How To Fix the experience—then the “fish”

December 16, 2009 § Leave a comment

Imagine you went out to dinner.
And the wine was just superb; the bread roll with the exact crunch molecules and texture; and the service so impeccable and knowledgeable that you can’t remember when you had service so good.
Oh and yeah, the fish you ordered for the main was a bit too salty.

What would you remember from this experience?
Most of us would react in exactly the same way. We remember the salty fish. And not surprisingly the business owner or the employees are trying to fix the “salty fish”.

Don’t fix the problem. Fix the experience.
As I sat down to eat a meal at “Two Fat Indians” in Christchurch, my meal was a bit late. And out of the blue, a set of starters was placed in front of me.
I protested, of course, as I hadn’t ordered the starters. I was assured they were complimentary. It had been twenty minutes since I ordered my meal (they were counting on their computer system, not me), and though the meal was just a few minutes away, they offered me a set of starters absolutely free.

They fixed the experience. And the problem.
Most businesses do the wrong thing. When a customer mumbles and grumbles, they try to fix the problem. They see your fish is too salty. They offer to get the chef to cook you another fish with less salt.
Or lets say your hotel room was too noisy. They give you another hotel room on the same floor, or a different floor. Or maybe your website system fails and the client doesn’t get the download you promised. Well that’s easily fixed by sending the client the download, right?

No. No. No. And no.
Yes you need to fix the problem, but first you need to fix the experience. The experience I had at Two Fat Indians stood out, not because I can remember what I ate two years ago. It stood out because they fixed the experience.
By the very same token the experience I had at “Pacifica” (on Napier’s Marine Parade) will stick in my memory like a hornet’s nest. Because Pacifica refused to fix the experience, insisting they’d listened to my feedback and done their best to fix the problem.
Correct. They had done just that. They did everything they could to fix the problem. And they completely missed out on fixing the experience.

Ironically, crappy businesses don’t need to fix the experience
When you run into a shoddy business, you get products or services that are full of holes. You rarely expect any kind of experience from crappy businesses. It’s when you’re dealing with the absolute “Rolex” of businesses like Pacifica or Two Fat Indians that your expectation increases exponentially. And what is expectation but the ‘experience?’

You can’t ever fix the problem
Let me give you an example. Last week a client wrote to us saying she hadn’t received some course materials we’d sent out. To our defence, we’d already sent out the material. We’d done our ‘job.’ And yes, we’d pop another batch of materials in the mail, and yes, that would be that, right?


It’s like a Humpty-Dumpty moment.
You’ve somehow dropped the ball. Whether you’re writing a book, selling a sofa, sending out course materials or serving Monk fish as a main meal, you’re going to get someone upset. And all the ‘kings horses and all the kings men’ can’t fix that Humpty Dumpty moment. You can try to fix the problem the best you can, but hey that’s part of your job.

That’s what the customer paid for. You’re not doing them a favour when you fix the problem. But you are doing them a favour when you fix the experience. And so it’s the experience you must focus on—and not the problem.

To sum up: How do you fix the experience?
Step 1: You recognise the problem; you apologise and you fix the problem.
Step 2: You then fix the experience.
So Step 1 is really easy. Or should be. You recognise the problem. You fix it. And top notch businesses usually do this. They don’t waffle, they don’t shuffle. They instantly spring to action by apologizing (often profusely) and then they seek to fix the problem.
Step 2 is where things fall apart. And the way to fix the experience is to give the customer something that’s not related to the problem at all. It should be something of an add on.

If the course materials get lost in the mail, apologise, and then give the client a free consulting session (at your cost). If your keynote presentation offended some people with an off-colour remark, then apologise and then send them a box of chocolates. If the fish is too salty, try to fix the fish at first, but if the client persists on eating it (which I did), then go ahead and fix the experience. Be warm and gracious and give the client a free coffee, or a warm, chocolate dessert.

This article may read as if it’s about how to handle feedback.
It’s not about feedback.
Most of us bust our guts out to provide an outstanding experience to our clients. But the Humpty Dumpty moment still shows up, no matter what. And our natural response is to get defensive. To justify our actions. To fix the problem. But the client wants more than just for you to fix the problem.
But you know better.
You’ve got to fix the experience. Then fix the “fish”.

– Sean Dsouza

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