During a recent visit to Melbourne I had the pleasure of dining out at two of my favourite venues. They are very different in location and style but with one important common bond; both have always served great food, supported by efficient, friendly and professional staff. All making for a great experience.

This time around though our experience wasn’t so great at one of these restaurants. The service was very poor (orders mixed up, very slow to arrive and a decided lack of enthusiasm from the wait person who served us). But worse than all of this was the fact that the server in question exhibited a ‘laissez faire’ style of attitude, providing no explanation or apology. Hence ensuring our experience was less than great.

Sadly this restaurant had failed its ‘moment of truth’ – defined as how to handle (and recover) when something really bad happens.

Of course, such a situation isn’t exclusively the domain of restaurants. The same scenario will be playing out in numerous advice businesses around the country at this very moment (maybe it’s a lost cheque, slow processing of a claim, a transaction taking longer than the client expected or simply misspelling of the client’s name). And while mistakes will always occur, the real questions to my mind are:

  1. How do practices minimise the potential of errors? And,
  2. How do they respond if (when) it happens?

Turning to the first question, how to minimise the potential of errors?   At the risk of stating the ‘bleeding obvious’, any business has to have the ‘right’ people in it. If I had to summarise our top tips for the hiring the right people they would include:

  • Hire slow
    Prepare first. Know what you want before you start the hiring process. It always helps to have a current job description on hand, complete with the core competencies, skills, education, knowledge, experience required. Disappointingly, our latest Future Ready Report reveals that 22% of practices reported that none of their staff have documented job descriptions.
  • Avoid recruiting just to fill a vacancy
    Sounds obvious, but it isn’t. Sometimes the pressure of ‘just getting someone in’ invariably ends up creating bigger problems down the line.
  • Build in an appropriate probation period
    A sensible safeguard, which needs to be incorporated into your ‘offer’ letter.
  • Have key performance indicators
    If a business doesn’t have these, then it can be very difficult to effectively induct new employees. If they don’t know what’s expected of them, how will they know that what they’re doing isn’t up to standard. In my restaurant experience, maybe that new waiter thought it was OK to keep customers waiting for 30 minutes before taking the coffee order.
  • Don’t rush the interview process
    Set aside plenty of time. Appointing the right person is critical, so invest the time accordingly. If possible, it’s always a good idea to involve another of your key people in this process. Two sets of ears are better than one (and they have a vested interest anyway in ensuring the ‘right’ person joins them). Ask open-ended questions during the interview, and carefully listen to the answers. Always ensure the interview is two-way. If you’re doing all the talking, you’re finding out very little.
  • Always reference check
    I’ve never seen a poor resume, or a ‘less than glowing’ profile on social media. Fortunately, there are quite a few tools at our disposal now, to help us more effectively assess candidates, psycho metric testing/profiling for example. And, of course, it doesn’t take much to actually talk (phone, not text) to the people who have previously worked with your candidate. This step seems so obvious and yet… !
  • Introduce them ‘properly’ into your business
    It’s always better to start off on the right foot. Keep a close eye on the new employee and make sure that you are available to them during the first weeks. There is no need to featherbed new team members, but it is vital that they feel that you are keeping an eye out for them. Even experienced and confident individuals feel unsure when in a new situation and keeping their comfort levels high is an essential management task at this point. Indeed, the relationship that is made in these early days sets the pattern for the months to come.We’ve been seeing more and more practices putting together an ‘induction pack’ for new employees – covering all the important essentials such as accessing the office, the IT system/s, business cards, the various internal protocols at play (what do you say when answering a phone call, what’s the accepted time for lunch breaks, who covers for you when you’re away from your desk, who do you cover for and so on).If possible, put aside a little time each day during the first few days for a meeting with the new team member so that you can check how they are getting on, what questions they might have and are there any specific concerns. Think back to when you were new to the organisation – what were the things that you needed to know? While 49% of Australian practices report that they have an induction or orientation plan for new staff members, the flip side is that one in two practices don’t.
  • When seeking to hire someone trust your intuition
    You will invariably know if someone is right for you or not. One more thing – in today’s world, every interview is a two-way street. While you will be seeking to find the most suitable person for your business, the interviewee will also be checking you out. Will this be a good place for me to work? Make sure you have your Employee Value Proposition firmly in place before you start recruiting.


Turning to the second question, how to respond when mistakes occur?


  • Be up front
    Admit the problem and importantly, communicate what you’re going to do about it.
  • Accept that mistakes will happen
    If you can accept the fact that mistakes or bad experiences will occur from time to time, the opportunity is – what can you learn from them (to avoid their repetition). To ‘fail small’ isn’t such a bad thing!
  • Encourage the sharing of ‘problems’ (and how they were addressed) at your team meetings
    According to our databank, 73% of practices conduct weekly/fortnightly staff meetings. If you have a positive and supportive culture, you’re likely to become aware of a problem before it escalates into something much bigger.
  • Have documented procedures for your key tasks
    These will include what do when things go off the rails and will help staff and clients alike. Ensure all of your team understand their role.
  • You can’t manage what you can’t measure
    Regularly check on the key tasks – are your service standards being met?; complaints being captured (and then actioned)?, are clients satisfied? (what were the results of your last client survey?) and so on.
  • And for the client who has been ‘aggrieved’
    Make sure someone within your practice (ideally the principal) apologises personally (phone or face to face), promptly and advises what will be done to avoid a repetition.

In the case of our Melbourne restaurant, when the owner realised that he had a couple of unhappy diners, he immediately apologised, swapped the waiter and waived the cost of entrees.

For your consideration.
Terry Bell

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