Saturday, June 11, 2005

Adhering To Rules Is Not Always Wise

This excellent advice comes from:

Bill Kalmar
Lake Orion MI
Former Director of the Michigan Quality Council
Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Examiner
Former Member of Baldrige Board of Overseers

Dining out with a friend or associate can be an enjoyable experience even when the discussion is about work if the meal is delightful and the customer service is impeccable. The conversation tends to be focused on work related topics and the meal and service become secondary which makes for a successful meeting.

Recently, I had a luncheon meeting with a friend I had not seen in about a year. We had a lot of catching up to do on business issues and both of us looked forward to meeting. We agreed to meet at a large nation wide restaurant chain. I ordered first and requested a cup of soup and a small Greek salad. The waiter asked me if I wanted the soup and salad combo, which consisted of a bowl of soup and a salad. I passed on the combo. My friend ordered the combo but with a Caesar salad.

Several minutes later the waiter delivered my cup of soup and placed a Caesar salad in front of my friend. Both of us were obviously surprised and my friend inquired as to why he had received the salad first instead of the soup. The waiter politely responded that if you order the combo the salad comes first followed by the soup. Obviously if you don’t order the combo, as I did, you receive your soup first. Trying to explain to the waiter that since both of us wanted soup and salad it would seem appropriate and logical to bring both soups at the same time. Our protestations made no sense to the waiter as he kept mumbling something about how the combo is served – salad first. A lot of our “business conversation” over the next hour kept coming back to this rather ridiculous soup and salad fiasco!

This episode just points out the adverse impact one can have on customer service when rigid processing rules are carried out to the extreme. One can only imagine the presence of Combo Police in the kitchen making sure that no one has the audacity to break the rules and bring out the soup first when circumstances dictate such as in our case – we both wanted to eat our soup at the same time!

I had another similar confusing experience at a nationwide coffee shop several years ago. I had ordered a cappuccino and while it was being prepared I noticed a sign that read “Coffee refills 50 cents”. After I finished my cappuccino I went to the counter and asked for a coffee refill for 50 cents. The young lady who waited on me asked the manager behind her if she could comply with my request since I had not ordered a coffee originally but had ordered a cappuccino. Surprisingly the response was an emphatic “No”. Had I ordered a coffee I could have a refill for 50 cents but since I ordered a cappuccino I could not take advantage of the offer.

I countered that a coffee was only $1.35 while a cappuccino was $3.50. The answer was still “No”. I then asked how would one know if my empty paper cup contained just coffee or a cappuccino. Believe it or not, the manager told me that he would be able to tell since there would be foam in my cup. (This guy has obviously missed his true slot in life – he should work in the CSI lab. Anyone who can detect foam in a cup and then refuse to grant a coffee refill is detective material!) I then stated that I would wash out the foam at a nearby drinking fountain and return. This exasperated him and he reluctantly filled my cup with coffee after I paid him 50 cents.

Both of these episodes illustrate a need for customer service personnel to exercise a bit of common sense when dealing with customers even if it means deviating slightly from their rigid processes. The goal of customer service should be to “Wow” customers and not make them feel like they are on a game show – if you fail to adhere to their rules, you lose!

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Blogger Bill Lampton, Ph.D. said...

You are so right about the need for common sense in customer service. As all of us have witnessed all too often, common sense is quite uncommon among the service people we deal with daily.

5:52 AM  

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