“Disaster recovery” is something that large organizations - trained in quality
control principles - recognize to be a necessary component of their operations. They know exactly how they want a process
(e.g. guest registration at a hotel) to proceed, but they also recognize that occasionally things won’t go as planned.
In these few instances of failure, they provide a roadmap for employees suggesting specific ways employees can put things
right. These roadmaps (for many different anticipated failures) are their disaster recovery plans.At the Ritz
A disaster recovery policy at one time in place at Ritz Carlton Hotels has become a legendary example. Reportedly
employees were given “Ritz Carlton dollars” to help ameliorate the angst of guests who encountered problems during
their stay at a Ritz property. Maybe requested turn-down service wasn’t rendered. No problem; the housekeeping
staff or front desk personnel could offer the complaining guest a complimentary manicure or dessert. Employees were
kept in reasonable tow by being allocated a fixed number of Ritz dollars every week which they issued to guests to pay for
the proffered reparation – at their own discretion.Disaster Recovery Isn't Well Known
Despite the specifics of the Ritz-Carlton example,
disaster recovery is generally not about 'paying to restore' the customer’s satisfaction. Instead, the generally
respected philosophy of disaster recovery is to show concern that an organization didn’t live up to the needs or expectations
of a guest and is truly sorry. Obviously if turn-down service isn’t provided, there’s likely a systemic
problem with scheduling or personnel that needs to be corrected – but the more immediate “guest-facing”
solution is to show concern and regret by doing something that will be both unexpected and appreciated. The real skill
of successful disaster recovery is in making the reparation both unexpected and truly cherished.
Our reason for this particular Insights column is that while big organizations generally
understand all of this, disaster recovery may not be well understood or practiced by smaller organizations. Our case
in point, a recent dinner at a local restaurant. We were joined by several couples at a restaurant which had delighted
us on several previous meals. Upon arrival we were greeted by the hostess-co-owner and in turn we introduced our guests
as referrals we wished to have experience her restaurant.Thanks, But No Thanks!
Uncharacteristic of previous visits to the restaurant,
from our arrival the experience deteriorated quickly. It seemed that the kitchen (the hostess’s husband) was over-taxed
by a full house. Our appetizers came out in a reasonably timely fashion, but then there was an hour’s wait for
our entrées. In short, a disaster was in full bloom.
When we explained to the Hostess how unfortunate the delay was, we were treated to a defensive discourse about how
busy the kitchen was….and that we and our guests should have more patience. This response illustrates
how organizations without instituted disaster recovery plans often extemporaneously attempt to solve a problem. The
general result is to become rationally self-defensive. But customers almost never want to understand the difficulties
a service provider is experiencing. From their more emotional perspective, they simply wish to enjoy timely and perfect
service! The bottom-line? When a business lacks a scripted or well thought-out disaster recovery plan, the ad-libbed
response may often worsen the disaster rather than curing it.
This example also characterizes another failure
of many organizations. Diners at the restaurant weren’t the only ones aware of a problem; the wait-staff and kitchen
staff should have been aware of their difficulties in meeting the evening’s demand. In such situations, some organizations
will adopt an ostrich demeanor by stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the developing problem as if ignoring the problem will
make it go away. If a member of the wait-staff had confronted the problem and had actively informed us that the kitchen
was having difficulties, we would have been fore-warned and might have accepted conditions more cordially. In addition,
if a gratis appetizer had been offered it could have minimized the pain of the wait avoiding a full-scale disaster.
So the key learning here is to assume the worst - that you won’t always properly
deliver your customers the experience you wish them to have. In the few situations when you fail, you need a practiced
disaster recovery process. Staff and management need a well-planned solution that seeks to placate the angst of your
affected customers. These processes will be your disaster recovery systems.