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How To Lose Customers in Three Easy Steps
When you receive poor service, what do you do?
I love a really good burger. Naturally, I was excited when the famed west coast burger franchise Carl's Jr. opened a restaurant in my town. The hamburgers pictured on the menu look just like the ones you are served. This is a novel idea, as with some of the larger fast food chains, the tempting pictures on the menu boards seldom look like the food you are served. Typically, their burgers are really good and their service is more than adequate.
Something happened, though, something changed. Over the last few months, the service at the local store dropped dramatically and the quality of the food went along with it. The burgers were being served cool, as were the fries. The only way to be assured that you were going to get something hot and fresh was to alter the standard toppings, i.e., request extra pickles or no sauce. This meant you were getting a sandwich that was made to order. Of course, this also meant you were going to wait. And wait you did.
The first indication that something was going wrong came back in January when it took fifteen minutes in the drive-through to get a chicken sandwich, plain with cheese. It would be cooked to order. I think, given that I was the only one in the drive-through at the time, that they had to catch, kill, prep and cook a chicken just for me. That's the only way I could figure that it would take fifteen minutes to get my sandwich. Around this time, I began to notice the parking lot was conspicuously empty during the lunch and dinner rush times. Neighboring fast food chains were packed. Carl's was not.
The next clue for me came when eating in the dining area one evening. You order your food at the counter and it is delivered to you by one of the workers. I needed two burgers, nothing special, some fries and two drinks. Everything was right off the menu with no alterations. The young lady behind the counter had a very difficult time understanding what it was that I wanted. So much so that I had to point to the pictures on the display over her head to make sure she understood what I was ordering. (No, really, I did.) The "manager" had to come over to help. I thought that it might be my Boston accent - it gives the folks down in Texas fits. Whatever it was, there clearly existed a communication barrier between the customer and the associate. (Infer what you will here, I'm trying to be as polite as I can.)
The last sign came yesterday when eating there for lunch with my wife and son. For starters, the heavily accented associate that took our order was clearly bothered by the interruption to her conversation. There was no friendly greeting, there was no thank you at the end. Just a few nods, some button pushing and a request for money. When we went to sit down, we had to scour the dining area for a clean table. Those that were not occupied had clearly been occupied recently and required cleaning. Sticky table tops and salt-covered benches were the norm. On finding a table that only needed a light dusting, we discovered that there were no napkins in the napkin holder. We also discovered that this held true for all of the napkin holders in the dining area.
Feeling the love
While waiting for our food to arrive I used my smart phone to look up the City of Denton's consumer health department and secure contact information so I could send along a complaint about the conditions here. I am not sure why we stayed, honestly. Perhaps it was out of hunger. Perhaps it was because we would not have gotten the satisfaction we needed by demanding a refund and walking out. Perhaps we were too dumfounded by the conditions and could not make a decision. Regardless, we stayed. When the "manager" brought our food, she quickly placed the tray on the table and scurried off. I called out to her repeatedly and she hurried off. I needed napkins. I had to chase after her to get her attention. She was bothered, of course, that I would request such a thing as a napkin. I pointed out that all of the napkin holders were empty. As she handed me just enough napkins for the three of us, she noted that they hadn't received their delivery of supplies this week and they were running out of things.
Being the ass that I can be I asked if they were out of cleaning supplies and noted that I thought the dining area could use a good wash down. There was no response to my sarcasm, the "manager" simply walked away.
On returning to my table, I was informed by my wife that her burger was not as good as it has been in the past. I tried mine, and discovered that I was of the same opinion. Frankly, it was lousy. Luke warm, tasteless, not at all satisfying. The downfall of Carl's was now complete. Poor service, poor conditions, poor food; all of which add up to equal the loss of a customer.
Three Easy Steps
If you really want to drive your customers away, just follow this simple three-step plan. Start with making them feel unwelcome. Make them feel like the interruption that they really are. Whatever it is that you are doing when they come in to your establishment is far more important than they are, and they should realize this. Next, make them feel as uncomfortable as possible when they are in your place of business. Dirty up the place, make it smell bad, perhaps spread mud on the floor. If you have a public restroom, clog up the toilets and remove all the hand soap. If you normally have some sort of sit-down service, make sure they are not at all comfy when they sit. Maybe replace ergonomic benches with rough plywood boards and cushy chairs with rocks. Finally, serve them a product that makes them wonder why they need it and why they came to you for it. If you serve hot food, make it cold. If you serve cold food, make it hot. Melt your chocolate bars, put ice in the hot coffee, wilt your lettuce and make your bread soggy. If yours is more of a service business, make your customers wait for excruciatingly long periods of time, and when you do serve them, do it with a scowl.
I can tell you that I won't be back at that establishment ever. There are plenty of other fish in the sea (or burgers) and since they obviously do not need my business, they will not get it. Providing outstanding customer service means that every aspect of the customer experience needs to be carefully thought out, defined, implemented and maintained. It needs to be evaluated and improved constantly. The customer experience begins before they drive in to your parking lot, before they walk in your door and it lasts long after they leave your place of business. If you ensure that every aspect of the customer experience is perfect, you will be in a position to provide outstanding service all the time and you will significantly improve your customer retention and grow your base.