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A small business blog featuring tips to help entrepreneurs succeed in the small business world. Topics include family business, human resources, marketing, money, networking, operations, ownership, startup, taxes and technology.
A Bad Customer Service Experience

While out to dinner this weekend, my husband, some friends and I had a bad customer service experience. I thought I would share it with the blog community as a means to help learn what your staff should not do when a customer/client is dissatisfied.

We went to dinner at a small, locally owned Italian restaurant that we had heard many good things about, but none of us had yet been to. The service was off to a rocky start as the waitress took quite awhile to get to us. But we tried to give her the benefit of the doubt.

While waiting for our salads, our friends’ seven month old son needed his diaper changed. Dad took him to the men’s restroom to change him. Upon his rather lengthy return he said that it took him so long because there was no where in the men’s restroom to change a baby. No table and not enough counter space. Strike number one.

The salads arrived and they were disappointing, to say the least. Not the “house salad” with the homemade Italian dressing as expected, that’s for sure. But we trudged on. By the time we finished the salads we all had empty drinks. The hostess came by to give us refills, while our waitress walked right past our table, without even acknowledging the need to check on us.

The entrees arrived. I had ordered a seafood ravioli, my husband a veal parmigiana (which was my second choice so we intended to share). When eating Italian food I am very picky because my grandfather is full-blooded Italian, so I know the basic standards for quality that authentic Italian food should meet. Unfortunately, the entrees we were served did not meet those standards, and certainly were not worth the prices were we paying for them. Strike two.

When the waitress came with our bill, and we saw the total, I mentioned to her that I was actually quite disappointed with my meal and did not feel it was worth the price we would be paying. I asked her to speak to the manager and see if anything could be done. I honestly wasn’t looking for my entire entree to be comped, but maybe some sort of gesture that said “we’re sorry you were disappointed, how can we make it up to you?” That is not what we received.

The waitress returned and said the manager could do nothing to help me because I ate 2/3 of my meal. When I asked if she would get the manager so that I could speak to him about it (and explain that my husband tried a bit of my ravioli to see if he liked it, and that would be why, what he claimed as 2/3, was eaten), she refused, saying the he was incredibly busy and did not have time to talk to me, insisting there was nothing more she could do. Strike three for the waitresses unhelpful response.

As we left, I stopped and asked the hostess if she would get the manager for me, because our waitress would not do so. She did. Now one would expect the manager, when providing good customer service, to immediately say “How can I help you?” or something to that effect. However, this manager took one look and me and said “I am too busy to talk to you.” Whoa, whoa, whoa! How is it that he can manage a restaurant but not be available to the customer when there is a problem or a complaint (and I asked him that)? That is not good management or good customer service by any means.

His response was that I ate 2/3 of my meal so there was absolutely nothing he could do for me. And, if I wanted to speak to someone about it, the owner would be in Tuesday. Okay, here’s the thing, I was a waitress all through high school and college. I worked in food service for years and I know what is expected for good customer service, especially from a manager. Placing blame and blowing me off was not it.

First, you need to be available for the customer. At least give them an opportunity to explain the problem. Though there may be nothing you can do for them (which is highly doubtful in the first place), you can at least hear them out so that, in the future, you can try to avoid the problem. Don’t blow them off as this manager did to me. I have never known any manager at any place I’ve worked (or eaten) to not immediately run to a customer’s table when there is a complaint. Because the last thing you want is for the customer to leave unhappy or, in our case, to never come back again.

Second, never point your finger at the customer. Again, give them an opportunity to explain. Had I been given that opportunity, the manager would have discovered that my husband tried my meal to see if we might want to trade, since I was not pleased. And, that I wouldn’t trade with him because his meal was worse. But I did not scarf down over half my own meal. In fact, I had very little of anything to eat at all. More or less, the manager was accusing me of falsifying my complaint to get something for free. Pointing the blame on the customer and making accusations, as this waitress and manager did, only makes the customer more upset and, frankly, insulted.

Yes, I’m taking this opportunity to vent a bit, but I know there are some good lessons in this situation that others can learn from. The old adage, that many of us can’t stand (especially those who work in food service) “the customer is always right,” well, there is a reason for that saying. The customer, in fact, is not always right, but good customer service is treating her as though she is. Making the customer feel appreciated, even when they are not pleased, is the goal. And that was not accomplished in our experience. What a shame.


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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Customer Service |