Customer Service – Yes, we have no bagels

Greetings, Gentle Readers! It’s good to be back, after a bit of a blogging hiatus. I am drawn back today by the subject of customer service. I have a story to share, this one drawn from actual and very recent life. My husband, partner in life and work, had an experience just yesterday that simply must be shared, with commentary.

We both have a particular love of bagels. However, finding a good one around here is NOT easy. In fact, it has proven damn near impossible. At least it was until we discovered one small bagel place on one of our many islands. (This particular island, and the name of the bagel company, will remain nameless, to protect the guilty as well as this writer. Regardless, I truly hope they read this someday, recognize themselves, and benefit.)

We have been regular customers of this little bagel shop for a decade. We don’t get there very often, because going requires crossing the water, so when we can go, we generally buy lots of bagels, usually about four dozen. They freeze well and we can enjoy them for weeks, rather than just a day. We call in advance to order them, to ensure getting plenty of our favorites. Then, our first act upon reaching this island is to stop and pick up our bagels. The bags of fresh bagels, many laden with garlic (nectar of the gods), perfume the car for our entire trip. We salivate and savor the bagel delights to come.

Yesterday, my husband had occasion to travel over the water. He tried to call ahead and order the usual four dozen. He could not get through on Saturday, and they are closed Sunday and Monday. So, he called early yesterday morning. The woman who took his order seemed hesitant, and not very polite, but she did take the order.

Upon arriving at the shop, he was confronted by the man who is most likely the owner of the shop, who refused to honor the order and sell the bagels to my husband! In front of a crowded shop, without apology or much courtesy! The order would leave him too short of product to conduct business that day, so we could not have any bagels!

Now, let’s consider this. A long term customer, ordering lots of bagels, is being rudely told he could not have any. Granted, it had not been possible to order in advance, which would have allowed the bagel maker to make a larger quantity. This is completely understandable. I strongly submit, however, that this could have been handled much better, with far better results for all concerned, especially the business owner.

How about this? “I am very sorry, sir, but without advance notice, I simply can’t sell that many bagels, because I would not have enough product for the day. Let me do this for you. How about 1 dozen bagels today, of your favorite flavors, and a discount coupon for your next visit? Your business is important to me and I do appreciate it. I want you to come back.”

Instead, with his rudeness, he has lost a dedicated customer who has recommended him countless times to other bagel lovers in the area, and who is likely to comment very negatively in future. He has generated some bad press. He has shown a crowded shop of customers that he is not a very good businessman, unprepared for a rush in business (which should have been anticipated on a summer day), and without a sense of what constitutes good customer service, not to mention good manners.

My husband, to his credit, did not make a scene, although he probably wanted to. He simply left the shop, without any bagels and was later forced to explain to his very disappointed, bagel-loving and hungry wife.

Normally, our advice to a business owner would cost real money. We are, after all, in the business of selling our consulting services. In this case, I offer this business owner some free business advice:

    Start measuring your business, the number of bagels you sell and the number you make. I happen to know that it’s not unusual for this guy to misjudge and run out of bagels. He simply closes his shop when this happens. I’ve seen this first hand. In business, there is a very important rule: That which can be measured can be managed. Start measuring. Note the ups and downs and analyze the situations, the timing, and the events that may be affecting sales. With this information, you can do a better job of being prepared when you determine how many bagels to make on a given day, so you don’t run out.

    Find a way to use the extra product when you make too many bagels. Donate to charity. This is good press, as well as a nice thing to do. Make bagel chips and sell them. Get creative and do something.

    Develop a better method of taking phone orders. Be courteous with your voicemail message. Leave clear instructions on placing a phone order. Then, follow up with the customers by phone to confirm receipt of the order.

    Train your staff! If it’s too late to accept a large phone order, say so when the customer calls!

    Learn some manners, then teach them to your employees. Remember, a customer is not an interruption of your day or a problem to deal with. A customer is the reason you are in business!

    Consider hiring a good consultant who can give you some guidance. You’ve got the basis of a wonderful business there, even in this miserable economy. Don’t waste it!

I guess I must be happy with plain old toast for the foreseeable future. Sigh.

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