Rude Can Lead to Ruin: A Lesson in Going Off on a Customer in Today’s Social Media World
Jackie, the manager of the Fan Tang Chinese restaurant in Albuquerque was about five minutes into her tirade when I interrupted her the second time.
“You know you’re arguing with a customer, right? You know that you’re telling me that I’m wrong about your food, right? You do understand that how you feel about how hot your entree is makes no difference to me? Your opinion about how hot your food is isn’t relevant. You do understand this, right?”
In the middle of this Jackie started arguing with me again. She was dying in a ditch over an eleven dollar entree. As someone who has spent years training customer service and sales, for me it was like studying road kill. The more she argued with me, the worse it got. She could care less that her entree had scorched my mouth. It wasn’t hot. According to her, it was the least spicy item on the menu. I don’t care what you think; I’m the one with the blistered tongue.
She completely and totally invalidated my experience. Dying in a ditch over an eleven dollar entree.
Finally I said, simply, and truthfully, “You’re not listening to me. So I’m putting this online.” And promptly did. As a senior reviewer for Trip Advisor with a lot of readers, I took the restaurant apart- and most specifically Jackie, simply by doing an incident report. Jackie’s behavior was enough. I was just getting started.
An Introduction to EatStreet
I’d arrived at the hotel late and was hungry. The phone number for a different Asian spot was not working, so I had called the front desk for a reference. They gave me Fan Tang’s number. When I called, the young man told me that if I wanted takeout, I’d have to use EatStreet. Never heard of it. However, I used my phone and looked them up.
Since I didn’t have a menu in my hand, I had to use the truncated descriptions offered on line. Most of their stuff was very spicy. The Pepper Shrimp Teriyaki-which I took to mean green peppers- was what I ordered. There was no way to tell what they meant by pepper so I had to give it my best guess. You don’t know what you don’t know. There were two places to put comments. In both I put very succinct instructions: NOTHING HOT. NOTHING HOT. NO CHILIS. NOTHING HOT. PLEASE.
While the American palate has been increasingly trending towards scorch, I can’t tolerate vinegar. Table mustard. Pepper. The first words I learn when I travel to another country is how to say “nothing hot” when I order food. I simply can’t tolerate heat, and it’s excruciating when some damned fool decides to put chilis onto an otherwise innocent salad or into a bowl of minestrone because it’s now trendy. I have had to send more meals back than I can count because some jerk in the kitchen has decided that ALL of us love heat.
So if the cook saw and had actually read my comments, and the Pepper Shrimp had black pepper on it, they could have done one of two proactive things: rinse the pepper off the shrimp (how hard is this??) or called me to make sure that this was going to be acceptable. Neither happened.
Peel Me Off the Ceiling
When the food arrived forty minutes later, the first bite of the Pepper Shrimp was agonizing. I called the restaurant to explain. I began with courtesy in the mistaken assumption that there was a modicum of interest in the customer’s experience. That’s when Jackie, with all the wisdom of someone with a serious case of road rage, took me to task. She spent ten minutes arguing with me that I had to be wrong. Um, NO. When someone transplants my taste buds into her mouth and she can experience the pain I feel when the heat hits, she doesn’t know shit. She cannot speak for me. And it is highly insulting to boot.
In a customer-facing business like a restaurant, we live or die based on our customers’ good will and approval. To berate my experience as invalid, and to argue with me about how I should feel about her food is the perfect example of how to ruin a business. We could have been done in 22 seconds flat. To wit:
“You’re not happy? We’re sorry you burned your mouth. What can we do to make this right? How about ten bucks off tomorrow’s meal? We want you to be pleased.”
Result? I get heard. She looks like a hero. I become a raving fan. The next night I call ahead to make sure that what I order doesn’t contain heat. Everyone wins. But that’s not Jackie. Jackie’s addicted to being right, at all costs.
The Costly Aftermath
I don’t tolerate being bullied. Not only that, if Jackie has done this to me, she has done it to other patrons. For everyone one of us who speaks up, there are many who walk away and say nothing. I am not one of those people. Within five minutes after I hung up, I had excoriated them on Trip Advisor. The story is enough, it didn’t need embellishment.
I also went on Yelp, where I told the same story. Commented on every source I could find and put it on Facebook. That is one hell of a lot of eyeballs.
Then I called EatStreet. The young man could not have been better trained, more polite, nor more concerned that my first experience with their service had been so badly marred by one of their suppliers. Not only did I get a full refund, I also got ten bucks off the next order. Now I’m a raving fan. Period. This is what it looks like when it’s done right.
More importantly, my comments, including those that I filled out in an online survey, are being taken very seriously by those at EatStreet in their partner program. They cannot afford to be affiliated with outfits that see fit to abuse their customers.
In the pre-social media world, a happy customer told perhaps two to three other people. An angry one doesn’t stop talking. Word of mouth suffers. In a social media world, an angry, insulted customer can do untold damage to your reputation. There are so many places to state your case. EatStreet is very mindful of how they are perceived. Jackie didn’t care. Clearly the only thing that mattered was that I was off base, she was right, and damn the consequences.
That’s a stupid thing to do with a prize winning journalist, and a travel blogger. Of course she didn’t know that- but then, that’s the whole point. If you only get good service when someone knows you’re doing a review for the local rag, how can you know how the rest of us get treated? Good service in a service industry isn’t just expected, it’s a requirement for survival. That’s why so many of us get pummeled with online surveys asking us about our experience.
In a world of tight employment, yes of course it’s hard to get the best people. However when you have the responsibility of dealing with the occasional unhappy customer, it’s incumbent upon an owner to ensure that anyone who deals with the public knows how, so that your business doesn’t suffer. And while I don’t agree with the notion that the customer is always right (no, kindly, there are plenty of professional assholes out there), the first response to a complaint is to understand, empathize and fix. How we fix that problem is the single best opportunity to turn someone into a lifelong fan. It’s just not that hard. You simply need to honor someone else’s experience, and most of the time, problem solved. Right away.
One of my closest friends, Dr. Janelle Barlow, wrote the seminal book on this called A Complaint is a Gift. Indeed. Complaints — otherwise known as feedback — are extraordinary opportunities to do a perfect save. Or, as Jackie did, that complaint can be internalized and taken personally. This was never about the food. It was about how I was treated for having an opinion about the food. That’s how a business makes enemies. People who have been bullied about having a take on a dish — a dish for crying out loud — tend to get very busy online, and that can be devastating. Especially when, in my case, by contrast, most of my Trip Advisor reviews are extremely positive. It takes a Jackie to make a negative blast happen. I intend to make sure nobody else has an evening ruined by someone who doesn’t possess the common sense to deal with a service issue with courtesy.