My second post (after the one graciously published at The HR Capitalist) was going to be about culture, leadership and business success using Zappos’ approach to customer service as a case study. But here’s the thing: once I started thinking about it, I see examples of wretched customer service everywhere I go. Take this morning, for example.
My husband and I are on vacation celebrating our 27th anniversary and my xxth birthday at our favorite place in the world (after Positano, Italy): Lake Tahoe. If you’ve never been here, it’s a must for your bucket list. I’m looking out the window of my hotel room and see the breathtaking gradations of aqua in the water, the still snow covered mountains rimming the lake – all under a canopy of the bluest blue sky I’ve ever seen. Inspiring.
We went to breakfast at one of the great places the “locals” frequent (we lived here 17 years ago). We sat on the deck overlooking the lake and watched all the folks streaming in to the area to stake out good spots from which to watch the fireworks this evening. Our breakfast order was pretty simple. French toast for me, bananas on the side and the potato/sausage skillet with runny, over easy eggs and sourdough toast (toasted “golden brown”) for my husband.
The server was a chipper and pleasant gal in her early 20’s. No problem on the eggs and certainly no problem on the toast. We were optimistic. Well, the eggs came hard and the toast wasn’t even toasted. Just kind of warm. When my husband asked her to make them right she got all “Miss Thing” on us and tried to convince him that the warm toast really was golden brown and the clearly hard egg yolks really were runny. He didn’t buy it.
The eggs came back a second time and they were perfect, but by then the skillet part was cold. And the toast, well, the toast was burned to a crisp. When my husband pointed out to the server that the toast was inedible she got really defensive. At that point he asked to see the manager. My husband’s a big guy (former Division I football player) and knows that he easily intimidates people even when he’s not trying. So he was not aggressive or demonstrative at all. In fact, I would have been a lot stronger in my expression of displeasure. My “Miss Thing” act is pretty convincing.
The manager – actually the chef – came over and was sort of apologetic and offered to buy our breakfasts. We accepted. But he ruined the save by becoming defensive and puzzled that we would be less than pleased with the service – after all, the eggs came back the second time as ordered. And the toast, well, toasters are tough machines to work with and we shouldn’t have such high expectations for toast. Really? Our toast options are slightly warm or burned to a crisp?
I know that being a server in a restaurant isn’t easy. I certainly couldn’t do it. I’d be dropping plates, breaking glasses and spilling stuff — probably on the customers. I would be a disaster. But I think that service businesses of any size should be paying more attention to the cultures of service they’re trying to create and select their staffs with that culture in mind before they start evaluating the skills of applicants. And then some training around building relationships, exceeding customer expectations and taking a long term view of the customer experience might be helpful. Clearly none of that was happening here.
In the broad scale of things, poor service from a small, locally owned restaurant isn’t that big a deal. Except that we expect and accept bad service so consistently that when we experience good – or even great – service it shocks us to our boots! And here’s the thing: it can’t be that hard! I know people will and have made observations that no American wants a service job anymore and that the Gen Xers were brought up in such a manner as makes them totally unable to get outside themselves to think about others or take personal responsibility for anything. I don’t buy either argument. I think there’s great power in serving. I think there’s no greater satisfaction than in helping others. I think that we’ve given up expecting good from our fellow human beings and expect everyone to be selfish, in it only for themselves and unwilling to set self aside for the greater good – especially in the commercial world.
And that’s why the Zappos’ culture is so noteworthy. Here’s a CEO, a company culture and employees who exist to rock our world with the best customer service known to humankind. Think about that. They’re not in business to sell shoes, apparel or housewares. They’re in business to provide the best customer service in the world. Makes me want them to sell cars, homes, travel (Zappos Airlines, anyone?) and everything I buy! I’ll explore that a little more next week when I get back from vacation.
In the meantime, do you agree with the chef? Are my expectations too high?
Here’s hoping your egg yolks are always runny and your toast is always golden brown – if that’s the way you like them! And Happy Birthday America!