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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…

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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