Recently I recieved a phone call and it went like this. ”I just wanted to let you know that, as your delivery driver was walking away from my porch, he gave me a mean look. In fact, he got me so scared that I lost my appetite.”
“I’m very sorry,” I responded. Did he say anything to you, ma’am?” ”No, he just looked, squinted his eyes in a mean way and kept walking back to his car. You should have a talk with that man about his attitude. He wasn’t trained properly. In fact, I’d like to know what kind of operation you’re running there.”
I sighed inwardly. “Ma’am, was there anything he might have been mad about? Did he say anything?” I asked.”No. I guess he just couldn’t handle the fact that I put a zero in the tip line on the credit card voucher.”
Bingo. I zeroed in on the driver’s behavior. “Was he on time with your pizza?” I asked. ”Yes, in fact he was early.” she countered
“Was he courteous before the stare?” I continued? “Yes.”
“You didn’t tip him?”I was getting to the meat now.
“I don’t tip,” she exclaimed proudly. “The only reason I ordered from you guys was that I had this coupon for a 3-topping pizza.”
I paused for a few seconds to mull this situation over. Most complaints are from concerned individuals who genuinely want to “just let you know.” They are a great barometer of how my business is doing: either down the toilet or toward a profitable orbit around my competitors. A complaint can either be a great learning tool.
My training in five-star hotels was always centered on guest placation. I learned to roll over, because it’s just not worth fighting people with a legitimate complaint, especially when their expectations have been dashed. At my pizza shop, it’s hard because the majority of complaints come with an ulterior motive: a free pizza.
As a general manager in many good restaurants, I learned to see little problem tadpoles slowly morphing into full-blown, slimy, bullfrogs of complaint. At some places, I could actually smell complaints coming. As a maitre d’, I’ve lied for lots of chefs who were swamped and so “weeded” with orders that all hell was gonna break loose in the bandstand. I knew that the sooner I broke out my little toolbox of lies, the better.
Eyebrows up in empathy, hands folded in meek timidity, head bowed in subserviance, I’d make something up: ”Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to tell you that your beautiful entrees were on thier way out of the kitchen when the waiter slipped on a banana peel. It was a total disaster. Luckily, the waiter is only bruised a little. Your food is being recooked and the chef is hurrying as fast as he can to make everything anew. I’d like to personally apologize and offer you a bottle of wine. Oh, and ma’am, is that a 1940′s Rolex Tank watch? What a beautiful timepiece!”
I was good. But now, I own my own business and work in it every day. I am proud of my product and staff and I don’t have to lie. I listen, empathize, and offer a mutually-beneficial outcome. Most complaints arise through lack of communication or inattention to detail on our part. Although, there are certain times that a customer is just plain wrong and needs to go away for good.
“Well ma’am, I concluded. “I’ll have a talk with the driver…”
“Talk?” she screamed. “You should do more than that. He’s an asshole and you’re covering up for him. I need to be compensated for my horrible experience!” she wailed.
”Ma’am, my staff is my best asset,” I said firmly. “They are trained to be nice at all times. If you thought he wasn’t nice as he walked away it was probably because he spent 40 minutes driving to your house on icy roads in the dark to give you your pizza fresh and hot. It is usually expected to give a tip to someone who goes out of his way to give you a pizza.”
“Why don’t you tip them then?” she countered. ”Well ma’am, I do give them all of the delivery charge to help with gas.” I admitted.
“So that’s it huh? You are gonna stick up for him and not believe me. I am the customer and demand compensation or I will go elswhere for my pizza.”
“You said you only came to us because of our coupon,” I suggested.
“Well… if your business is filled with scumbags like you, I will take my business elsewhere then.”
“Ma’am, I would love it if you go elsewhere,” I replied. “In fact, if you tell me which pizza place you are gonna order from next, I’ll call and warn them about you. Please never come back to my business.”
“Well, I will then, you guys suck!” Click.
(Two days ago, she ordered again, and tipped the driver $1.) Baby steps, people. That’s what it’s all about.