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Lasagna Grenades and other Customer Service Problems
By Bob Bapes   Printer Friendly Version

"Winners in the future will provide exceptional customer service."

The measure of a company and its relationship with customers is not when things go well, but when they go wrong. The truth of this statement was driven home by an incident I had at a well-known Chicago restaurant several years ago.

Friends and I were enjoying an evening out in downtown Chicago. We had settled at our table with a favorite bottle of red wine. After a sociable amount of conversation, we placed our dinner order. I ordered the lasagna, because a friend had recommended it as "something special." Little did I know how prophetic that information would be.

As the waiter presented my entree, he lost control of it. In a vain attempt to recover; he juggled it, driving it, the plate and a glass of wine into the middle of the table. The effect was an exploding lasagna grenade. I had lasagna up my shirtsleeves, in my waistband, in my pants cuff and in my shoes. My dinner partner looked like someone had taken a squirt gun full of red wine and shot her across the chest with it. Her beautiful silk blouse looked ruined. Our dinner companions were equally covered with pasta, sauce and wine.

By all measures in the restaurant business, this was a disaster...the defining moment for an organization.

Almost before I could stand, wait staff descended on our table, as if they had rappelled from the rafters. Each of us had someone dabbing us with seltzer water and helping us clean up. Another immediately swooped in and picked up the entire tablecloth complete with place settings and whisked it away. Right behind him, another had a replacement tablecloth and place settings, which were down practically before the crash of the spill died.

The manager appeared immediately, with sincere apologies along with an offer to clean all our clothes or replace them if necessary "no questions asked." He told us the dinner was on him (actually it was on us) and that if we wanted to change our order to something more expensive, we should feel free to do so. He bought us a bottle of wine and at the end of the meal returned to be sure we ordered dessert.

As you can tell from the tone of this article, I'm not mad at this restaurant; I recommend it highly to my friends. I also travel the country presenting seminars using this story as an example of excellent customer service. Yes, it is true they spilled on us, disastrously. It is equally true they handled the problem quickly, efficiently and equitably.

Excellent customer service means being prepared for problems that are going to occur. In the restaurant business, there are going to be spills. This establishment trained its employees to handle spills. They realized that spills are one of the top problems in serving food to people. Then, depending on how bad the spill, they planned an appropriate response. This is why our spill got such great response; the staff was prepared for it.

The lesson in this story is that planning is essential to excellent customer service. In our own businesses, we know the most common reasons our customers call or complain. In order to become proactive, we need to list those reasons. Once listed, we can take the actions necessary to prevent as many of them as possible.

Of course, like the restaurant example, there are some things that we can't totally eliminate. For those, we must plan the actions we will take, depending on the severity of the problem...from a small spill to a large one.

Being proactive, we will earn a great reputation for customer service. We can even overcome an exploding lasagna grenade.

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