Early in the history of our firm, our founder told us a story that has shaped how we deal with bad situations. The story is made up, but the point is real. Here’s the story:
For your 20th wedding anniversary, you and your wife decide to spend the weekend at a Four Seasons hotel. Shortly after checking into your room, your wife calls out “Gross!” You rush into the bathroom to find a cockroach crawling across the floor. You and your wife are both upset — this cockroach has taken the shine off staying at the hotel. For the price you are paying for the room there shouldn’t be cockroaches.
Let’s pause the story. At this point there is nothing the Four Seasons can do about the cockroach — it was in your room and you saw it — they can’t make it not happen. You are understandably upset and have negative feelings about the hotel. If the story ended here you’d probably tell friends what a dump the Four Seasons is. But the story didn’t end here.
You call down to the front desk and report what happened. The manager on duty responds as follows: “I am so sorry! Here’s what we’re going to do — we’ll send a bellman up for your luggage and we’re going to move you to the presidential suite for no extra charge and we’ll discount your entire stay with us by 50%.” After being moved into your new suite — which is amazing — there’s a knock on the door and the manager gives you a bottle of champaign and warm chocolate chip cookies.
How do you feel about the Four Seasons now? If a friend asks how your weekend was what do you think you’ll say? That the place is a dump? No. Instead, you’ll rave about how they responded to the cockroach problem — about how you got upgraded and your bill slashed. You may have just become a raving fan of the Four Seasons.
Mistakes and unfortunate events are inevitable — especially in a service business. There’s just no way everything can go perfect. What the Cockroach Story reminds us is that there’s often an opportunity to turn a bad sitution into a positive; all it usually takes is the mindset of “how can I thrill this person to whom this bad thing has happened?”