Damage control


I recently had the pleasure of speaking on practice management at a great Porter Hétu event in New Brunswick in early November.  Was extremely well received.  Had a great time.  What a great bunch of people.  Loved it.

On my way to my next engagement, my WestJet flight from Moncton to Toronto got cancelled.  You may have heard about the whole WestJet shit show where all their systems were down.  So now I’m stuck in Moncton and no way of honoring the promise I made to meet with a client the following day in Toronto.  What to do.  I find myself a nearby hotel and make my way back to the airport early the next morning.

If you’ve never been to the Moncton airport, let me say it’s EXTREMELY small.   In searching for a way out of Moncton, I learn that WestJet reps will only show up at around 5 pm as they don’t have any flights leaving Moncton until then.  Ohhhh Great!!!  As you can imagine, my opinion of WestJet wasn’t very good now.  What do I do now?  With all systems down, there’s also no way of calling WestJet by phone.  Ohhhh wow.   This day is just getting better and better. (sarcastic tone required here when reading)  And now I’m really starting to hate WestJet for what I’m going through. 

Until this angel came to me dressed in Porter airline uniform (an airline I’d never heard of until then).  She explained that she worked for Porter during the day, but also worked for WestJet in the evening.  Well I suppose that’s what you do when the airport is that small.  You change uniform and work for the next guy. She asked where I was attempting to go.  “Toronto” I said.  “Okay” she says, “let me see if there are any WestJet flights for Toronto with seats available leaving from any of the surrounding cities.  St. Johns, Federicton, and maybe even one more airport”.  All negative.  Well at least she tried.  I was already very impressed with her efforts and my opinion of WestJet had somewhat improved already.   In doing her enquiries, she discovered that Porter had a flight leaving for Toronto very soon with one seat available.  She explained that Porter did not land at Pearson (which was where I needed to go to pick up my car rental) but explained how to get to Pearson airport from where I’d be landing.  She refunded my WestJet ticket, got me on the plain with Porter and I’m on my way.  

So why tell you about my adventure?

This whole misadventure could have very easily really turned me off using WestJet again.  But all it took to get WestJet in my good books again was this wonderful lady in Moncton, who went well beyond her call of duty in order for me, to not only forgive WestJet, but become an even bigger fan of WestJet.   Is WestJet lucky that they happen to have, on their team, someone who really cares this much to win my business back?  I suppose.  Or is there more to this story.  

As owner of a practice for over 30 years, I was always very careful in hiring a team that cared about my clients as much as I did.  This has become an important core value of the firm and built into our culture.  Does WestJet pay particular attention to such things when they hire?  I don’t know.  But the above experience combined with another experience I had several years ago would lead me to believe that they do.  This story is much shorter but well worth telling I think.  Here it is.

As I was about to cross security in Winnipeg, I noticed I had the house/car keys in my pocket and had no way of returning them to my wife (as she had just dropped me off).  I was instructed by the people at the airport security that given I was flying WestJet, they might be able to help.  Really?  And sure enough, the WestJet agent told me to leave the keys with her, along with the address, and that she’d drop them off at my house after work.  WOW!!!!  Do you suppose this small gesture impacted what I thought of WestJet?

We are often so damned preoccupied with doing accounting and taxes that we often forget what clients REALLY want from us.  They simply want to know that we care.  They want assurance that we’ll do whatever is necessary to ensure their life is a bit better.  Do that, and you’re assured tremendous loyalty.  In fact, you can screw things up REALLY bad, and they’ll stick around if you can properly demonstrate that you care and will do whatever you can to help.  And trust me, I’m pretty good at screwing things up real good. Heck, I could right a book on how to screw up.  Comes with having had so much practice at screwing up.  But fortunately, I’ve also gotten pretty good at making things right.

The moral of this story is that you might be surprised at how forgiving your clients can be, just as I was very forgiving of WestJet for screwing up my life and creating tremendous stress for me.  All on account of one single employee who cared a lot about my well-being.  Here are a few lessons to take from this:

  • Select your team well – hire people who care
  • Own your mistakes and correct them
  • Don’t panic when clients are upset.  It’s an opportunity for you and your team to shine
  • Train your team on how to deal with upset clients.  
  • Develop a culture where caring for each other and for clients is a non-negotiable core value.