Customer satisfaction and loyalty don’t require flawless delivery as much as they require a level of people savvy after there’s been a problem.
I needed to print a picture late one night last week when I was out of town on business. On line, I found a Walmart thirty minutes away, so I called to inquire if they had a computer terminal and a color photo printer set up 24-hours a day. An associate named Ashley assured me that the photo department had everything that I needed.
Which turned out to be incorrect.
The journey to the store proved challenging. My GPS selected “roads” made of hard packed earth traveled by wild animals. The drive went on endlessly. I couldn’t go above 10 mph for fear of hitting a herd of white tail deer. And the roads curved crazily, carving little slices through and around the mountains and valleys.
Arriving at the store, I had one thought in mind: GETINGETOUTGETHOME.
I went directly to the photo department, slipped my thumb drive into a glowing print terminal and touched the screen per the directions. A message popped up saying something like:
THE PHOTO DEPARTMENT is currently closed. Please come back tomorrow.
Angry little thoughts exploded inside my head. Ashley told me that I could print my picture at any time. All I needed was a thumb drive, their computer, and their printer. Where was Ashley? I inquired of an associate named Chris. Ashley had left for the day.
I asked to speak to a manager. In my mind, the solution to this problem was simple: PRINT MY PICTURE.
“I drove 40 minutes through the mountains to GIVE YOU MONEY. Won’t you please find a way for me to give you my money?”
By the time the manager arrived, a little smoke curled above my head. But in hindsight, I don’t know that the woman I spoke with was an actual manager or not. I mean, she didn’t say that she was the manager. And she didn’t wear a name tag saying MANAGER.
But she took the smoke off my head and got my problem resolved.
What did she do?
- She listened to me. She asked me very specific questions about who I talked to on the phone, how far I had come, and what I was trying to accomplish. She didn’t interrupt except to encourage me to continue by nodding her head in understanding. She ended by restating what I hoped to accomplish: an 8×10 photo print.
- She invested effort. While leading me to the photo department, she told me that she had not worked on the machines for some time. She explained she would look for a way to change the store hours on the system which would re-establish the connection from the terminal to the printer. She spent 20 minutes trying to find a way to make it work.
- She apologized and accepted responsibility. Even while trying to resolve my issue, she accepted responsibility for the situation: “I’m really sorry about this. If I were you, I’d be very frustrated. I hope I can make this machine work so you can get your print.”
- She found another option. Unbeknownst to me, while she worked to find the solution to the problem, she asked associate Chris to call around other stores to find an open one that might have a machine that could print the picture for me. Before I left Walmart, the woman gave me specific directions to a CVS drug store two miles down the road that was open and had a working photo printing machine.
This Walmart employee who stepped in turned around the situation. She changed my very negative opinion of the store not because she owned the miracle solution, but because of how she handled the problem. She demonstrated:
- world-class listening skills
- personal involvement in my problem
- personal accountability for a mistake that wasn’t hers
- a commitment to getting me what I needed—even when it meant sending me to the competition
Employees who deliver flawless service are valuable and rare. But employees who know how to respond to the unforeseen bump in the road by opening their ears, engaging their hands, offering some heart, and giving out-of-the-box solutions are irreplaceable…because they are leaders.