Is a Customer Ever Wrong?

Calm Customer Service is the best way to deal with angry clientsThe simple answer is yes, there are times when the customer is wrong, but that doesn’t really matter much in the end. We still have to deal with the situation and attempt to make the most of it, while not further upsetting and potentially losing a client. This can be very tough for some, I fortunately have wonderful partners that are very kind, and considerate, probably to a fault, and they handle most of the customer service needs around here. But I had an interesting experience last weekend, which made me think (I know, I know, finally the dummy thinks).

My wife and I had the opportunity to get out of town, and head up to Salt Lake City on Saturday night. Now it isn’t too big a deal, Salt Lake City is only 40 miles North, but it is just nice to get away from a college town, and the mass hysteria that occurs on the weekends here, especially homecoming weekend. We decided to get reservations at ZTejas at The Gateway, and were looking forward to a good meal, and a change of atmosphere. Well, it didn’t turn out quite the way we had envisioned it.

We were sat quickly enough, even a few minutes before our reservation time, so that was great. Unfortunately our table was by a window, which meant my wife was going to be cold (she is known to bump up the thermostat from a warm by manageable 72 degrees, to sometimes over 75, you guys know what I mean, way too hot). We ordered our food, and were served a Diet Coke for my wife, which is essentially the only liquid she has consumed for the last 20 years of her life, and a water for me, as I have recently got off the diet soda wagon. Although, had I known there was an apparent water shortage in SLC, I would have milked that tiny drink of water like crazy, because we didn’t see refills for 20 minutes after that, and the ZTejas cuisine can prove to be very spicy.

The appetizer came quickly enough, but it was missing the guacamole, which is just unpardonable in my simple mind. And we didn’t even get that nice warm corn bread everyone else seemed to be enjoying, we were totally forgotten. In all fairness to our server, she was sat 3 large parties all at once, so she was obviously crazed, but it would have been nice if she had just popped in as she was running around to tell us she hadn’t forgotten us. The real problem in my mind was the manager, who busy walking around with his hands in his pockets, and not helping this server out even a little bit. He glanced at our table, and others every once and awhile, and even with empty glasses in view, he did nothing. He could have at least been yelling out encouragement to the server, as he stood there motionless, it would have been something, but instead he played statue. Anyway, it was quite a humorous, but frustrating display of inept management, and incredibly poor organizational protocol. The server needed help, due to the over-seating in her section, and management apparently did not have a back up plan to deal with this sort of situation. I believe in the restaurant biz, this sort of thing must happen all the time, so the lack of a back-up plan seems remote, so it was probably just lack of effort and an unwillingness to put the plan to action that caused the problem, and this server’s whole section suffered because of it.

When our server finally got things semi under control, and worked her way back to us, we explained our frustration. Our mouths were burning, and our throats were dry, no guac, and no cornbread. My wife usually is the one who expresses our upset on our behalf, as I look down at the table and remain quiet. I don’t like to complain, I find it troubling. I am convinced that if I do complain, Karma will make sure I deal with upset clients at work all the next day. And I don’t handle upset clients well, so I try to avoid them at all cost. Fortunately my partners are quite good at calming situations down, where I tend to escalate them. At least I know some of my limitations, and it takes more than my fingers and toes to count them all.

Once our concerns had been expressed, we quickly had refilled drinks, hot corn bread, (unfortunately it was after we had finished our food) and a promise that the manager would come over to speak with us. My wife then informed me I would be speaking with the manager, as she was not happy with my head down, quiet tactic, as it made her feel I was not supporting her. 🙂 When the manager came over I decided to try something new… I simply remained calm and explained to him our disappointment, that we had driven 40 miles to have a nice meal, through the driving rain, and it was just too bad it wasn’t as good as we thought it would be. The manager was obviously ready for a fight, so I think my calm comment kind of threw him off a bit, he stumbled when he spoke, and eventually said he was sorry, offered to “buy us a dessert,” (why do they say this, he isn’t paying for anything, we all know he isn’t), and offered to take the price of the appetizer off our bill, which was very considerate and appropriate response in my mind. He then quietly walked away. Our free dessert came quickly, we didn’t get to choose it, and unfortunately it had coffee flavored ice cream, which just plain tastes like dog breathe, so we didn’t eat it. But in a few more minutes the manager returned, he again told us he was sorry, and he then gave us a $50 gift certificate for the next time we made it up to SLC. I was impressed, he didn’t have to do that, I surely wasn’t expecting it, the free dessert and appetizer seemed an appropriate response for the trouble we experienced, so this was way above my expectations, and I look forward to going back to ZTejas someday. That was not the way I was feeling just a few minutes earlier.

When he came over the second time, I was very interested in what he said. He told us that he had thought about it, and if he had arranged to take his wife out, and driven 40 miles in the rain, looking forward to a nice meal, and the same thing had happened to him, he would have been upset. And that made sense to me. In business things aren’t always going to work out, there will be clients that aren’t totally pleased with our service, or our products, and we are going to have to deal with the upset. We have learned as a company that quickly taking responsibility for the problem, even if it is just our portion of the problem, and quickly apologizing, is by far and away the best way to diffuse the situation. It is amazing how quickly a rational discussion can begin, once a sincere apology is made. As customers, I would suggest we try to remain calm when something isn’t quite up to our standards, and attempt to make the problem we have personal to the person we are talking with. If they can get an inkling of how it might feel, if it were them experiencing the trouble, then I would suggest the eventual outcome will be much better for both the participants. The customer will get resolution without an increase in blood pressure, and won’t feel the need to kick the dog, yell at their spouse and kids just vent their pent up frustration, and the provider will keep a client and better comprehend just how their clients feel when things don’t go well with the service. This understanding might cause a provider to reanalyze their business model, and potentially make changes to better the company’s product or service. I will say this; a soft answer does seem to turn away wrath, and apparently it also gets you an extra $50 from a manager who originally didn’t seem to care about any of us, not too shabby an outcome. 😉

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