Over a breakfast meeting with a good friend and colleague the other day, I had the opportunity to observe an interesting phenomenon. I’m not sure what to call it, but it essentially involved watching my friend morph through a series of emotional states, triggered by some inconsistent customer service we experienced.
At the outset, our server was pleasant. She greeted us with friendly conversation and a warm smile. She made notes as she took our order and then repeated our choices back to us.
Things were going well—at least we thought they were.
When our meals arrived, my colleague realized the tomato slices he asked for as a substitute for potatoes were nowhere to be seen. Instead, he had a mound of fried potatoes he didn’t want.
Apparently, our order was not received as clearly as we thought, in spite of being repeated back to us correctly. The server left our table immediately upon delivering our meals, so correcting the error meant calling her back. My colleague, an extreme introvert, preferred to grumble into his home fries rather than make a scene.
I watched as his entire demeanor changed from smiling and sunny to petulant before my eyes. Of course, now that he was dissatisfied with his meal, he began to look for other shortcomings. The fruit garnish, for example, was not consistent with the menu. He had been expecting berries and was confronted instead with a slice of cantaloupe speared together with a chunk of pineapple. He was expecting and looking forward to those berries.
His petulance escalated to irritation and, suddenly, he “wasn’t going to just sit there and take it!”
He waved the server down, irritation mounting as she made eye contact and moved on to serve another customer. By the time she arrived at our table, he had a full head of steam on and launched into a diatribe about the fruit garnish.
I hardly recognized my easy-going friend, who was now almost inarticulate with frustration. It didn’t help that the real error was lost in the shuffle. The server thought she was being taken to task for the seasonality of the fruit garnish (outside her control) rather than the missed substitution of tomato for potato (well within her control).
At this point, things took a turn for the worse as the server became defensive and started saying things like “It’s just a garnish.” and “I don’t make the rules.” To which my friend exploded, “And what about the tomatoes I asked for!”
In the face of her complete bafflement and his incoherence, I explained the tomato oversight. Our server looked confused, offered a flustered apology for missing the substitution and then ruined it by muttering, “But the fruit garnish is out of my control,” and rushing away.
Trying hard not to laugh in the face of my friend’s exasperation, I watched him fulminate. He expounded on the shocking lack of customer service training provided to serving staff, the restaurant’s blatant misrepresentation of dishes on the menu and the overall incompetence of “some people.”
Basically, he mutated into a cranky, complaining, cynic before my eyes. All over a few slices of tomato and some berries!
But then, the final transformation…
Suddenly, our server appeared at my friend’s elbow, her equilibrium reinstated along with her smile. In her hand was a small bowl filled with a delectable collection of blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and grapes.
“I am so sorry about the mix-up with your order, sir. And that you were disappointed with the fruit garnish. I had the chef put this together special for you.”
I watched, amused, as the sun broke through the angry clouds in my friend’s eyes. His scowl vanished to be replaced by astonishment and delight. He even shared the berries and grapes with me. Miraculously, his opinion of the server was resuscitated, which he expressed with a generous tip. Even the restaurant was redeemed by the chef’s offering of berries.
The whole situation was a little more drama than I needed first thing in the morning, but it provided some entertainment and an excellent reminder of two important truths. First, whatever line of work you’re in, the experience customers have when dealing with you and your staff, really does make or break the organization. Second, when things go wrong between you and your customer, a great recovery (and fresh berries) will almost always save the day!
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