Why good service doesn’t matter…

My friend Stephen Good took a trip to Winnipeg once many years ago. His return trip, on the now-defunct Canadian Airlines, was cancelled or delayed or over-subscribed. I can’t remember which — but something went wrong and Stephen couldn’t take the flight.

This would be a “bad customer service” story but for the fact that the airline bent over backwards to make up for the problem. If memory serves, they communicated well about the problem, put those affected up in a very nice hotel, fed them, and generally made them feel extremely well cared for. They also offered everyone some sort of “free flight anywhere we travel.”

So rather than returning home to tell a “that Canadian Airlines is horrible” story, Stephen told a “wow, Canadian Airlines is amazing!” story. And I expect that, if those he told are anything like me, the story got repeated many times over. Canadian Airlines came off looking like a generous, caring company.

Indeed they probably came off better than if there had been no problem to begin with.

Of course this sort of “turning lemons into lemonade” story doesn’t happen all the time: my friend Oliver Baker has been experiencing problems with several HP computers over the year to the extent that I expect he could now write a book on how bad HP’s customer “support” is. He’s certainly convinced me to never consider buying HP products in the future.

Happily I had a “lemons into lemonade” experience myself this week.

Catherine and Oliver and I went out to dinner at Just Us Girls last night. While the food was excellent, and it was nice to sit outside on the patio, the service at the beginning and end of the meal was, well, non-existent.

Nothing bothers me more than a restaurant that doesn’t properly manage the “bookends” of the eating experience: I hate it when I have to search out a server to get a menu, and I hate it when I have to try really really hard to pay the bill.

Last night we suffered both problems: we waited out on the deck for 10 minutes before we were served, and when it was time to pay we had to jump through several hoops. It cast a bad light on what was otherwise a good meal.

Mindful as I am of brother Johnny’s insistence that we customers have a responsibility to let restaurant management know about bad service, I sent off an email about the problem this morning. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a well-worded personal email back from the chef at Just Us Girls apologizing for the lapse. The email said, in part:

I was greatly dismayed to hear of the poor service you and your family received at my establishment yesterday evening. Oliver has become a well known face around the café this summer, I remember him enjoying my desserts at Mavor’s in the Confederation Centre of the Arts last year and was very tickled when I started seeing him appear in the Café this summer. Although Jodi, Susan and I always take customer criticism very seriously, we were doubly disappointed to hear that one of our favorite little customers had encountered poor service.

It’s easy to win me over with kind words; add in some kind words about my son, and you’ve got a customer for life. So here I am writing a “wow, Just Us Girls is great” post rather than a “wow did we ever get bad service last night” post.

There are at least two or three other Island restauranteurs that know the importance of customer service follow-up. As I recalled in this post back in 2002, Bruce MacNaughton at the PEI Preserve Company. And my friend Scott Linkletter at COWS has always been quick to react to concerns I’ve raised with him — for a while there last year I felt as though I was leading the “Iced Cowpuccino” R&D team for him. And I heard from several members of the Zakem family when I raised concerns about Angels back in 2003 (and then followed up later that fall with what I think is my best post title ever).

Every time I get a personal response to a customer service problem, I inevitably tell others, and I inevitably forgive and forget the details of the “bad service.”

Which prompts me to wonder whether it’s as important — maybe even more important — if you’re in the customer service business to concentrate on good, personal communication with customers. After all, no business is going to bat 100% all the time — things go wrong that you can’t control. But you can explain what went wrong, and in doing so demonstrate that you care about your customers. Doing that, I think, can mitigate almost any evil.

As you might expect, we’ll eat again at Just Us Girls.


A PRIVATE ISLANDER on September 9, 2006 - 02:01 Permalink

Here’s a thought…

A private citizen posts on a blog with their official name, which will be recorded in perpetuity for Google searches — all well and good. They did this as a choice.

Why then why should they feel comfortable with you posting about your experiences with them?

I can see if your post regards Pat Binns or Paul Martin or some political figure and your comments regard their public role, then that’s all well and good.

But despite how close and “quaint” outsiders like to feel about the Island, some of us prefer it to be private. So if I own a business and am perfectly happy in my little bubble on PEI without trying to reach a global audience, why should someone be allowed to broadcast my name and my business, which can then be used for identity theft or harassment with a combination of searches on Google and Canada411, etc?

You should ensure your blog meets the requirements of Canada’s privacy laws, and go far beyond them.

Nathan's picture
Nathan on September 9, 2006 - 05:26 Permalink

Living in a bubble of anonymity and self-censorship out of fear of the world… now that is quaint.

Cyn's picture
Cyn on September 10, 2006 - 03:44 Permalink

Hmmmm…to answer PI’s question, “why should someone be allowed to broadcast my name and my business, which can then be used for identity theft or harassment with a combination of searches on Google and Canada411, etc?”

Hellooooooooo…..phone books!!!

Kevin's picture
Kevin on September 15, 2006 - 17:57 Permalink

Leaving off the privacy issue for a moment… I’d love to see the wording you used to Just Us Girls. I, like you, believe a customer can offer a service of value to a business when they comment on bad service. For years I simply spoke my mind and got crap in return (I’m thinking specifically of restaurants now). And so for the past five or six I have given serious consideration and energy into “how” I offer these comments and have NEVER gotten a neutral response, let alone positive/appreciative response (with the exception of Angels on my last visit — the initial person reacted very very badly and had already firmed my decision to never return when management stepped in and really wanted my business back). The experience was so bad that I really couldn’t accept their plea. Although I did appreciate their (management) interventions, in that moment it was simply added stress. I really do work hard on getting the wording right when I do offer sincere comments but it has failed miserably at both Angels and Pat & Willy’s (where profanity and abuse was hurled in response to fair (and gentle) comment). But even in the depths of disproportionate responses they simply don’t come anywhere near Cedar’s (sp?) where finding someone who would be available to receive a comment would be an enormous improvement over their ususal “you’re bothering me” attitude as you enter the place. I’ve never understood that, and I’ve never tried to offer comment of any kind — sort of ‘keep you head down and mouth shut’ attitude. (The last dozen times I’ve been there have been me relenting to someone elses’ suggestion. I’ll be more affirmative the next time that name comes up. In stark contrast to all of this is the Harbour House and to a lesser extent, but still very very good, is the Dundee.