And now… drumroll… a free dessert!

9 Feb

Last week I was at a restaurant in Eugene for lunch with some managers from my company. We frequent this restaurant for lunch meetings, so they know us and know that we come often for business lunches.  25 minutes into our lunch, with no food on the horizon the waiter stops by to tell us:

I just wanted to let you know that there is a large party in the other room, and the kitchen is quite backed up. Your food should be here soon.

Another 20 minutes goes by.

We are really sorry for the wait, there are just too many people in that other  party. Can we offer you guys a free dessert?

There are so many things wrong with this approach:

  1. You know us, and you know we come for business lunches. We are never in the restaurant for over 55 minutes. Why didn’t you tell us as soon as we walked in that today would take extra long, and that you were not going to be able to even get food to us in an hour.
  2. Why do you think we care that you have a large party? Is that party paying my bill? Am I making money off the large party? How is the large party relevant to me at all?
  3. I don’t want a free dessert. Our business lunches are always quick, and we NEVER order dessert. We have been frequenting this restaurant for almost 2 years – so they should know this. Why would we ever think that a free dessert makes up for terrible service?
  4. The customer never cares WHY you didn’t serve them well. They just want you to serve them well. Don’t tell them your system is slow, or you had too many other customers. Seriously, have you ever been satisfied with a poor experience, just because the company explains and gives excuses?
  5. We didn’t go there this week for lunch, and probably won’t be back anytime soon. Because they couldn’t handle their own service, they have lost loyal customers. It’s not that the kitchen was slow, it’s that the restaurant didn’t respect me, the customer. The restaurant expected me to deal with their problems, instead of them dealing with the problem. How much better would it have been to tell us right off that it would be a long wait? We would have appreciated the information, maybe chosen to go to a  different venue last week, but been back this week.

Your customers don’t want excuses and explanations. They want service. They feel like they pay for service. If you can’t give them service, do something about that. But don’t pretend you can, and then give excuses why you didn’t.  Companies go the excuses route all the time:

  1. Don’t charge me for express shipping, then tell me it is going to take 48 hours to process my order. Processing the order is your problem, not mine. I have given you my information, and given you the permission to charge me. So just do it. If you can’t process my order faster than one business day, you need to re-configure your process. Seriously. There is no reason all companies can’t figure out a way to take my money as fast as I want to give it to them.
  2. Don’t send me an e-newsletter or email promotion and then tell me I can’t reply to your email. You sent me the email. I shouldn’t have to be the one that copies and pastes the “right” email address to get in touch with your company. You should. Let me reply to your email, and you figure out how to handle the incoming email requests. (We have a great product to help you manage your emails!)
  3. Don’t let me reserve a room in your hotel, then tell me it is overbooked. I will NEVER come to your hotel again, and I will tell other people about the experience. There is nothing worse for someone than to have to scramble for a bed at the last moment. Same thing with rental car companies. Don’t reserve and guarantee me a certain car, and then not have it. Not only will I never want to rent from you again, but I will also tell my friends not to rent from you.
  4. Don’t tell me that your chef doesn’t allow substitutions, because planning for them is hard. That is the chef’s problem not mine. BUT if you tell me that no substitutions allows you to offer me a very reasonably priced delicious gourmet meal — that works for me.
  5. I order a product online, and three days later you tell me it is out of stock. This is your problem, not mine. I bought from you – maybe because your website said you had the product. If you can’t manage your inventory, then maybe you should not be selling stuff online. If you let me purchase it, and charge my card, and give me my order receipt – you better have it in stock. I won’t care why you don’t.
  6. If it takes you 30 minutes to answer your phone, and I have to listen to terrible music while I wait, don’t periodically tell me that you have an extremely high call volume right now, and you will get to me as soon as possible. I don’t care how high your call volume is. Hire enough people to answer the phone. And if you truly do get overwhelmed one day, and didn’t realize you had to ramp up your customer service employees, allow me to press one button, leave a message, and then get back to me QUICKLY. Preferably in 30 minutes. If not, definitely in a few hours. That way I don’t have to wait for you — you have to reach out to me.

It amazes me when businesses don’t put themselves in their own customer’s shoes. After all isn’t “the customer always right?” Even my 4 year old knows this, thanks to a Backyardigans episode. When I make a dinner he doesn’t like, and I tell him he has to eat it, he will turn to me and say:

I am your customer mommy. And the customer is always right. I don’t like that ______.

Yes, it is amusing – to a point. He is of course NOT the customer, and is learning that he doesnt’ have a choice. But even he gets the concept. Why can’t all businesses?

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