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March 22, 2012 12:00 am

“Your Unhappiness Means Nothing!”

avatar by Issamar Ginzberg

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Speaking taxes the brain, especially when you are speaking to top executives from around the world and have to keep pausing so the simultaneous translation into several languages can take place in real time. So, after my speech at the Jewish National Fund Marketing Conference 2012, I was quite hungry.  I went to a nearby burger place to buy something to eat stepping up to the counter to place my order.

“A burger please. No tomato. And a regular onion, no purple onion please, ok? Thank you.”

The man yells to the kitchen behind him. “One burger, no tomato or onion.”

I wait 10 minutes. Ten minutes is long to wait for fast food, but hey…

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While I’m waiting, I hear the manager in a loud discussion with his delivery guy. The manager is not very happy and he wastes no words or energy expressing that. He tells the delivery guy about how terrible the delivery system is, saying, “I chose to work with you guys instead of single motorcyclists because you are a company, and if one guy breaks down, they have my back! And now I have a large order that took over a half hour to be delivered! Unacceptable, I say!”

I’m pleased. It seems as though the manager understands how important customer service is. So when the ten minutes wass up and I still didn’t have my burger I stepped back up to the counter. Confident that in such a “customer service oriented place” my concerns will be addressed quickly – after all, I just heard the manager himself tell the delivery guy how important a timely delivery is – I walked up to the counter to show that I’m here and waiting, and the man behind the counter yells, ‘Where’s the burger?'”

And there it is! Only, the burger comes with… You guessed it….with a tomato, and a shiny purple onion. So I asked, with a big smile, “Do you guys write down the orders? Because I specifically asked for a burger without tomato and with a regular onion, no purple onion.”

The guy picks off the tomato with a flourish, like maybe it was a piece of lint on my shoulder. Some other guy behind the counter starts yelling, “Who took his order? Why isn’t what he asked for in the system?!” Pointing to me, he barks, “Who took your order?! Who took your money?!” as though it was my fault somehow for ordering what I wanted.

Now, while you might be thinking, “Oy! They only want to make things right and show good customer service, I’m thinking about how hungry I am. This is all taking place while I’m still waiting for my food. I just gave a major speech to executives from 17 or so countries and I’m drained, hungry and frustrated. I don’t want to wait around while they trouble-shoot their ordering system. I want someone to hand me my food and apologize, and then say, “Eat. When your stomach is full and happy if it’s okay with you, I’ll come over to your table and find out what we can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again. This is unacceptable. We value your business. Ninety-eight percent of the time we get it right, but two percent of the time we get it wrong. Our goal is 100 percent happy customers.”

That’s not what I got. To make a long story short, I asked the fellow, “How long has this place been in business?”

“Eight months,” he says.

“And are you the owner?” I inquire.

“No, but I’m the manager,” he says. “The owner never comes in. He is in a different industry and picked this up as a side business.”

Seeing I was less than impressed with the place, he volunteers his personal opinion about customer service from his side of the counter. “Well, 98 out of every hundred people who come in here are happy with our service. You were unlucky enough to be one of the two  that are not. But our service is great and your unhappiness means nothing.”

I thought for a moment. Then I asked, “What if that two percent is bigger than the 98 percent? You never know who you might be talking to. Perhaps I have a company of 100 people I’m looking to buy dinner for and my happiness is important?”

He shrugged it off with a look of “Yeah right. If I believed that I’d also take you up on your offer to sell me the Brooklyn Bridge.”

There are so many lessons in this story but if you run your business in the opposite way of what was done here, you will be successful beyond your wildest dreams. Why? How? Not because one day that two percent is going to find you and tell everyone, but because 100 percent of your customers are going to tell everyone.

If you’re thinking I’m being a little harsh in my evaluation based on a simple tomato, then consider “the straw (literally) that broke this camel’s back.”  When I then looked around the counter for a straw for my apple juice (this rabbi’s drink of choice), instead of welcoming the chance to change the perception I had of them by trying to be helpful, they barked at me again, asking, “Whadayoo lookin’ for now?!” It’s clear to me my business and my money is not welcome at this store. So next time I’m hungry or have a hungry audience to make a recommendation to, I think I’ll try the place two stores up the street.

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  • Greg

    Yes, there are many lessons in this story, the most important you’ve seemed to miss completely.

    And if I was in his place, I can’t say that I’d miss either your money or your business. Because, apparently, his happiness meant as much to you as he said yours did to him.

    • Good story. You’re one of the few who dared to take time to speak up. Most customers just never come back. Dining, whether it’s a steak with all the trimmings and linen napkins, or a burger and fries, always tastes better when served with a side of manners and a smile. The only place a “soup nazi” personality (in reference to the television sitcom character) is successful is in a television sitcom.

      I’m guessing Greg either works at the place or has an equally appalling (and struggling) business, because this is just about common courtesy, something both the manager and Greg don’t seem to have much appreciation for.

      Something as simple as, “I’m sorry. Some days it’s hectic in here and we make mistakes,” and the offer of a free juice, or a smile and a nice tone of voice would have made a difference. I once went into a fast food restaurant and the order took five minutes longer than anticipated. The clerk didn’t even ask, “What can we do to make it up to you?” They said, “This wait is unacceptable to US. We want to offer you two free deserts (I had two orders). What would you like?” They ended up giving me an entire cake and a coupon for a free meal, and I hadn’t even complained!! They had standards and when THEY violated them they initiated action. I eat there regularly now because I learned that. Being nice and simple courtesy and customer service will BRING you business and success is the Rabbi’s point.

    • Itzik Schier

      A businessman is not in business to be happy, and how a businessman feels is not his customers’ business.

      Even in my tight-knit community, where many stores I shop in are run by friends or relatives of friends, they make sure I get top service precisely because I am a friend who will recommend them to future customers.

      If you want to be happy, go live on a commune and smoke weed all day with your fellow freaks who will look out for your happiness. If you want to get ahead in business, or keep your job in a normally run business, serve your customers and keep the happy times for when you get home with your family.

      Or:

      I slept and dreamed that life was joy,
      I awoke and saw that life was duty,
      I acted, and behold duty was joy.
      –Rabindranath Tagore

    • Greg

      So common courtesy shuts off the moment you become a customer and deserve the right to good service? If you walked into your friends shop and heard the same conversation occur while you were waiting your order, wouldn’t you ask about it instead of stepping up to remind him about your specific ‘no purple onion’ order?

      So because this person isn’t a friend, why bother asking? How much better would it have been had the lecturer said the ‘some days are hectic..’ and down played the delay, mistake about tomato and onion.

      Does the lecturer know who was kept waiting by the delivery guys? Who those other 98 (or fraction affected by the delay) are/were?

      He talks about his first interview he’d hoped would launch his career over on JPost; and talks about having to overcome the stereotype of his appearance in an IBA interview, how it takes time for folks to see he has things to say… yet, if he can’t practice his own advice (author who’s book was pirated and he said to turn the bad into a good) what’s the ultimate value of that advice given? Had he not been so interested in his own well being, but of that of the manager and used that time to find the wisdom to talk to the manager, he might have had the opportunity to help with their buisness… and been referred to those other 98 (clients, vendors, merchants).

      Why he’s among the 2% is one of the lessons, hopefully he’ll take an honest look to find the answer. (pride going before destruction… )

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