Saturday, November 15, 2008

Rare Customer Service Experience

The last few days have come at me really quickly, and even though I sort of had an idea of what I wanted to talk about a few days in advance, I didn't have time to "tee up" today. So, I'm going to talk about an experience I had today; because it was a rare experience for us, especially these days.

Last weekend we went to a local franchise restaurant, and when we returned home we realized we had left our "Tower of Power" there. The Tower of Power is a tower of stackable clear containers we use to transport our youngest child's (call him J) snacks in. It's a convenient contraption, and it truly does allow us to hold power over 14 month-old J. I called them the day after, and the person answering the phone confirmed they had it, and they usually hold things until people come and get them. I told them to hang on to it, we would be by to get it.

We figured today would be the time to go by and get it. My wife had been in the kitchen most all day making a birthday cake for my oldest son's (L) birthday party tomorrow (not his actual birthday - but it's when he's having his friends over) and neither of us felt like cooking.

We asked the host station about the T of P, and they said they'd have to look in back, but if we left it it was probably there. They seated us, but it being Saturday after 5 pm, we could see they were swamped, and I knew they would not get around to it. So, when our waitress came by to take our drink and app orders, we described it to here, told her our story, and asked if she could take a look. She said she would, and headed back.

Five minutes later, the manager comes out, saying he heard we wanted to speak to him. Huh? You need to call a manager about a lost and found question? That seemed odd, and being a boss myself, I thought it odd. Maybe she couldn't find it, and thought we might like it more if the manager came and spoke to us. So we tell him the story, and he says he'll take a look. Nope, I guess the waitress didn't go check (of course, it's Saturday night and they're busy) but I figured with everyone there someone besides the guy running the place would do it. But I can appreciate it when the man in charge takes an interest in a customer's needs. It can pay off some times.

Meanwhile, our food orders are taken, and and while we're waiting for our food the manager comes and tells us he can't find it, but admits it's busy and he's got a lot going on; so he takes our info, and assures us that if he finds it he'll let us know. Great. Of course, no trip to a restaurant is complete without the three year-old ("O") suddenly needing to go pee, so S takes her to the ladies'. L decided he has to go as well, and heads off to the gents'.

While they are out, the food comes, and they get S's order wrong. Let me say that I've never seen anyone have worse luck with orders than S. I'll give the restaurant industry a 3 in 10 failure rate when it comes to her. And she's not picky. She just doesn't like what she doesn't like; people just don't seem to pay attention.

Anyway, she ordered a steak salad, and the menu said it came with a "Bleu Cheese Vinaigrette" dressing. Unlike yours truly, who dreams of Bleu Cheese flavored gum, toothpaste and ice cream, S hates the stuff. So she substitutes a mustard vinaigrette. The salad comes with the desired dressing, but crumbled bleu cheese is piled on it. Bad. Next time the waitress comes by, we pull her aside, and explain. She says S asked for a change in dressing, but S explains she doesn't like bleu cheese. Plus, I think to myself, there was no mention of crumbled bleu cheese on the salad. She politely apologizes and takes it back saying it will only take a few minutes, but while she's doing so looks at S and sighs. WTF? Hey, I can understand if you're busy and there's a misunderstanding, but least smile, keep it quiet and piss and moan to your friends in back (I'm sure she did that, too).

We check the menu. Like I thought, there is no mention of crumbled bleu cheese. S has completely lost her appetite. "A few minutes" turns out to be 40. The kids are done, I've been stalling on eating the whole time, but S had insisted I eat, and I'm done. It's too late - S says so, I agree, they just need to take the salad back. Of course, F and O, the daughters, are behaving typically - they're done eating (not much) and are more focused on singing, coloring on menus and making non-euclidean structures with the leftovers.

So the salad comes out and, as is customary in most places, the manager brings it to us. It's an awkward moment. He's really been decent, especially since he personally looked around for the T of P. But the exchange is nonetheless clumsy -
"Here it is, sorry about that, you see, the Bleu Cheese Vinaigrette IS crumbled bleu cheese with a normal vinaigrette over it. They made a mistake and left the bleu cheese on."

"We're sorry, but the kids are done, it's late, and we need to be getting home." J is getting cranky, and in doing so bangs his head on the table. "We just need the check."

"Sure, I'll get it to you, and I'll take care of this. You want this boxed up?" we agree, and it comes.

Big surprise is when the check comes. We expect (though we don't always get) the unsatisfactory meal to be taken off. Well, not this time. EVERY MEAL AND EVERY NON-ALCOHOLIC DRINK IS COMP'D. That was about $58-worth of food.

I'm pretty floored. I would have done the same, but I consider myself a generous guy, sometimes too much so. And it struck me that the manager could be thinking we just showed up with some B.S. story about misplacing something that doesn't exist, then decided to whine about something else to get something for nothing. He may still believe that, though it's not true. However, it doesn't matter to him. He knows what I think too few people remember these days - that satisfying the one or two tables of dissatisfied customers is more important than collecting a hundred-or-so bucks in revenue.

And you know what? It works. While waiting for the check, S and I both said, "That's it, we're done coming here." Once we saw it, well, you think maybe you will; you almost feel obliged. We're still sort of tweaked about the T of P and hoping to hear from him - maybe someone with a kid of their own saw it and figured "hey, free stuff" - but it can be replaced.

Okay, there you have it. Discussion probably more suitable during coffee with my mom, but this time, you're the lucky recipient.

This is the sort of customer service we strive for at Cthulhu's Family Restaurant. If you're not satisfied with a post, please don't hesitate to tell the proprietor and he will gladly steal every shred of your sanity and feed you to the Elder Things.


Julie said...

Interesting story.

A few years ago, I went to a chain restaurant with my sister and her family. My sister ordered steamed mussels with butter, and explained that it couldn't even touch anything with wheat in it, such as pasta, bread, etc.

Her dinner arrived with a breadstick on it, and they had to take it back and make her a new one. We had a long wait. Meanwhile, they screw up our order a half-dozen different ways too, and the kids' dessert ice cream was melted (actually lukewarm) and disgusting.

Not only did they not comp anything, they wouldn't even accept my sister's coupon because she didn't present it BEFORE ordering.

I wrote them a letter and never heard back.

I went back there a few weeks ago with two other bloggers you know and their children. They bent over backwards to make sure they got my drink order right (most places, including the place I went to last night, will just put bourbon in your old-fashioned without asking if they don't have rye).

So, I'm thinking the place has had a big management change in the last 5 years...

MRMacrum said...

Well told. Often the most ordinary of experiences can be grist for the mill.

I am in the service industry. I own a bike shop. And you are absolutely right about satisfying the occaisional squeaky wheel without complaint or comment. None of us get it right 100% of the time. When I blow it, I often bend over backwards to make up. Free repair, 1/2 off a part broken after installation even though breaking it was not us, but operator error. I have found that it is not usually impossible to make a bad situation into a good one. Swallow the loss and move on.

BTW _ Thanks for stopping by. I almost did not check my "other blog". I just snatched it because the domain name was available. I did not want anyone getting it besides me. Kinda selfish I know. And stupid maybe also. But there it is.

Stickthulhu said...

You're welcome, MrMacrum. Glad you checked your "other dimension" and thanks for stopping by.

I've thought of starting another blog myself and getting a url for it, but since I can barely handle this one, I haven't yet.