The Return of Customer Service

The Return of Customer Service

Chefs & Experts

The Return of Customer Service

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Here’s what happens in a bad economy: businesses decide they need their customers.

And, when they realize they need their customers, they tend to treat them well. Even go the extra mile. Here are my recent experiences with two restaurants that give me hope that customer service has returned.

While traveling, my family walked into an On the Border in Kansas City. We were really looking for a BBQ place (after all, that’s what you are supposed to do in Kansas City, isn’t it?), but couldn’t find the restaurant. There was what looked like a recently closed restaurant next door, and we made the assumption that the BBQ place was defunct.

So, we walked in, but before we were seated my husband asked, ‘Was there a BBQ place next door, or did we just miss it?’

The host quickly told us that the BBQ place still existed and that it was just one block further. He waited while we glanced at each other with our not-so-hidden question of, ‘Should we leave?’

But, the place was clean, we were parked, and he had been completely open – he didn’t disparage the competition and in fact was willing to give us directions. ‘We’re here,’ I said. ‘Let’s just give it a try.’

We were seated and just beginning to take in the scents of sizzling fajitas and lime, when a manager showed up tableside. With complementary queso and a smile. As she placed it on our table, she said, ‘This is for sticking with your second choice.’

We were delighted! This restaurant staff obviously communicated with one another. They embraced their customers. They were willing to do something extra to make sure the customers were happy with their choice. From that point on, they had won us over. Everything tasted extra good, the service was extra efficient, and the experience was worth talking about.

Then, there was Chipotle (yes, I like Mexican food). I’d been before, but on this day I just felt overwhelmed. I’d already been faced with too many choices at work, and indecision was all I could feel. I stood in line and let people go in front of me while I stared blankly at the menu. And then one of the four guys behind the counter stepped up.

‘Need some help deciding?’ he asked.

With relief, I said, ‘Yes – just tell me what’s good.’

He began to lay out four small plastic cups and put a bit of each kind of meat in them. The pork carnita. The spicy beef. The shredded beef. The chicken. ‘You tell me what you like,’ he said.

I tasted the chicken – not in the mood. The carnita had me sold until I ate the spicy beef, and it woke up my taste buds and my energy level. The hardest choice made, he then walked me through all of the options until I ended up with a burrito bowl exactly to my liking – and I even spent the extra on guacamole because, by that time, he had won me over to anything he suggested.

Every bite reminded me that this was a made-to-order lunch that also made me feel like I had been served.

Contrast those experiences with what, until recently, was much more typical. The checkout person who is too busy chatting with the bagger to pay attention to what she is ringing up. The counter person who taps a foot while you debate the menu. The waiter who rushes you through the courses in order to turn over the table and seat the next customer.

In a poor economy, the customer begins to be important once again. Let’s hope we remember that when the economy improves.

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