Bravo For Service

Susan Page
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Wednesday - April 20, 2005
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There used to be a saying in business that a satisfied customer will only tell a few, but a disgruntled one will spread her bad experience all over town. This is so true.

Years ago I owned several retail photo studios in large regional malls. I’ll never forget the day a dissatisfied customer stood in the doorway of our store, yelling loudly to passersby not to patronize our business. I showed up about the time security was leading him away. I was mortified — not because this man had done such an outrageous thing, but because our store manager hadn’t done everything conceivable to make that customer happy: free photo session, refund, extra photos with the new session. Whatever it took. It would’ve been a small price to pay for the bad publicity he would generate.

I learned a lot that day. Not only is the customer always right, the customer is boss. And today, with so many choices for every product out there — food, clothing, cars — great customer service is absolutely crucial.

Business consultant Joe Calloway writes in Becoming a Category of One, a superb book to help businesses achieve an advantage through customer service: “All that matters is how well the customer thinks you’re doing. Your customer wants to know if you can do it as well as the insurance company, the bookstore on the Internet, and the pizza guy down the street. Whoever does it great, that’s your standard.”

As a customer, I have a standard — Bravo restaurant at Pearlridge.

One evening, maybe two years ago, my husband and I were having dinner there, as we frequently do. It was crowded, so we decided to eat at the bar. As usual, to go with my eggplant Parmigiana, I ordered a glass of Chianti, which the bartender accidentally knocked over, splattering red wine all over my almost-new beige jacket. Stunned into near muteness, he, poor thing, handed me a towel and murmured a nervous apology.

“What is the company policy on things like this?” I asked without a hint of anger. At this stage in my life, it’s not about blame or retribution, but simple solutions. And, of course, fairness. He was new. He didn’t know. “Can I speak to your manager?” I asked.

The manager was there in a flash, already aware of the situation and apologetic. He offered to pay for the dry cleaning. Great. I took off the jacket to hand to him, so he could take it to the cleaners. The cost of time, in my view, is more important than the jacket. He understood.

“What did the jacket cost?” he asked. It was only $50 new, and I’d worn it once, I told him. To my shock, he reached into his pocket and pulled out two 20s and a 10 in cash. Right there. I will never forget that brilliant act of customer service. And, since then I have sent Bravo much more than $50 worth of business. Bravo is the standard to which I compare all other businesses.

In contrast, recently, at my local fast food restaurant, I stood at the register for exactly nine minutes and 22 seconds before being acknowledged. It wasn’t crowded, but the myriad of staff seemed busy. Finally, a woman came over, and never making eye contact, just stood there waiting for me to order. After I got my 10-minute Diet Coke, I motioned to the manager in the back. “Can I speak to you for a minute?” I very politely explained the scenario, because I think a fast food restaurant manager should be made aware that the service not only was slow, but also rude. His answer? “OK.” That’s it. Not, I’ll take care of it, thank you for telling me. I’m sorry. Nothing. Just, “OK.”

Every business should be held to a high standard of customer service. And, of course, and maybe especially, since they work for us citizens, that includes state and city government workers, with whom we have to deal frequently.

Bad customer service. It’s not “OK.”

Good customer service? Bravo!

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