Write it down. “EVERYTHING is our problem.” Say it out loud. When businesses take the “it’s not our fault approach” there is only one solution: threaten and punish the customer, which means you won the argument but lost the customer. The first company I started, John Robert’s Spa, demonstrates the perfect example. Guests would sometimes leave their valuables (jewelry or cell phone) in the pockets of the robes. This meant the guests’ possessions could get washed and/or lost when we did our laundry. It’s not the spa’s fault that the guests leave their stuff in the robe pockets.

The first remedy was to leave a sign inside the lockers and changing room stating, “We are not responsible for any valuables left behind.” A huge negative cue, it is basically threatening and punishing customers. So we changed that to “Please remember to check your robe and locker for all your valuables.” Better, but it didn’t eliminate the problem. Now what? Can we train our Spa Attendants to check every robe, every time before washing? Only in a perfect world. So we found a supplier who provides pocket-less robes. Problem solved.

One of the hospitals I consult with has always had an issue with patients being late for their appointments. Big problem! More than half their patients were late. It wasn’t a result of patients not respecting the hospital’s time, or poor planning. It was because the hospital is so large (literally stretches for several blocks). Once patients found the correct building and parking garage, then the real challenge began — walking and finding the office in a maze of buildings and hallways.

Solution #1 (Threaten & Punish) -The hospital could warn the patients that they will forfeit their appointment if they are late but still be charged for the visit. Obviously this is not exactly the approach a business wants to take with its customers.

Solution #2 (Allow for this in hospital’s scheduling) –Allow for more time with each patient to build in for the fact that they will be late. This results in fewer appointments and patients seen per day. Not good financially for the hospital, and not good for the patients who need to get in quickly.

Everything is our Responsibility –Realizing how critical this is to running a successful business, the hospital finally did two things.

1) Staffed more recognizable volunteers all over the hospital to help direct patients to their destination, and 2) borrowing from Disney, they created a GPS APP for smart phones that directs patient to the proper place on their property (i.e. Building P, office 515).

After an exhilarating day at Disney, your family is leaving Magic Kingdom Park. It is 8:30 pm and you are in the parking lot. All of you are exhausted and impatient to get back to your room to shower and hit the sack. You look at your spouse and ask, “Where did we park?” She looks at you and says, “You’re kidding-right?” Neither of you remembers where you parked. So how hard can it be to find your car? Like 20,000 other people, you came here in a rented white minivan. There are miles and miles of white minivans in the parking lot. Your only option appears to be to wait until the park closes at 11 pm and see what white minivans are left.

Whose fault is this: Disney’s, yours, or your spouse’s? Should Disney be responsible for reminding you where you parked? Disney, however, is aware that the average family visiting today traveled four hours, they arrived in a white minivan, and before the driver put the car in park, the kids opened the door and were running for the entrance. The parents are too concerned about catching up with their kids to stop and think about where they parked. Disney already knows that tonight a number of families will return exhausted to the parking lot, not remember where they parked, and just want to get back to the hotel.

What does Disney do? They anticipate a major service defect. And they solve it, even though it isn’t their fault. They have people drive around the parking lots in golf carts in search of families that look lost.

A Disney Cast Member pulls up to your family and says,

Did you forget where you parked?”

You nod and say,

“We’re driving a white minivan. Does that help?”

“Do you remember when you arrived? A ballpark time will do.”

“About 11:15 to 11:30 am.”

The Disney Cast Member checks his clipboard and says,

“Between 11 am and noon we were parking in the Goofy section. Jump in! I will take you to that section, and we can find your car with your remote key.”

And it’s done. Was it Disney’s fault that you lost your car? Absolutely not. Is it their problem? Absolutely, yes, because Disney knows that every day several people will lose their cars and potentially be stranded for hours, a situation that could totally ruin the memory of their Disney experience. This is a great example of what being zero risk is all about. Being zero risk applies regardless of whether your company is at fault. World-class service companies create protocols to proactively handle their most common service defects, and they train their employees how to extinguish small flames long before they turn into a raging fire. Even if a defect is not your fault, your customer will associate the issue with doing business with you. This is a critical issue for all businesses, at all levels, because when these situations arise, in the vast majority of instances, the employee immediately and instinctively becomes defensive and responds, “It’s not our fault.” Managers and front-line employees alike are shocked that the customer expects the company to be responsible and make it right.

The best way I have found to truly embrace the EVERYTHING is our problem mindset it to do the “Pay what you think is fair” exercise. When you think about how your customers can “short-pay” you for any reason, you will not believe how creative and solution-orientated you become with everything.

Find your pocket-less robes. If you really train everyone in your company to have the mindset that EVERYTHING is your problem and responsibility, and you remove the victim mentality of “it is our customer’s fault,” your company’s customer experience will elevate to new heights. You’ll find solutions that eliminate the problems and make your company more efficient, and your customers happier.