Today is my birthday, and the sweet treats of the day started this morning when one of my Divinity School professors guest preached at church, and my parents came down to join us for worship and to take us out to lunch. My parents love fried seafood, and since miserable winter weather had prevented their trip to the beach last month, they wanted to go to this great local seafood restaurant, which was fine with us. The restaurant serves delicious food, and we’ve always had enjoyable dining experiences there.
We arrived at the restaurant, and wow! Was it crowded! We put our name on the list, and the hostess told us it’d be a 20-minute wait. We could hold out that long. That twenty minutes ended up being much longer than imagined.
We waited more than 20 minutes, and still no table. My husband checked THREE times to see how much longer, and he was told, “You’re the next big party on the list. It shouldn’t be much longer now.” FINALLY, OVER an HOUR later, we hear the hostess call our name (barely) from inside the restaurant (She had been poking her head out to call customers who were waiting outside). We go inside, and she’s seating a party of 6 who had just come in. I pointed out how long we’d been waiting, and she simply said, “Sorry.” I informed her that we had two very hungry children in our party, and she said lamely, “Oh, I didn’t know you had children with you.” What should that matter? She didn’t even offer to make arrangements for us to sit down until after I asked to speak to the manager.
She sat us at a very cramped table for five and said she’d get a chair for our youngest (age 4). Ten minutes later, and still no chair. Another five minutes pass before the manager comes over. I explained how the actions of the hostess were far from the standards of even halfway good customer care, and he apologized, told me he’d inform the owner (cynical me doubts that will happen), and assured me it’ll never happen again. I was unpleasantly surprised that he didn’t offer to comp us anything for the extraordinarily long wait or the hostess’s lackadaisical attitude. I would have expected him to offer to comp us drinks or an appetizer at the minimum.
Our server, Ashley, did redeem the bad service experience with her own warm, energetic, courteous, attentive service. The hostess and the manager both had opportunities to practice what I call Super-Amazing Customer Care, and here’s where I think their learning opportunities lie:
(1) When you have made a mistake, admit it. The hostess first gave a flippant “sorry,” followed by a bit of sarcasm, topped off with an I-don’t-care shrug. In reality, however it happened, she skipped our names. No one likes being wrong, and being caught messing up at work is pretty embarrassing. Been there, done that. This happened to me in December. I had missed a whole product subcategory when I was updating my inventory numbers on my website; as a result, a customer ordered soaps I didn’t have in stock. I contacted her about the problem and offered her a solution to make it right.
(2) A little sacrifice now will prevent a bigger loss later. To be honest, I would have liked for the hostess to unseat the group she pushed in front of us and explained her mistake. That doesn’t seem just to me. At the absolute very least, the manager should have offered to comp us something – drinks (tea, Coke, chocolate milk, water) or an appetizer. The actions of the hostess and the manager make me rethink returning to that restaurant, and I posted a less-than-favorable review which could possibly cost this restaurant business. In the mistake I referenced from a sale in December, I shipped her the one soap I did have in stock, two other nice ones, a small lotion, and I promised to ship at no cost the soaps she ordered that I didn’t have as soon as they became available. Sure I will lose a little money off this, but at the same time, it’s worth it to me to make a customer happy.
(3) One person can turn around a bad customer service experience. In our case, our server redeemed our lunch time, providing warm, prompt, enthusiastic, energetic customer service. We did almost, however, leave the restaurant, not wanting to expose ourselves to more poor service and giving another restaurant the opportunity to give us the service we deserved as paying customers. That reality is there, regardless of the business you’re in. Whether you’re a mechanic, restaurant owner, doctor or soapmaker, if you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will.
What are some customer service lessons you would add, either as a business owner or as a consumer?