Learning experiences are everywhere, and in customer service, you can learn from the bad experiences as well as the good. I had a bad experience the other night, while having dinner at a favorite restaurant.
Even if you are not in the restaurant business, don't stop reading — bad service can strike anywhere. Just consider the lessons here and think about how they can apply to your own business.
As I mentioned, I was having dinner at a favorite restaurant — and I ordered a favorite menu item, a pasta dish I've had many times before. But I got a surprise when my meal arrived. The dish contained peas. Lots of peas. After that initial surprise, I rechecked the menu to see if the description of the dish had changed. Nope, no mention of peas. I pointed out the mistake to the server and she was more than willing to correct the problem. However, before she could remove the dish to the kitchen, the manager stepped in. He had a completely different attitude about the problem. No apology, he simply told me that one of the chefs likes add peas to the pasta dishes. He insisted that many people consider it a "pleasant surprise."
Unfortunately, I hate peas. What may be a pleasant surprise to another customer was an "unpleasant surprise" for me. The manager just stared at me as I nicely told him this. The server was visibly uncomfortable, but she was stuck — the manager had taken over and created a bad situation.
The manager asked if I would like to try another pasta dish. I said no, what I really would like was the dish I ordered, without the added peas. He finally gave in and removed the plate.
We can learn several lessons from this experience:
1. The server was doing her job well. The manager actually interfered with a process that was working properly.
2. Managers should set the example for those under their supervision. This one did not. Whereas the server had an enthusiastic attitude and projected care and concern for the customer, the manager didn't even apologize.
3. While the manager argued, the problem remained on the table — literally. If possible, quickly remove the problem (in this case, the dish of pasta) from the customer's sight. Then begin the recovery process.
4. It's okay to offer an explanation, but don't make excuses. You can often tell the difference by what accompanies them — explanations come with an apology, but excuses are generally accompanied by defensiveness, or even aggression.
5. Listen to the customer. Although I made it clear I did not want peas in the pasta, the manager defended the chef's decision to add them as a "pleasant surprise." For those not in the restaurant business, that could be called changing a process.
6. Always strive for consistency, because without it there is a lack of confidence. In the past I could order this pasta dish with confidence, but now I will have to make a special request that it not include peas. I may have to inquire who's cooking that day to ensure that my meal does not come with any surprises — pleasant or otherwise — added by a chef who takes liberties with a dish that I have loved for years. A dish, I might add, that I had confidently come back for again and again.
The restaurant where this happened is still a favorite, and I will be back. This isolated incident isn't enough to undo all the good experiences I've had there. But, what if I were a new customer? With all the choices out there, would I choose this restaurant again if this bad incident was my only experience with the establishment? As my friend Tom Baldwin, former CEO of Morton's Steakhouse says, "Great service is mistakes handled well." That's great advice for any business.