Got Some Bugs in Your Customer Service?

December 10, 2010

By Adams Hudson

For the most part, our other copywriter Jessica is easy-going. She's very contemplative, enjoys verbal jousting, has a great sense of humor and a quick wit. The best of copywriter traits.

That said, she's not exactly a pushover. Once a very thin line is crossed, her inner calm turns into an enraged lion with venomous snakes for hair. (Did I mention Jessica was female, too?)  Fortunately - for national safety - this rarely happens. Yet in what is turning out to be the "Best Worst Customer Service Story of 2010", Jessica's line was crossed.

Oh, and I think you'll be more than a little entertained to hear what happened next, in her own words. Customer Service lessons in abundance.

How NOT to Do Customer Service
By Jessica "I ain't taking this anymore" Knight

My sister, brother-in-law and I woke on a beautiful Saturday to go to the "big city" for shopping and massages. A few hours later, not only were our muscles gloriously melted from the spa treatment, but our arms were filled with clothes, and most importantly, fabulous new shoes.

Since shopping and massages are so tiring, it was obviously time to hit our favorite Italian restaurant. Side note: I cannot eat pasta. So going to an Italian restaurant may sound like the dumbest idea since the doggie Snuggie (it's real - look it up), but this restaurant will substitute grilled vegetables for pasta. Plus, the food is always fantastic. Decision made.

We walked in and were quickly seated by the overly-perky hostess who proceeded to knock a full bottle of olive oil onto my shirt. As I watched my shirt soak up enough oil to blame BP, I looked up for her response. It was one word long: "Oh".

No apology, no wet nap, no oil boom, nothing. Mentally, I registered her disregard. So, greasy but undaunted, I spent the next 10 minutes in the bathroom drying the oil so I wouldn't ignite when they lit the table candles.

Soon enough, our food comes. Oh joy. After a few bites I grab for my water, and there bobbing in the ice cubes, is a bug. We're not talking about a gnat...we're talking about an actual roach doing the backstroke in my water. This ain't good.

Given my recently dismissed oil issue and now this, I politely and calmly called for the manager.

Now contractors, put yourself in my new, fabulous, shoes for a moment. A customer has a setback, then another, and now he or she is asking for you. You can either shine and be their hero... or you can spiral this thing out of control.

When the manager arrives, I explain the situation about the bug and the uncapped oil spill. As a repeat customer, my only "intention" was to a) Alert him to the problem(s) and b) Get a new glass of water. His reaction?

If you're expecting an apology and, "Let me get you another drink and some napkins," or even comping the meal, prepare to be shocked. His real response was shouting, "You're not getting your food for free!" He was inching toward the line. Snakes were indeed beginning to grow out of my newly coiffed hair.

I gathered enough resolve to re-explain the oil slick and roach, and that I only asked for a glass of water. Once I had, he escalated his own crumbling position with, "I think you have an attitude problem."

Unleash the lion.

In as good an Al Pacino as a lady can do, I said, "You think I have an attitude problem? Nope. I'm about to demonstrate an attitude problem for you."

That's when I stood and walked to the six tables surrounding ours, to start six conversations that all began with:
"Do you see this roach in my drink? The manager (my attitude-induced finger pointing) doesn't think this is a problem. Do you?" Snarls and gaggery ensued.

Half the tables got up and left, including a party of 9. I sat down, my performance now over. We gathered our things and as I departed I mentioned to the properly horrified manager, whose repulsive non customer service attitude had just cost him at least $1500, "Now that was an attitude problem." And we left, never to darken his door again, all because of a glass of water.

Let's be sane here. People - your people, my people, others - are going to make mistakes. But the response is what makes all the difference.

In this case, the manager could've replaced the water, shared my feelings, and offered to pay for whatever laundry bill to clean the shirt. I'd have been happy. If he'd also offered to comp my meal (all of $17) I'd have been overjoyed. A wise manager would've done so instantly.

Yet the greedy and uncaring manger lost 3 additional tables, wads of Saturday night revenue and lost customers forever. As Adams has written many times, unhappy customers will tell 12 others their story. And that was before Social Media and the internet. Ooops.

Now your reputation is a few clicks away from being broadcast. An exponential increase to the damage can result in moments.  So if you leave a customer's house a wreck, or don't show up with the right materials, or have a dreaded "call back", your reputation is on the line based on your reaction.

The lesson? Don't be afraid to over correct. Spending more to save a customer and stem the bad word of mouth can save you (and make you) tons of money in the long run. Investing in your current and repeat customers generally has a better ROI than trying to replace them.

Bon appetit!

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Readers can get a copy of the free 16-page report, “Get More Leads in Less Time” to help you market more effectively.  Fax a polite request on your letterhead to 334-262-1115, or email  Call 1-800-489-9099 or visit to subscribe to his free contractor marketing newsletter.

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