Repeat Performance

In the summer, my wife and I enjoy the occasional escape to Vail for the weekend.  We enjoy the beauty of the Vail Valley and walking along the bike path that follows Gore Creek, walking through Vail Village and Lionshead, having a beer or a snack on an outdoor patio, and we especially enjoy a nice dinner or two.  Vail has some incredible restaurants with very talented chefs.  Over the years we have had some phenomenal dining experiences and, of course, we’ve had some disappointments as well.  Recently, I was sharing one of our experiences regarding our first and second visits to one of the restaurants in Vail.  One of my favorite shows to watch, and really the only one I make a habit of watching, is Top Chef.  As luck would have it, one of the finalists in the 2011 season owns a restaurant in Vail.  The restaurant is named Kelly Liken, which is the chef’s name.  We saw an advertisement in the local Vail paper for a five course tasting menu.  I knew the dinner would be expensive, but I jumped at the chance to dine at the restaurant of one of the chef’s we had watched on TV.  It was a magnificent meal.  We showed up a little early for our reservation at 9pm (we had a late dinner reservation because demand was so high) and enjoyed a cocktail at the bar while we waited to be seated.  My description of the restaurant would be an upscale bistro/wine bar atmosphere that is calming and relaxing.  The service at the bar and by the wait staff that night was impeccable.  Once we were seated, we enjoyed some wine until our first course was served.  I cannot remember specifically what we had that night, but my wife and I both had different selections with each course so we got to try one another’s meal.  Basically we got to try ten separate plates in one sitting.  The portions were small, but just right for tasting and savoring without filling up.  We had a 3 hour meal and by the end we weren’t stuffed, like we are when typically go out, but we were perfectly full and satisfied.  Honestly, to date I believe that was the best dining experience I have ever had.

A year later, my wife and I were again in Vail and decided we wanted to go back to Kelly Liken since our first experience was so wonderful.  The second night, while still enjoyable and relaxing, couldn’t hold a candle to our first time experience.  The service the second time was less attentive and the food was nowhere near as inspired as the first visit.  It was a disappointment to be sure.  It left us wondering if something had changed.  Was the owner less present or less involved of late?  Was it just a bad evening for everyone?  Was there a weak link in the chain?  Maybe the manager had changed and things weren’t as tight as they used to be?  Whatever the case, it was definitely not the same experience.

So with those two memories, I share frequently with my friends about how incredible our first time at Kelly Liken was, but also how we were somewhat disappointed the second time.  It made me think, “would these friends try the restaurant based on my feedback?”  My guess is that there is a good chance they would not.  In the short conversation of me sharing my experience, I have a feeling that at the end of it what they heard was “expensive” and “bad experience”, even though I open with “that was one of the best, if not the best, dining experiences of my life.”  It’s amazing how the negative outdoes the positive.  And, of course, this got me to thinking about my own company and our performance on projects.  Even one project that produces the best report, engineering design, or new process can be completely overshadowed by one poor performance on another project.  In fact, even the great performance on a project could be damaged by one part of the project going wrong, i.e. missed schedule, budget overrun, etc.  We are judged harshly by our clients and it’s the poor experiences that they often remember.

Does that mean we can’t restore our reputation following a slip in performance?  Certainly not.  I plan on returning to Kelly Liken again when we visit Vail in the future.  However, I will likely be more observant and yes, judgmental, on this third visit. While I will not be expecting the blow my socks off experience that we had the first time, I will be expecting good, friendly service, and excellent food.  For the price, why would I expect less?  But I’m happy to pay for something that gives me a consistently good experience.  And I believe that is the same thing our clients would say.  If we have a slip on a project, it doesn’t mean we’re out, it just means next time we have to be extra careful to pay attention to the details and get it right, elevating the customer experience back to a level that they are expecting.

What are your experiences with repeat performances or slips in performance?  Do you find grace with your clients or judgment?  If you were the customer, how would you treat your service provider?  Would you give them a second chance, realizing they are human too?  We all can use grace and I for one am happy to extend it to others.  Second chances are valuable when given, so make the most of them.