The Failure of Process over Service

Let me begin by saying, when it comes to Internet access: I’m CHEAP. To be honest, I haven’t directly paid for it in at least three years (except for a few times when I was stranded at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago- read the post here). I’m using the term “directly” to mean I haven’t had a paid-for connection…I’m a fan of coffee shops, restaurants, unknowing neighbors who don’t lock their wireless routers, and friends (you know who you are, and I THANK YOU!)

This afternoon, I visited one of my regular haunts today to check up on some email, browse the web, and get a little writing done. Easily, I frequent one of this chain’s stores a minimum of 4 times a week-each time purchasing AT A MINIMUM a cup of over-priced, mediocre coffee (for those of you wondering, it’s Panera Bread). If you factor in the expensive sandwiches, coffee, softdrinks, and occasional freshly baked cookie…you’d see that the “free wi-fi” seemingly does it’s job to attract a flurry of salespeople, free agent contractors, and students inside to drive up sales. I digress…

So today, I noticed something new on the menu listed under “Featured Bagels” called the Cranberry Walnut Bagel. Just underneath it, read the words “with reduced fat Honey Walnut Cream Cheese Spread” and a single price quoted at $1.25. Hooray for the “bagel special”! The cookies here are nearly that much and not nearly as filling. $2.86 later, the fellow who had taken my order handed me the soft drink cup and tray with the bagel. No spread. He was agast. “Actually, the spread is extra.” I replied to the contrary, indicating that was not represented as such by the sign posted. Standing by his word, the employee went in search of backup. He found a manager (maybe a shift leader), to whom he colorfully exclaimed “Hey, are we DOING that?!”, as he pointed at the sign clearly indicating that they were-at least for the customer who just ordered based on what it stated. Now backed up by mangagement, he continued to deny me the spread. Annoyed, as I began my turn to the self-service soda fountain, I paused, looked the manager in the eye and said, “You really need to fix your sign.”

After filling my drink, I returned to the counter and decided to press my luck and hope for “No Whammies“. I again pulled out my wallet, and began to order up some spread (come on…the bagel would be really dry without it). Another patron who’d overheard my previous exchange said, “You know, if they put it on the sign, they have to honor it. If not, it’s false advertising.” I paused and said, “You’re right”, turning back to the employee, “I really think you should give me the spread”. To his credit, he did. But not before the manager disgustedly pulled the sign down from the menu posted on the wall above the register.

Okay. This was all over about less than $1.00 worth of “missed up-sell” to an obviously regular customer at this location. The kid behind the register was so concerned about doing something wrong, he was afraid to make a simple exception…really to only one person. It’s not like they were lined up with a breakfast rush where potentially 20 people would exploit this mistakenly offered deal. It was nearly 4:00 in the afternoon and there weren’t 20 people in the entire restaurant!

I was polite, but firm. In fact, I almost backed down to not create a scene. Happy that I apparently had scored the “deal of the day” without really trying, I sat down at a table and was approached by another extremely polite employee (who is also a very chatty senior citizen of this great country who sometimes forgets there is a line of people waiting to order, but hey…is that so bad?) who stopped by to say “I agree with you about the spread. I can’t believe they would give so much hassle to a customer who’s as regular in here as you are.” I thanked her for the support, and reminded her they’d made it right.

The next time you see an error of negligible value that seems to be in the favor of one of YOUR customer, new or loyal… the correct answer is to 1) smile, 2) admit it’s in their favor, 3) let ’em “get away with it”, and 4) enjoy the goodwill of a satisfied customer. Otherwise, he’s going to sit in a booth in YOUR RESTAURANT, using YOUR BANDWIDTH, to publish to the world how silly your employees are because you haven’t allowed them any OWNERSHIP of their job or EMPOWERED THEM TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE TO YOUR CUSTOMERS.

Now, what did I do with that receipt? It’s time to fill out the customer survey. I wonder if they know about the blog, if it will improve my chances of winning the $2000 give away offered to survey respondents?

p.s. The bagel with the “recommended” spread was VERY yummy.