A Surprising Secret to Customer Loyalty – Why We Shouldn’t Be So Afraid to Make a Mistake

Checkout the full conversation with Katie on the Building Thinkers Podcast

Whether it is having the perfect message to pitch your services to a new client, crafting the exact right words for the hard conversation,  or rethinking every potential subject line of an email – a recurring set of inspirational advice, books (see list below) and scientific evidence tells us to go for it and not get stuck in overthinking potential mistakes or worry about “failure”. 

Fail forward 

Fail fast 

Don’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “good”

Momentum is messy 

Ready, Set, Fail

The aim of these messages is often intended to advocate for iteration and learning over perfection.

Well, if you need yet another reason to break up with your perfectionism here it is: mistakes may actually be the secret to customer loyalty. 

In my conversation with Katie Conley, who spent a good portion of her early career in the hospitality industry with hotel brands like the Shangri-La  and Marriott, she speaks to how so much focus goes into elaborate details of a customer experience (think gold flakes on your cappuccino.)  Amidst effort in “fanciness” Katie found a counterintuitive idea she learned and then taught to 1000’s of employees.

We shouldn’t be so afraid to make a mistake, in fact that is when the loyalty piece happens. 

Katie Conley
Senior Member Experience Manager | SAltbox

Katie shares the following example to explain further:

Stuff happens. The hotel car service is going to be late because of a traffic jam. People were so afraid of customers experiencing a problem, but actually that’s when the loyalty piece happens. If you have an issue at a hotel or a restaurant or with a company, as long as that company recovers that experience, you are more loyal to that company than if you had never experienced a problem at all. And that is data that is not just me making that up…but that is factual data from all of the survey brands that people use to do guest engagement surveys. 

And when it comes to the “fixing it” part so that loyalty lands, Katie used the acronym LEARN:

Your first  assumption is, oh my gosh, sorry, Tracy. But actually you’re supposed to put yourself in their shoes and say, you know, Tracy, I’m really sorry that happened. I can imagine,  if I were you and I had just traveled 14 hours to get here how frustrated I’d be. And here’s what I’m gonna do. And then handle the problem and then notify your boss or whoever needs to know what you did. You’re empowered to handle it and make it right. Just do the thing.

  • Listen.
  • Empathize:  Tracy, I can imagine, if I were you and I had just traveled 14 hours, how frustrated I would be.
  • Apologize:  I’m really sorry that happened. 
  • React: Here’s what I am going to do. [Just do the thing.]
  • Notify.

Gallup research confirms –  proactively addressing problems often leads to the same degree of customer loyalty as do flawless experiences. So, for those serving customers/users/learners, let’s take some of that time spent in the refinements beyond the truly good enough and spend it ensuring when a problem arises we are ready to LEARN.