Don’t Insult Your Customer

20 May

Customer relations and public relations are very, very similar.  Really, the only difference is that PR is meant

Embarrassed Businessman

to reach a general population, whereas in customer relations, the population has greater definition – your customers!

The core mission of both is to keep your audience engaged, informed and happy.

Recently, I had dinner at one of my all-time favorite DC sushi restaurants – Saki in Adams Morgan.  Their food happy hour is incredible – a party of four can gorge themselves on various rolls and pieces for under $10 a person – including drinks!  I’ve gone there for well over a year, probably totaling 30-35 visits in that span.  (What can I say?  I like sushi!)

However, despite my love of their food and ambiance, it may be a long while before I go back.

During my last visit, I experienced a major, major customer relations fail.

The waitress came to our table to remind us of the happy hour food and drink specials and take beverage orders.  One of our friends ordered a beer, another a Diet Coke.  My wife stuck with water and then it was my turn.

I politely asked if they served Sprite Zero.

[Background: Sprite Zero is the no-calorie version of Sprite.  Tastes good enough, fills the carbonation need without sugar or caffeine.  Available in every supermarket, convenience store and gas station in the United States, with an increasing presence in vending machines.  Recently, a growing number of quick-casual restaurants have begun carrying it as a fountain drink.  And some sit-down restaurants serve it.  So, Sprite Zero is a common beverage.]

The waitress squinted her eyes, made a face and said “Are you SERIOUS?”

I didn’t ask for any of the following items:

- Monkey blood

- Pig urine

- Crystal Pepsi (now THAT was NASTY)

- Hydrogen Peroxide

- An expensive bottle of wine

No, I asked for a highly-distributed beverage from the Coca Cola Company.

Instead of kindly saying with a smile, “Sorry we don’t carry that,” or “Oh man, I love that, but we don’t have any in stock,” I was snapped at.

I then asked if they had iced tea, another beverage commonly available around the globe.  Naturally, they did not.

The real shame of it is that I’ve been a brand ambassador for them.  When friends come to visit, we take them to “the best sushi place in town!”  It’s one of our go-to haunts.

And, unfortunately, for the next little while, whenever anyone asks me if I want to go there, my only answer will be, “are you serious?”

For the record: Yes.  Yes, I was.

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  • All I can think of are the many smartass responses you could've came back with, haha. This comment may not add value, but hopefully it'll be entertaining :)

    One of my experiences like yours came at a Bojangles here in NC. I was paying w/ my card and the woman at the register took it, swiped it, and as she was handing it back to me said "You're not 'Jackie Adkins.'" While I looked at her with a sort of "WTF are you talking about?" look, she went on to explain to me how that's a girl's name, and therefore it couldn't be me.

    First of all, the best part was she said this after she swiped it and handed it back to me, so it's not like she was stopping me from buying my food anyways, despite the apparent stolen credit card I was using.

    When I responded with "No mam, that actually is my name", she laughed at me, said she didn't believe me, and asked to see my ID (again, after she already rang up my order). So, I showed it to her, proved it, and enjoyed my delicious fried chicken.

    I laughed it off, as having the name "Jackie" often does result in some pretty funny gender misunderstandings, but will always remember the time that the Bojangles employee laughed in my face.

    Thanks for the lesson in customer service, Mike!
  • Sara
    Your missing the point: That waitress has been on her feet all day. If you have ever worked in f&b you know that people can't just order. They have to ask 9 million questions and never get much training. I'm not saying you deserved it or that it's a good business practice. Until you've worked in f&b you have no idea how difficult it is to feed people and answer the same questions all day.
  • OSW
    It is a job, champ. No excuse to act like a child or an idiot. If your job is too hard to the point of no longer doing it correctly, you are in fact, "doing it wrong". As a former bar manager, if one the wait staff I managed ever acted like that because she was "on her feet all day" I would kindly tell her that she can happily kick her feet up at home because she won't be on her feet in my bar any longer. The best people in f&b do the job well first hour to last hour, if you can't do that, get a new job.
  • KDMisevich
    I'm glad that both you and Jeff like Sprite Zero! Hopefully with the launch of Coca-Cola Freestyle soon you won't have to go without Sprite Zero again.

  • mikeschaffer
    Wait...what? That's like the greatest thing ever! I'll take two!
  • Tim
    Ha. Every time you go back to that place, you should ask for a different drink that they don't have. Like Nestea Cool, or Cherry Dr. Pepper, or Hawaiian Punch.
  • mikeschaffer
  • jeffespo
    That is a crap experience my friend. It is a shame when a good thing can be soured by someone who doesn't live and breathe the brand. Now in the case of the sushi joint it might not be as damaging than say if a large corporation handled the same thing in the same manner.

    Not to belittle your experience at all, but on a larger scale businesses need to educate everyone to be a brand ambassador that works for them. At the end of the day, this will be another feather to add into the caps of the PR profession. Since we're typically on the front lines of communications, we need to champion the good experience mentality as well as customers first.

    Now back to your sushi experience - seriously Sprite Zero is awesome - and who doesn't have iced tea? They do serve tea don't they? Throw some ice cubes in it.
  • mikeschaffer
    Absolutely right - if a loyal customer can be turned off because of one nasty waitress, I can only imagine the pressure large corporations feel every single minute to protect their image.

    Harkening back to Sprite - they got it wrong with "Image is Nothing, Thirst is Everything." Both may be equally important to their success.
  • jeffespo
    Exactly my friend. As the Disney ride says It's a small World After All
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