A Credit Card and a Pulse

2nd Jan 2015

In a 'Lunch with the Financial Times' interview, the CEO of Ryan Air, Michael O'Leary, commented that his ideal customer was someone with 'a credit card and a pulse'.  Of course, Ryan Air has been a phenomenal business success, but along the way their customer service record has also led to them being voted Europe's 'Least Liked' airline by Trip Advisor users.  Mr O'Leary may be happy with his business model but I don't think feedback like that would let me sleep well at night.
Of course the decision businesses always have to make is whether to focus on 'stack em high, sell em cheap' volume like Ryan Air or whether the financial bottom line is a lower priority than top quality customer service and quality of provision.  Luckily, many businesses find that a focus on great customer service leads to business growth anyway.
When Cal and I started Peak Mountaineering we were under no illusion that we needed a business that would sustain a growing family and provide an income allowing us to carry on having the adventures that led us towards starting a guiding business in the first place.  Despite all that, we still wanted to focus on service and delivery quality because we knew from our own experiences as consumers that customers who receive good service are often loyal.  We wanted a business where  many clients would be inspired to return to us time and time again.
It worked far better than we could ever have hoped.  We always do some number crunching at the end of the year and I'm delighted that over 91% of our customers either rejoined us for another course last year, have rebooked for 2015 or have said in feedback they will return to do another course with us.  We also know we are delivering great courses because we receive so many word of mouth recommendations and referrals.  Good customer service certainly does lead to increased business and it will continue to be our driving force.
However, although I'm glad it doesn't happen very often, we occasionally make mistakes.  Towards the tail end of last year a course we ran fell short of the standard we expect.  No excuses.  We used instructors that didn't deliver a course our clients were happy with and I'm just pleased, at least, that the clients were happy to tell us.  Our instructor team is our backbone and on this rare occasion, with the need for several staff in the same weekend, we'd had to reach further out from our normal pool than we'd prefer.  We learnt a lesson.  
Once we had the feedback a strategy could have been, of course, to simply write it off to experience, but that really wouldn't work for us.  We get so little bad feedback that this one incident led to a lot of soul searching and discussion in the Peak Mountaineering office.  Do we offer the clients another course or a refund?  Maybe a discount voucher, some flowers or a compensation Peak Mountaineering T-shirt?  None of these seemed quite our style. We wanted to do something personal and something that clearly demonstrated how we felt.
In the first instance I phoned the clients to express my apologies and, by lucky chance, they mentioned during the conversation that they'd be in the Peak District in the next few weeks. Cal was in the office eavesdropping on the conversation and the solution was obvious to her straight away.  She slipped a post it note with a scribbled message on across the desk to me and before I knew it we'd invited them for dinner during their visit.  Luckily they said yes.
We had a great evening, shared viewpoints over a few glasses, ate some Mexican food, talked travel and mountaineering and finally parted company knowing we were all back on an even keel.  What they valued most, they told us at the end of the night, was the personal touch.  We knew we'd done the right thing and slept very well that night.  The following week we got a phone call from them saying they wanted to join a winter course.
Posted by Paul