It will take a while, but I promise I will tie this story into senior housing. Hopefully, along the way, it will entertain. I live in Sacramento and in my work with Vigil Health Solutions, peddling the finest emergency call systems in North America, I range over 12 western states.  Last week I traveled to Portland and Seattle, the Silicon Valley of Senior Housing.   After landing Monday afternoon in Portland I quickly found my way to the Dollar Rental Car counter.  They handed me the key to a Subaru Outback which seemed kind of cool though a little “Birkenstocky” for me. On Wednesday, as I drove out of the hotel parking lot to meet a friend for dinner, the low oil light came on. What to do? I confess my first thought was “not my car, I will just drive it that way the rest of the week” but then thought, “well if this was my car . . . .”  I decided to wait until after dinner and see if it was still on.  It was.  My next thought was to take it back to the airport for a new car, but that meant a wasted hour and a fair amount of hassle getting the comfortable mess I made in this rental car into a new rental car.  I called the Portland Dollar counter, explained the problem and was told I could bring the car back for a new one or put oil in the car and bring back the receipt as a credit against my bill. Honestly and rationally  this wasn’t really anyone’s fault, but rather “just one of those things”, but I was feeling a teeny tiny bit annoyed and put-out at Dollar.  On Thursday morning I stopped, got a quart of oil, along with a free paper funnel, found the right place under the hood, managed to get the oil in without spilling any on me or the car.  The light went off and I hit the road for my long day trip to Seattle.  All was well with the world except for a tiny bit lingering annoyance. On Friday I had a pleasant breakfast meeting then headed to the airport looking forward to getting home after a long but productive week.  I pulled into the rental car return, waited 10 minutes before an attendant came to check-in my car.  When she got to me I explained I had to buy oil proudly showing her my receipt.  She told me she couldn’t help me and walked off.  Annoyance growing. . .  I called her back asking what I was supposed to do.  She came back telling me that I needed to get my mileage take it and my little $3.99 oil receipt that I was so proud of, to the counter to get credit for it. No Problem I walked right up to the counter handed my paperwork over to a “supervisor” and told my story.   There was this long pause during which she looked at my receipt, my contract and the computer.  She finally looked up saying “This car only has 4,000 miles on it.”  I was thinking “yeah, must not be a very good car  . . . but so what, do you think I did something to break it, to make it run out of oil earlier?” She then looked at her computer some more, looked at me, thought and then studied the receipt for a long, long time.  Finally she looked me in the eye and said “This receipt doesn’t say oil on it anywhere”.  I looked: sure enough it didn’t.  Feeling guilty, though I don’t know why, I said, “I don’t know what to tell you.  I called and asked what to do and was told I could return the car or buy oil and bring back the receipt, which is what I did.”  Now honestly who would actually look to see that it said OIL? She then took the oil receipt, my contract and my mileage into the back room.  After 5 minutes she came back and said “Okay, this time we are going to believe you and take it off your bill.”  I am feeling a little like a criminal, but say thanks.  As she is processing the paperwork she looks up at me and says, “You could have bought a soda and bag of chips rather than oil.”   I was stunned;  she thought I went through all of this hassle to rip off Dollar for $3.99.  Seriously what is wrong with her? That was it.  I hit the roof, asking for a supervisor and telling her that this was one of the most insulting things anyone had ever said to me. I confess that, in truth, people have said lots more insulting things to me, some of which I may have  deserved, but not when I was a customer. What followed was a profuse and, I think, sincere apology with them taking another $20 off the final total.  

The Lessons

  1.  Consumers, customers and prospects are finicky and distrustful.  It doesn’t take much to set them off.  While it is best to catch the problem before it happens, if you make a mistake fix it early and fix it big.
  2. Make sure the fix has value.  So they credited back what I spent on oil making me even (except not quite because they kept my receipt, which means I have to explain to accounting why I don’t have a receipt for that $3.99 expense).  Further, that extra $20 they took off the bill rewards my company for my hassle.  I like my company just fine, but I was the one treated badly, not my company.  How about figuring out how to do something for me?
  3. People are more likely to tell and retell stories about a bad experience than a good experience.   Like this story.  While they will tell and retell stories about even small annoyances, they will only tell stories about positive experiences if that positive experience is spectacular.   This means figuring out how to constantly create spectacular experiences for residents and prospects.

Will I use Dollar again?  You bet.  Ultimately in the scope of things a fairly minor annoyance, that likely collided with a good person who was having a bad day.  It was not a pattern, but often when working with prospects and referral sources it only takes one bad experience or you may only get one shot at them. Make sure that your staff know that the goal is to turn even non-epic fails into epic recoveries.   Steve Moran       If you like this story it would be a great honor to me if you would subscribe to our email list.  

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