It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry….


Quick! Name that band! I know I’m dating myself here, but just try. Any guesses?

If you said: Chicago and their hit from 1982, you’re right!

In the realm of Patient Experience, service recovery is not a concept that I’ve been naturally drawn to over the years. I think it’s because service recovery comes into play when things go wrong. I’d prefer to focus my energies and efforts on the positive and preventative side of the equation, trying to make sure that the situations in need of an apology (or “recovery”), don’t have to occur in the first place.

A few weeks ago, I was headed to a girls weekend in St. Louis and got to the airport early for my flight. Us “girls” had limited time together, so I was anticipating a quick flight from Minneapolis so that the fun could commence ASAP! As luck would have it, this was my 5th flight of the week and while all of the others had managed to be on time, this one, the fun one, was delayed! The gate agent came on and told us that there were some mechanical issues delaying our departure and asked us to sit tight in the gate area. I started to get angry and then I heard something that caught my attention. The gate agent said, “My apologies, I take responsibility for that on behalf of Delta… but we’d rather be slightly delayed and get you there safely.” Suddenly, all of my anger dissipated. She was absolutely right, I would rather get there safely and a little late than the alternative!

And that’s all it took, an apology with heartfelt ownership. Now, was it her fault that the mechanical issue occurred? No, not at all. But, she also didn’t point the finger at someone else. Instead, she took the blame on behalf of her entire organization. It was pretty hard to be mad at her after that.

Contrast that with an experience I had checking in to a hotel which I stay at frequently in California. I had checked in online ahead of time, letting them know when I would be arriving and choosing a room from the selection of options I was provided. I showed up at the hotel right when I said I would, needing to change quickly and get to the hospital where I was observing in the Emergency Department that evening. Imagine my shock when I tried to pick up my key at the hotel, only to find out that the room I’d selected online was not available. Seemingly none of the rooms I’d been offered online were available!

At this point I was in a hurry, so I was getting a little frustrated with the situation. I asked the gentleman at the desk why they would give me a choice of rooms and not make sure that they were available at the time of check-in? He then committed what is one of my biggest pet peeves: he made excuses. He said, “Ma’am we’ve been very busy today.” Normally I’m a pretty kind and patient woman but I think even my husband was shocked when I said, “That’s awesome, but as the guest, that’s not my problem.” I was even more frustrated when I looked at his name tag and saw he was the General Manager. He did eventually put me in an “upgraded room” but made sure to let me know he was doing me a favor by doing so. On top of all of that, the room was really not that clean when I finally got in it! I was frustrated enough to actually write in on the app and let the hotel chain know about the situation.

It occurred to me: if this can be my experience when I’m travelling and in good health and a relatively happy state of mind, what must it be like when things like this occur for someone who is in pain, anxious, confused, and/or scared?  These experiences taught me how an apology can help actually make things a bit better when things don’t go as planned.  In the next couple of blogs, we’ll explore this idea of service recovery a bit more in-depth. Hopefully we will hear from you and what has worked for you in your organization to make a difference in this area!

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Janiece Gray

I began my career as a social worker and later, with my Master of Health Administration (MHA), directed operations at Allina Health in Minnesota. I later directed patient experience at Allina. My background and experience give me strengths in approaching healthcare opportunities and challenges through a systems lens – with unique strengths, challenges and activation points. My experience is also informed by leadership roles leading performance improvement in patient-centered care and patient experience departments. Working in the client role with healthcare consulting firms inspired me to address some unmet needs in the industry, and to co-found DTA Healthcare Solutions. I have a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, and find that the discipline of practice translates to healthcare work very well.

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