Gender Equality and the Art of Service Recovery

The art of service recovery

I’m not one to shy away from an argument.  I get that from my mother.  If ever you want to have a heated discussion, I suggest raising a controversial topic with her.  Or simply any topic, she has an opinion on pretty much everything.  I feel that I’ve inherited this trait, although I like to think I’m perhaps more tactful with it (apologies Mother, I’m not attempting to offend, rather providing the material ammunition for our next discussion).

Today’s rant is not about an actual debate, but rather a debate I might have had (and incidentally one that I’ve played out in my mind many times since).  Yesterday, I was in a well-known department store.  Cue advert featuring arty photography featuring seductive voice ‘Not just any department store, but *&* department store’.  Know where I mean?  No, ok.  Marks and Spencer.  Anyway, I was in said department store looking for school clothes.  It’s March, mid-way through the school year.  And I have children who grow throughout the year.  So naturally, I need school clothes throughout the year.  Frustrating, none of the shops I visited seemed to stock school clothes outside the usual purchase period of June to September.  So I was delighted that the last shop on my list (M&S) had a selection, albeit small.

Ushering eldest son into the unmanned changing room with the one pair of trousers available in his size, I followed with a couple of items I had picked up to try on (dislike shopping but sucked in by lovely bright yellow colour trend).  On my way out of the changing room, I automatically handed the two tops to the sales assistant now stationed at the entrance and delivered the common ‘thanks but they didn’t fit’.  She seemed a bit off, never spoke and appeared reluctant to take the items. For a second I did wonder whether she was another customer, but nope, she had a name badge and uniform.  Before I could think about it properly, eldest boy emerged from changing rooms and we left to make the purchase of one pair of school trousers.

I had my sister with me and she had been standing outside with my two daughters.  I casually mentioned that the assistant had been a bit strange and the story began to unfold. While waiting for us by the changing rooms, my sister and kids had been approached by the assistant:

Assistant: ‘you can’t use this changing room, for men only’.

Sister:  ‘Just waiting for sister and nephew’

Assistant:  ‘they shouldn’t be in changing room.  Men only downstairs (mens & children department), ladies only upstairs (ladies department)’.

Sister (also argumentative by nature): ‘where are children’s changing rooms then?’

Assistant: ‘don’t have any, they have to use the ladies.’

Of course I was unaware of this at the time but as my sister recounted the tale, I could feel myself growing frustrated.  The changing rooms are not advertised as gender specific, they simply say ‘fitting rooms’,  There is nothing to suggest an issue with men or women using them nor is there any suggestion anywhere (that I could see) to state that children were not allowed in.  Seriously, children are not allowed to try clothes on in the children’s department?  Perhaps there is an unwritten rule in department stores around gender allocation of fitting rooms that I’m not privy to?  I stand corrected if there is.

In a world in which gender discrimination is prevalent, I was surprised to see such an obvious example.  Ok, so it’s maybe a small (some might say petty) example.  But for me, on that particularly grumpy day, it was frustrating.  Standing in the queue to buy the trousers, I was tempted to launch in to a checkout tirade that would inevitably end in me leaving my goods behind in a display of dissatisfaction and spite.  Despite an incessant urge to make my point, after a day unsuccessfully traipsing the shops, the need for said pair of trousers was deemed more important and I kept my mouth shut (until now at least).  Yes, they may have made a sale but the experience I had means that I’d prefer to shop elsewhere in the future.

Fast forward to tonight and I thought my shopping saga was happening all over again.   I checked into the Doubletree by Hilton in Glasgow on a work trip.  When I got to the room, my keycard wouldn’t open the door.  Frustratingly, this also happened to me the last time I stayed and meant another trip back down to reception.  Just three floors, so not too long a trek.  But it was 10.45pm, I’d been on a train for four and a half hours and I was tired and grumpy.  I explained the problem and assistant couldn’t have been more helpful.  He listened to me, apologised for the inconvenience and offered me an upgraded room.  This exceeded my expectations, I was only looking for a keycard that worked.  incidentally, if you’re curious to know the difference between the standard room and my upgraded executive room: a soft-seating area, complimentary bottles of water, a separate bath and shower and heated towel rail.

What I received at Doubletree was an excellent example of the art of service recovery.  Empowering staff with the authority and autonomy to manage a problem is a win-win situation.  Staff feel capable and confident in seeking an agreeable solution and customers know where they stand, their complaint is acknowledged and they feel valued (can you tell I used to deliver corporate training in customer service excellence?!).

And how do I know the service recovery was so successful in this instance?  After receiving the new room key, I actually apologised for complaining.


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