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Somebunny to love

How an empowered Wyndham Vacation Rentals employee turned a miserable moment into a magical memory—and customer journey.

by Ronnie Battista

Have you ever experienced the distress of a child that’s lost their favorite stuffed animal? To the outside observer, it can seem quite trivial. But, to a child it’s much, much more—it’s family.

So imagine that your family goes on vacation at a Florida resort. Your daughter brings along her special bunny. After an amazing time at the beach, you pack up the whole family for the long trip back, sun-soaked and full of memories to last a lifetime. Not until you get home do you realize that your family is somebody short.

Somebunny short, actually. After confirming that there is really, truly nobunny at home, the sad but inevitable conclusion is reached: Bunny is still in the Florida sun.

And just like that, the soft afterglow of vacation bliss is turned upside down.

Help! Is anybunny out there?

Take a second to think about that exact momentBe that parent. What would you do?

First, calm your daughter, and tell her it’s going to be ok.

Next, call the resort’s lost and found.

How do you think that process might go? Consider the last time you had to make such a call: navigating a non-intuitive labyrinthian call center menu to leave a message you’re not even sure gets checked; or reaching some vaguely-interested guy named Doug, who puts you on hold while rummaging for a few seconds before hanging up, unsuccessful.

Lexie to the rescue

This missing bunny scenario happened to a family staying at the Wyndham Vacation Rentals Indigo resort in Pensacola, Florida.

The parents called the front desk and told an employee named Lexie that their daughter had left her beloved bunny in the condo they’d vacated that morning. Lexie promptly visited the condo, and located the love-worn bunny. She also took the time to think about the little girl and what she must be feeling.

Lexie’s reflection transformed the situation into something special.

A few days later, when the little girl opened the box to be reunited with her beloved bunny, she saw this:

A beautiful idea, elegantly executed. That’s some bunny to love!

Now, imagine you’ve just shown that to your daughter. Those clouds of despair clear, turning tears into a smile and quickly a squeal of delight. Your daughter hugs her bunny, but who do you hug for that priceless gift?

Lexie took the time to bring an imagination to life. In addition to the colorful story, the bunny was packed with items she’d collected on her brief adventure, like the sunglasses she’d worn and the pixie sticks she’d taken from the candy dish.
Bunny taking last photos before heading home

Finding the magic in the mundane

In the customer experience folksonomy, it’s all about the ‘journey’ with a company.

It’s an accessible, timeless concept of traveling from one place to another. During the journey there are critical times—or “moments of truth”—when an experience can be particularly delightful or painful. Knowing when they happen, what they feel like to a customer, and how to best address them, are the keys to creating great experiences.

It’s great to hear real stories about how these moments of truth manifest themselves. I am especially interested in the moments created that don’t fit neatly in the typical journey, which is why the bunny story resonated so much.

Three interesting features of this story are particularly worth calling out:

The company didn’t do anything wrong to elicit this memorable response

Whether you rented a car that smelled like an ashtray or had horrible service at a restaurant, when it’s the company that makes a mistake, they are given a critical opportunity to make it right. Studies show the importance of customer service as a critical element in determining whether someone will continue to engage with a business. In some cases, how a company fixes a problem they caused can be just as important, or more, as getting it right in the first place.

But in the case of the adventurous bunny, Wyndham wasn’t at fault. The issue was caused by the customer. Beyond expecting Wyndham to do a thorough search for the bunny and return it if found, it’s likely that the customer didn’t expect anything.

They made a magic moment out of the mundane

We’re familiar with examples of times when businesses find ways to make their customer experiences more special. The restaurant owner that hears it’s your birthday and comes to your table with a piece of cake and a lit candle. The free carwash and handwritten thank-you note when your car is serviced.

But this story is a great example of something a bit different. It wasn’t about enhancing a typical purchase experience. Pardon the pun, but lost and found isn’t likely high on the list of priorities when companies look to improve their service. However, a child misplacing their favorite stuffed animal is far more emotional an experience than leaving behind a hair dryer or camera bag. A relatable, typically frustrating and self-inflicted inconvenience—finding, identifying, and shipping an item left behind—was made into something unique and special.

Employee empathy: Empowered

The value of an empowered employee that is engaged and empathetic cannot be understated. Too often, employees are constrained by business rules that place processes and policies over pragmatism. The bunny’s adventure was spontaneously created by an employee closest to the customer. There’s no stated Lost Bunny Protocol in Wyndham’s Employee Handbook. Lexie could have simply packed the bunny in a box and shipped it back.

Instead, she took the time to think about the customers—the girl and her parents—as real people in a stressful situation that was very real to them. The solution was delivered in a heartfelt, personalized, and genuine way. And Lexie even engaged other guests to take part in the story, who gladly let her borrow their beach chairs, fishing poles, and boogie boards to complete the bunny’s adventure.

Not surprisingly, leadership at Wyndham Vacation Rentals has encouraged and empowered the local markets they serve.

“Our local teams are our front line,” says MaryLynn “ML” Clark, president of Wyndham Vacation Rentals. “They meet our guests and help make their stays with us memorable. Even when you’re on company time, you’re still a consumer yourself. That’s an important message for leadership to communicate with their service teams. Especially in the business of making vacationers feel at home, we want our guests to feel like we went above and beyond. The first step is empowering our associates to do so when they see those opportunities.”

Does your company culture authentically support and embrace a customer-centric service model?

Embrace your somebunny

Do you have the ability to do something special for your customer in a unique, atypical way? Think about how you can identify areas of the customer journey where a little extra and unexpected empathy can show customers that you care about them.

Business leaders, do your employees believe they have the power to do what Lexie did? If they don’t, or they aren’t sure, how might you train, inspire, and empower employees to seek out opportunities to deliver exceptional experiences? How do you start?

The beginning of that answer is deceptively simple, yet often the hardest part: Think about it.

Think about your customer and what role you play in their greater existence. Think about what opportunities exist to delight in the ever-so-small interactions they have with your business. Get in their head. Walk in their shoes. Find their hoppy ending.