Setting a Good Service Standard

Oliver and I visited the Prince Edward Island Preserve Company this morning to have breakfast in their Café. While the food was excellent — we both had wonderful blueberry pancakes — the service was subpar. This struck me as odd because I know Bruce MacNaughton, the owner, places a premium on offering good service.

Because I know Bruce a little, I sent him an email relating the details of our bad service. I sent the email off at 2:18 p.m. At 2:20 p.m. — 2 minutes later — I received the following in reply:

I cannot explain the disrespect shown to your or your son, it does not sound like anyone we have working for us, but I do believe you and I will check into who the server was and ask for a non-repeat performance.
I want to apologize for such behaviour and from all of us here at the Prince Edward Island Preserve Co. we sincerely hope that you can forgive us for such an experience. We sincerely appreciate hearing from you and thank you for helping to make us a better place in which people can enjoy their food and atmosphere.

Both the speed of Bruce’s reply and what he wrote demonstrate an amazing committment to customer service, and go a long way to eliminating the sting of the bad service itself.

Many service-based businesses go off the rails when dealing with bad service: they seem to think that once bad service has happened the story is over. They think the way to react to it is either by trying to pretend it never happened, trying to explain it away, or trying to placate their customers with cheap form-letter sympathy.

My brother Johnny, who worked in food service for 15 years, once told me that customers who care enough to write you about bad service are giving you a gift by pointing out things that you can’t see yourself. If you react to that gift quickly (and here I think Bruce has set some sort of world record) and effectively, you can not only keep them as customers, but also turn a bad situation that can fester through bad word-of-mouth into an exceptional “oh wow!” situation that will work for you.

And that’s exactly what Bruce has done: he turned what could have been a note here about “crappy service at the Preserve Company” into a note about exceptional customer service.



Alan's picture
Alan on August 10, 2002 - 20:00 Permalink

I have experienced such bad service (Gahan House, Peaks, Root Celler, for example) and such great service on PEI (in fact at the same places — though, frankly, a very rare event at Peaks) that I am often surprised by your surprise at the range you can experience here. At first I thought I would ask in this post what could have constituted disrespect but then that would have been a further embarrassment to Bruce who does an excellent job. What I do wonder is whether either your intention to write about the crappy service or the save by Bruce’s e-mail reflects the actual average service there and whether it is more a factor of how you came to fix your standards. Standards are great and need to be improved in PEI’s hospitality industry especially but some idea of what is acceptable needs to be expressed

To that end I will suggest what I feel makes my standards. I was on the low rung of the service industry for much of the 80’s and now find myself more tolerant of others of the person who is inexperienced, trying or tired but can get livid at the superior, ignorant or simply rude, such as you can meet when you are with children. My response can be to make a fuss right then get the manager and piss that person off, too. Or better — especially with the rude/ignorant combo — just humiliate. I have been told so many times here “they” do not make it anymore” [when it is just not on that shops’ shelf] to inquiries that I look forward to the snappy response making opportunity.

On a very positive service note, this week, our VW pal Bob Likely, dealing with the vacation of his parts and service manager, Danny, had to tell me twice this week that my tie rod work was taking more time than estimated. He was apologizing but he needn’t — I told him that I would not deal for now five years with people who were not taking the right time.

For me the best service is based on being fulsome and respectful to the intellegence of the customer. Ask Keith Gallant at the South Rustico store for something he doesn’t have and he will tell you he dosen’t have it and tells you when he can get it or if he can’t…even if, like today, there are 60 folk in the shop all looking for the somewhat desperate dream of a perfect PEI vacation BBQ.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on August 10, 2002 - 20:12 Permalink

I think you’ve summed it up well: “For me the best service is based on being fulsome and respectful to the intellegence of the customer.” As it happens, on our way to New Glasgow this morning we passed the selfsame Bob Likely going the other way on North River Road. He waved to us. That’s good customer service.

Lana's picture
Lana on August 11, 2002 - 13:53 Permalink

If you’ve ever had to serve motocoach-fulls of people for a full day at a busy restaurant, it is expected that even the best of servers may have an off moment or two.

Oliver's picture
Oliver on August 11, 2002 - 18:23 Permalink

Fulsome” carries a connotation of insult or offensiveness. You guys don’t mean that, do you? Do you mean “fawning” or “obsequious”? As in, the server’s behavior is demeaning to the server, but not to the served?

Al-literate's picture
Al-literate on August 11, 2002 - 20:31 Permalink

I didn’t know it had that connotation. The OED sure confirms my error — “excessive not generous”. So edit my post to replace “fulsome” with “generous.” No need for fawning. Does that change your agreement with me, Peter?

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on August 11, 2002 - 21:45 Permalink


Oliver's picture
Oliver on August 12, 2002 - 06:33 Permalink

Can’t fool all people all of the time but you can fulsome.

Alan's picture
Alan on August 12, 2002 - 14:00 Permalink

Now that I understand the language more skillfully, I don’t see how you can be both fulsome and respectful if with the first intention the goal is to flatter and the other to engage the intellect.