think they are doing a great job, when in fact their “exceptional” is not the equivalent of my/the company’s definition of “exceptional.” I welcome your thoughts… Thank you.”

What’s beneath the surface?

It seems Jennifer is facing a [Read more…]

Presenting with Es

4 Goals to Meet When Preparing an Impeccable Presentation

Meetings, seminars, awards banquets, luncheons, networking functions, weddings, funerals … and everything in between. Whether we realize it or not, people present all the time. But how often does the presenter seem confident and comfortable, engaging and memorable?

Photo credit: Josh Barry Photography

Recently, my wife and I attended a Bar Mitzvah for the son of a longtime friend. I was Bar Mitzvah’d myself, nearly 29 years ago and have attended my share of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs over the years. If you’ve never been to one, you should know that – aside from the very meaningful rite of passage it represents – logistically, they are very much like weddings. There’s a ceremony (traditionally led by a Rabbi) and then a reception: a big party with food and dancing for family and friends to celebrate this milestone.

This particular Bar Mitzvah was led by a rabbinical student named Nathan (above). With all due respect to every Bar, Bat and B’not Mitzvah I’ve ever attended, this officiant was the best I’ve seen. He led an educational and fun ceremony – not so easy to pull off. But the word of the evening, when others described this event – and there was lots of talk – was [Read more…]