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Customer Service is King?

Customer service is a lost art. There I said it. I don’t know if it is just me, but seems like less and less businesses are focused on providing good customer service these days. In fact, more and more, the customer is being made to feel like an intrusion or inconvenience into the businesses’ day as opposed to being the reason for it! Case point, this past weekend my wife and I, along with some friends and relatives were at a local restaurant that we frequent regularly. We had a modest size group of 10 that arrived for supper at 5:30pm (we had reservations for this time). We waited quite a while for our meals; however, as we were not in a hurry and it was supper hour, no one minded or complained, we were simply looking forward to our meals.

Customer Service TabletA little over an hour after we were there, our meals arrived. The best way to describe the majority of the meals was “warm.” My wife’s meal, (which was a steak dinner), was literally cold. Not warm, but cold – you could tell it had been sitting out for some time. When the server came by to check on our meals, my wife told her that the meal was cold and not really edible. The server’s first response was, “sorry about that but I am not the one who cooks the meals.” I was shocked – really!? That is your initial response!? Incredible! Then, her solution was to either throw the steak back on the grill (my wife wanted a medium steak, so in order to ‘heat it up’ it would turn into well done) or to provide her with a fish dinner because, “fish is quick and it won’t take long to get you that.” My wife indicated to the server that she did not wish to have fish and that is why she ordered the steak. The waitress then replied with “ok, then” and promptly left to serve other tables.

My wife attempted to take a few bites of the cold dinner but found the entire thing inedible. Our server passed by our table several more times, noticed that my wife wasn’t eating her meal, and continued to serve her other tables. At the end of the meal, the server offered another half -hearted apology and my wife firmly (but politely) indicated that she would not be paying for this meal. The server was taken aback and said to her, “well I offered to heat it up and I offered you another meal.” She then indicated that she would have to get her manager to come over to verify with my wife that she did, in fact, give her those options. As you can imagine, my wife was very frustrated, felt like the staff didn’t care and to top it all off, she was hungry!

Over the course of the next 15+ minutes, we could see our server conversing behind the scenes with someone who we presumed was a manager. There was a lot of discussion, head movement, looking over at our table and motioning with hands. Our server then ended up in conversation with several other servers, all of whom, it appeared, seemed to be looking at our table during this discussion. Keep in mind, at this point, we are all done and just looking to pay and leave.

Overall, I would describe our server as feeling as though we had somehow insulted or inconvenienced her. Ultimately, our group left the restaurant feeling as though it wasn’t a place we could recommend anymore, simply because of the (lack of) customer service experience. We were made to feel as though we did something wrong by wanting to have our meals right.

So, here is the thing. As business owners, employees and/or HR Pros reading this blog, we need to understand that we are all in the customer service business in some capacity or at some point in time. Having said that, there are some lessons learned here in providing good customer service and how we can make situations (like above) right:

  1. The first thing you need to do is apologize to your customer, but when you do, you need to mean it. Accept responsibility (even if you yourself aren’t at fault). Don’t blame another member of your team, it only makes you look petty and displays to the customer that you don’t care.
  2. Make things right with the customer. Clearly in the case above the meal was not as ordered and quality (temperature) not appropriate. Take some pride in your product/service and make things right. Don’t offer the customer things they don’t want and make an extra effort to make things right. In our case, all the server had to do was go out back and order another steak to be cooked and make it a priority order. Worse case, it would have taken 15 minutes to prepare. Sure it would have sucked a bit for my wife to wait while everyone else ate, but at least she still would have had the meal she ordered at the quality she expected.
  3. Don’t make your customer(s) feel like they are the problem and don’t make them wait while you try and decide on a solution. Taking an excessive amount of time to debate a solution on a basic issue only serves to enflame the situation. In our case, even if all the other errors had been made, if the server and/or her manager and come to our table with the bill and apologized in a timely manner and indicated “no charge” for her meal, it would have gone a long way in us wanting to return. Heck, even a complimentary dessert would have been a nice touch!
  4. Offer your customer a reason to come back. Of course, following points 1-3 above helps, but even you show some good faith, it will go a long way. If the restaurant, upon us leaving, offered some gift certificates or something to make things right, again, we would have left with a much better feeling and at the very least, would have had incentive to go back there again because we felt we were treated with respect and that they truly valued our business.
  5. Keep the big picture in mind and don’t take your customers for granted. Our table of 10 had a total bill of several hundred dollars. The steak dinner in question, that basically overshadowed everything, was worth about $20. That’s right, this restaurant was willing to turn off customers over a $20 meal! (total ‘cost’ to them was probably ¼ of that price). It was such a nominal amount for the restaurant, but they felt it was important to follow their policies, procedures or whatever else they tell their servers as opposed to doing the right thing and providing a positive customer experience.
  6. That all being said, organizations need to empower their people to make positive and proactive customer service decisions. A server shouldn’t have to get permission to comp. a $20 meal. Accept the error and then make it right – no debate, no permission needed. We weren’t asking for everyone’s meal for free – we just wanted that one meal made right. Our initial thought wasn’t even to get the meal free, we just wanted it made right.

So you can now see the importance of each customer service experience. There is no such thing as a “minor” encounter with a customer.   Each encounter goes into your customer service goodwill bank, whether or not you are a restaurant, retail store, or HR department. Keep these points in mind the next time you are trying to solve a difficult customer service situation – you may be surprised at just how easy a “difficult” situation is to resolve! As always, I welcome your comments and feedback. And if you think we were being unreasonable in this situation, I would love to hear your feedback as well.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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