Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Nice Customer

If you’ve spent any time at all in a customer service position, you already know the difference between a nice customer and a rude one; you may even have read the classic customer service lesson called “I am a Nice Customer”. Okay, it’s not the most original idea you’ve ever read, but sadly enough, most of the old truisms about customer service are quite correct: a happy customer really will tell 4 other people (4.3 on average) about how well you did, while an unhappy one will tell 26 people (ranges as high as 29 depending on the demographic group) how bad you did – and most of the time, YOU won’t be one of those 26. If you are unusually lucky, a reasonable person may actually call your attention to where and how your business failed them, and give you the chance to fix the problem.

I mention this because that’s what happened the day after our trip to Dave and Buster’s (see my last post). We had gone out for Sunday brunch at a quite nice restaurant near our house, and ran into service that was so bad I really didn’t feel I could let it pass without comment. Now, admittedly, none of it was sitcom or slapstick/gross out movie material. It began when I ordered skirt steak and eggs, and got a sirloin steak and eggs because none of the waiters knew that such a dish had been added to the menu. It got worse when I had to prove to the waiter that there was a skirt steak on his menu by showing it to him. It got even worse when I had to explain that “medium” does not mean the same thing as “blood rare” – e.g. I asked for medium and got red-purple, cool in the middle, and soft/chewy, not hot and firm with a pink center.

We had trouble with this particular unit in this particular chain of restaurants before; on a previous visit we had ordered the chicken hash and gotten something resembling a stew or soup. When I asked, they informed me that this is what that dish was supposed to be like, despite the fact that I’d eaten it in at least three of their other locations, and it wasn’t. But I felt that having to send your lunch back twice – and argue about the definitions – was a bit much. A hash is not a soup, a skirt steak is not a strip steak, and medium does not mean, “still cold and bloody.” And even if the waiters were following directions to the letter, the manager on duty could have handled the situation better than to just say “we changed the menu recently” (which they hadn’t). Nor is offering a diabetic a free dessert really a good customer relations gesture; you’d almost be better off not bothering. I sent a short (short for me, anyway) email to the manager of this restaurant, and copied their corporate comment email address.

I wasn’t expecting much of a response. I mean, in that business you get bombarded with comments every day, and most of them are from fruitcakes. It’s part of why I consider this to be the hardest business there is. Within 24 hours, however, I’d gotten an email back from corporate apologizing for the events and saying they’d have the local manager call me, and the next day their local manager did, in fact, call. She asked for all of the details of the incident, including the names of the waiter and shift manager, and promised to deal with the issues I had raised. She also sent us gift cards with enough balance to cover a replacement meal, and said she hoped we would give them another chance.

I’m not going to name the chain or the location, lest people in cyberspace see this and bombard them with bogus complaints to try and get a free meal. My point in telling all of you this story is twofold: First, never argue with a customer. You might win. If you’re going to use definitions of food that don’t exist anywhere else in the world (a hash is so soupy you couldn’t eat it with a fork if you wanted to?) – or even if you think this might be the case! – then make sure that you and your customer are using the same definition before you put in the order. If a customer orders something you don’t think is on the menu, don’t just substitute what you THINK they meant, confirm the order. And second, if you do get someone calling or writing in to complain, handle the complaint! Seven out of ten people who actually call to complain (sometimes as high as 90%, depending on the business type and conditions) will do business with you again IF you take care of them.

Otherwise, people are going to follow that great American tradition of voting with their feet. They’re going to take their business and their money elsewhere. And if they were really nice customers, the kind who never even complain, you’ll never know why…