That night I decided to have a steak with French fries and salad. Add a delicious (expensive) glass of wine and the meal was complete. I ate my steak and left my salad for last. But when I started my salad, I found a long black hair. So I stopped and called the waiter. Here’s what happened.
Me: Waiter, there’s a hair in my salad.
Waiter: It’s not mine.
Me: It’s not mine either.
Waiter: I’ll take it back to the kitchen.
—- After a couple of minutes the waiter returned
Waiter: I’ve checked and the hair does not belong to anyone in the kitchen.
Me: So what am I supposed to do with that information?
— The waiter apoligizes and goes to talk to the restaurant manager. Then he comes back.
Waiter: We’re sorry about this. The house offers you a glass of wine. And it’s an expensive glass too!
— I was happy about the glass of wine and looked forward to it. But then the waiter brought the bill – just like that – and gave it to me without saying a word. The glass of wine that I already had was deducted from the bill.
What we can learn from an everyday Situation
This is an everyday situation. A hair in your food, it can happen. And when it happend, the customer experience is not necessarily destroyed. It depends on how the person facing the customer responds to the situation. In this case he handled the situation badly on two occasions. I was not happy and will not return.
How an employee handles a customer depends on many factors. Competences and attitudes play a role. Social intelligence, flexibility, initiative, creativity, … all of these help to improve the customer experience. But there’s also context: apparently the waiter did not have the freedom to make a decision and make an offer to compensate.
So before we put the entire load on the individual employee, we need to check the context where people work.
20,000,000 chances to mess up
In service we have as many chances to create positive customer experiences as there are interactions. A retailer that has 20,000,000 customers who visit one of the physical shops, has 20,000,000 chances to do well or do badly.
And the same goes for digital customer experiences. Every time I use my bank app, I can have a positive experience or a negative one. And of course I can be delighted (in NPS terms that would mean that I give a score of 9 or 10 on 10) or not.
Confirmation of Strategy
The thing is that these experiences are a result of a strategy and its execution. Every time there is an encounter (a touchpoint) between customers and the service provider we can confirm, reinforce or weaken the strategy. And we know what customers do when they have a consistently bad experience or when experiences are inconsistent.
So when you enter a shop, a restaurant, a bank, … you could ask yourself what the strategy is. And maybe the answer to this question will tell you why you go there in the first place. But here’s the thing. It’s the behaviour of people that will determine the answer to that question. Even when the strategy is discounts or product excellence, there is no tolerance anymore for bad behaviour.
Behaviour should be consistent with the strategy at all times. Without this, any strategy will fail.
In the case of the story, the waiter seemed to be untrained and unprepared. His clumsiness got worse as he came back with useless information. He apologised very late and gave a solution I did not need. The fact that he responded in a transactional way, by trying to buy my satisfaction instead of giving me a better experience made it worse. So maybe the waiter is in the wrong profession, and lacks the talent to be in service. Or maybe the manager does not create the right context for people to behave properly. Either way, the behaviour was inconsistent with a customer-oriented strategy which a hospitality usually is.