Make It Right

By  |  May 3, 2010 | 

Troy Ahlstrom writes…

My wife and I managed to get away for a weekend this spring.  It’s something we hadn’t done for years with everything else going on, and we were both looking forward to it.

I made reservations at a nice resort about an hour away from home.  They had a romantic getaway package with a nice room, champagne, and chocolate covered strawberries.  I reserved the package and off we went.  We had a great time, but there was a small glitch.  They never setup the package for the room.  It was supposed to be sitting there when we checked in, but it wasn’t.  Given that Sibel had already raved about the accommodations and didn’t know what was to be included, I just brought dessert back to the room after we went out.

I told her about the mix up the next day, and we decided we’d check out and try a different hotel for our second night in the area.  We explained the problem to the desk staff.  She apologized, decreased our room rate to the best offer available that night, and promised that she’d forward the mistake to management for review.  As for me, I wasn’t angry about it, but I felt they hadn’t earned our business.  We left and made reservations elsewhere for the night.

As fate would have it, I couldn’t get the resort’s evening dinner offer out of my head; so we returned that evening.  The bellman recognized us and said hello.  The restaurant staff asked if we were staying with them.  I said, “Well, we had been, but there was a problem with the room package.  So, we checked out.  The staff was highly professional and courteous regarding the mix up.  I guess we’re back for dinner though.”  They seated us, and we ordered an extravagant menu – appetizers, prime rib, filet mignon, bottle of wine, etc.

Midway through dinner something odd happened.  The restaurant staff apologized for the earlier mistake, though it certainly wasn’t their mistake.  We commented about how nice they were, and dinner was wonderful.  Then, we received another visitor at our table.  Here stood the resort manager, with a large bag in hand, and the following report.

“Mr. and Mrs. Ahlstrom, I am the Manager of the Inn at Bay Harbor.  I had written this letter to you earlier today after learning of our mistake and had planned on mailing it tomorrow.  However, our staff informed me that you were dining with us this evening.  Please allow me to apologize to you both in person.  We are sincerely sorry for the mistake, and we’d like to make it right.  Contained in this bag is a gift for both of you as well as a gift certificate for another night’s stay with us at any time.  We value the trust you’ve placed in us and would like to have a chance to live up to that trust.  Finally, we’d like to pay for your dinner with us this evening.  Again, thank you for staying with us.  We’d appreciate the opportunity to have you stay with us again in the future.”

Needless to say, we were impressed.  Rarely will someone admit a mistake, much less go out of their way to redeem their reputation.  We will never forget that weekend together because of their efforts.

I remember working a night shift and admitting a patient with CHF years ago.  The next day, my partner Rich paged me to tell me that I’d missed something.  The patient actually had a Pulmonary Embolism.  I was embarrassed, but I thanked him for appropriately caring for the patient and for correcting my mistake.  I learned something, the patient received the right care, and I had a chance to improve myself for everyone’s benefit.

Now I struggle with different issues as we grow and our responsibilities increase.   We miss paying someone for a shift, or we have to look at how we reimburse and staff a whole set of shifts.  We have to change and adapt and improve.  We have to honor the hard work, quality, and character of coworkers and partners.  But, I make mistakes.  We make mistakes.  Yet, we are inspired and committed to make things better and retain each other’s trust…  We make it right.

If you’re ever in northern Michigan, the Inn at Bay Harbor on Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay deserves a chance to host you.  Let me commend them to you as an example of how we seek to care for our patients and coworkers, as they are an example to us all.


  1. Jack Percelay May 18, 2010 at 10:40 pm - Reply

    Wonderful story, but I wonder if we are doing ourselves a disservice if we expect to get the diagnosis right immediately, all the time. Maybe I am oversimplifying if I expect that it should be easy to issue checks appropriately and put welcome baskets in hotel rooms. Surely these processes are more complex than we perceive them to be from the outsider’s perspective. But might there be a problem expecting to be right 100% in medicine. Does that imply a hubris and self-confidence that avoids re-examining previous decisions. Is uncertainty necessarily a mistake? Clearly, however, the trust and commitment you and your colleague share in making things better is exactly the attitude we should be nourishing in hospital medicine.

  2. Leslie Flores May 19, 2010 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    The message I got from Troy’s story isn’t that we should be right 100% of the time, it’s that when we’re not right, how we do service recovery matters. This hotel may have screwed up, but they gained a customer for life in Troy (as well as some great free advertising) because of how they handled their mistake. I think we could all learn a lesson from that.

    I wonder how the lessons of this story might be applicable to Mike’s recent dilemma posted above?

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