The Power to Do the Right Thing

Give your team the power to please, resolve, and empathize with your customers. The magic should be in their hands, not left for the great, all-knowing, powerful Oz—I mean manager—to come in and save the day.

I recently took a trip to Turkey. What a beautiful place! Full of culture, history, and myriad experiences. Plenty of opportunities to go back in time in this 2,600-year-old city, browse the famous mosques, bazaars, and palaces, while at the same time seeing the future unfold around you with an expansion of the city and its state-of-the-art buildings on the rise. I checked into my hotel and was very excited. I had booked a city view, which would be of the famous Blue Mosque, in one of the Superior rooms. It was going to be a sight to behold. Or so I thought! My bubble was about to be burst. I checked in, and the desk clerk informed me that this room type was not available, so they had downgraded me to a Standard room. The room was in the basement, with no views, next to the street, and that was that. (It sounded more like a dungeon than a hotel room. I could already envision my included breakfast coming through a slot in the door).

I was stunned by the news. But after a long trip from Canada, I was too tired to care at that point. I went to my dungeon and went to bed. In the morning, I went back to the front desk and asked about the room issue from the night before. The desk clerk told me I had no options and I wouldn’t be changing rooms that day either. I was in Istanbul, and I was excited. I accepted my fate. After all, I was out and about in the city. I didn’t really need the view. It was OK. So I then asked for a refund. I was fine to stay in my dungeon room, but I wanted to receive the difference I paid for the Superior room to the Standard room. It sounds reasonable, don’t you think?

Think again. Like any true prison experience, prisoners don’t get what they want. “No, no!” the clerk said. “We are going to move you on the last day. We have a sea view for you! We can’t offer you a refund.”

Moving on my last day wasn’t in the cards for me. I had already unpacked everything, and I had meetings for my entire day organized from early morning to early evening. I didn’t have time to make a room change. 

Unsatisfied, and based on the principle that I didn’t receive what I had already paid for, I called my booking agent.

“You will have to speak with the hotel,” the agent told me. “This booking belongs to a tour operator we use. They will have to deal with this.”

Again, I was shocked. No one wanted to help me, and no one had the power to do anything. Something that was simple and easy (i.e., getting a small refund) now turned into my personal mission. In about 20 minutes, I went from being slightly disappointed to extremely annoyed 

As you can imagine, I was left feeling less than great about both experiences. However, after the prison break, I pondered what happened in these scenarios. It highlighted how these team members were not empowered to do the right the thing and didn’t have the proper training to handle my situation, which, in theory, should have been an easy fix.

With that in mind, here are some simple lessons all managers should keep in mind when working with their team members:

1. Give your team members the power to make things right. First and foremost, your team needs to have the authority to make the experience right. They shouldn’t have to check with you to make someone happy and to resolve issues. There is nothing worse than explaining your issues to someone and hoping they can do something to help you, only to hear, “I will have to check with my manager and see what he/she says about this.” Why not send a message via carrier pigeon? This type of approach belongs in that era. 

Give your team the power to please, resolve, and empathize with your customers. The magic should be in their hands, not left for the great, all-knowing, powerful Oz—I mean manager—to come in and save the day. By the time the issue gets to a manager, it probably has already escalated because it wasn’t dealt with properly and in a timely fashion. The frustration levels are already higher than they should be and this negative situation could lead to more compensation and a more difficult time recovering from the issues.

2. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Use your time wisely. It is much better to be proactive rather than reactive. Don’t wait until your customer has complained online or written a bad comment card. Rushing to resolve an issue at that time is needed, but seems a bit careless. Look for opportunities to fix or inform about issues before they escalate. If someone is expressing discontent or you know there could be a problem, take the time to provide a solution or options before it gets to the complaint stage. You might find people are more understanding when they have been warned about something before it even happens. This also would give your customers time to prepare themselves.

Many businesses are afraid to tell customers of potential issues that will arise and instead hope they go unnoticed. WHY? That is a poor way to run a company, in our opinion. We all know the expression that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, but is that really true? In today’s world of online reviews and social media, customers broadcast bad experiences to millions with the touch of a button—photos and videos included! Even if your clients forgive you, the anger can cause people to send that in-the-moment tweet or Instagram tag that picture. They might forgive you later, but the damage is already done. 

3. Apologize. Don’t be afraid to apologize for the experience someone is having. Regardless of who is at fault, you can always apologize for the emotion they are feeling. When someone is feeling annoyed, frustrated, or just anything less than positive, we want to let them know we care about their feelings. By showing you care about how they feel, you indicate your willingness to work on their issue, no matter what it might be.

During my experience in Turkey, I heard a lot of excuses and things that could or might happen, but an apology was not forthcoming. This just made the whole experience seem less genuine. Like they didn’t care about the experience of their guests. 

4. Train your team to say the right things or at least what not to say. We often train our team in what they should say. We have many great phrases and service statements to get to the root of issues, encourage feedback, and impress the guests, but what about what we shouldn’t say? It might seem like common sense, but in reality, many team members don’t always have the best filter. We often hear them belittle management or tell the customer, “This happens all of the time,” or “It doesn’t really matter to me personally”! Whatever the case, over sharing can result in the agent being taken less than seriously and looking unprofessional and that can give your organization a bad reputation since it looks like a mess.

In general, we would recommend that your team members not share: 

  • Their thoughts on management and co-workers
  • The frequency of a situation
  • The fact that the outcome doesn’t affect them
  • Tips on how to complain
  • Information or thoughts about other customers
  • Their ideas about cultures, politics, etc.

All of these can get us into “hot water,” or at least change someone’s opinion about us. Back to my Turkey experience, the front desk agent told me, “Management doesn’t really care, and whatever you want to do doesn’t matter to me, so go ahead and complain, bro.”

Can you see the message this sent? I sure did!

In the end, I am still working on getting my refund, but let’s just say I won’t be returning to the hotel, nor making future hotel bookings with the booking agent. Customers learn from their experiences, and when your customers walk out your door, will they want to repeat yours?

We hope so!

Kevin James Saunders is a trainer and the Chief Company Culture Director for Oculus Training, a British Columbia-based corporate training and mystery shopping company offering sales management, reservations, sensitivity, and customer service training programs for a variety of service-based industries throughout Canada, the U.S., and the world. For more information, call 888.OCULUS4 or visit You also can connect with Oculus on Twitter @oculustraining; via e-mail at; or visit it on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube.



Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.