That was the question the older mustached man wearing dark dress pants and a gray striped button down shirt at the diner asked me when I walked in with my family last Sunday. No “welcome” or “hi,” just simply a stone-faced, “How many?”
After telling him there were five of us, the man didn’t speak a word, just simply grabbed five oversized menus and expected us to follow him to a long table in the back. The man put the five menus down and walked away. I was astonished at the lack of customer service this guy — potentially the owner or manager — had. Diners are dime a dozen in our area of New Jersey, perhaps the diner capital of the world. He must have forgotten that, too.
Our waitress wasn’t the most personable either — it was like we were bothering her. In fact, she took our order without writing anything down. This always gives me anxiety. When our food was delivered, only 90 percent of what we ordered arrived. The most important ask (whipped cream on my son Evan’s chocolate chip waffles) wasn’t anywhere in sight.
Needless to say, this was not the best way to start the morning of my 35th birthday.
That same afternoon, I took Evan and headed to Dick’s Sporting Goods. I needed a pair of cleats for softball and kickball and it seemed like a good time to get out of the house for an hour.
The shoe section was overcrowded, but I expected that with baseball season getting underway at schools everywhere. I had found someone to help get me a size 9.5 in a pair of Under Armour cleats I liked. She was helpful, bringing me a nine in one color and 9.5 in another.
Evan wanted to play around the exercise equipment so I went over there to keep an eye on him as I tried on each pair. I settled on the 9.5, but instead of leaving the box among the dozen others people randomly piled up in a place they shouldn’t be, I decided to be helpful. I returned the other pair back to a gentleman who worked in the section and handed him the box.
That was the response. No “thank you” or anything else. Just “okay.”
Stunned at the lack of appreciation, I debated leaving without purchasing the cleats. They were a great price though, so I only hesitated a little bit. Maybe I was asking too much by assuming a thank you was warranted.
When I got through the long checkout line to pay, I swiped my card and the young man behind the register handed me my receipt.
Same as the man in the shoe section. Not a “thank you” or anything else. Just silence.
It made me think back to earlier in line when the woman before me said how crazy busy Dick’s was that day. My response to her was, “this is why people shop online.” She laughed and nodded.
I will be returning that pair of cleats to Dick’s. Great deal or not, I’m not going to support a business that can’t deliver a quality customer experience, let alone a physical retail store when shopping online is so much easier.
One of the reasons these thoughts may be at the front of my mind is because I just finished reading the book “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, the premier online retailers of footwear that was acquired by Amazon in 2009.
The book is part memoir, part history of Zappos, part education. The education was the most insightful part because you go inside the company that has one mission: to deliver the best customer experience possible. By doing this, customers retain, customers tell their friends, customers are wow’ed.
What is “wow’ed?” It’s putting your phone number front and center on your website, hoping customers call to ask for help. The reps aren’t evaluated on how quick they get off a call or how many calls they take, but instead how helpful they are to a customer. (One story in the book had a customer spend six hours with a rep on the phone.)
It’s giving the customer a free two-day shipping upgrade when they expected their shoes in a week — Zappos also offer free shipping for delivery and returns. It’s sending flowers to a customer who said they ordered shoes for a birthday dinner with her husband. It’s creating a workplace environment that people feel fulfilled and passionate about their work.
This is what so many businesses forget. There are options these days. As I tell my classes at NYU when discussing traditional vs. digital marketing: traditional businesses were only able to service people who could visit them; their customer base was locals and people passing through town. In today’s world, your customers are the world.
There is a local dry cleaner that charges a little bit more per dress shirt and pants than the others in the area. But every time I walk in there, he shakes my hand with a big smile, clears room for my clothes and is always happy — perhaps it’s appreciation. Every Christmas he gives me a lint roller. I go to him because of this level of service and a desire to support him.
Imagine if the person working at the gas station you visit (we don’t pump our own gas in New Jersey) was excited to help you instead of talking on his phone and mumbling when you rolled down your window. Customer service goes a long way.
I began thinking about the customer experience long before I read Tony’s book. It was there when my family went to Walt Disney World in December. It’s last week when I had a mixup at Starbucks and their customer service more than made it up to me. It’s there whenever I buy something from Amazon — and sometimes when I need to return something to Amazon. It’s when I book on United and my Silver status gets me flight upgrades. It’s when I visit a Marriott and spend time in the concierge lounge.
These aren’t about I pay you money, you deliver me what I’m expecting. These brands understand: I pay you money, we’ll overdeliver to make me feel special, to provide you with that key term: experience.
In the book “The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World” by Brad Stone, he writes the key to a successful business is high occupancy (i.e. lots of users) and great hospitality (i.e. the experience). You can’t have lots of customers without a great experience. After all, experience builds loyalty.
My birthday story does end on a happy note.
My wife made reservations at The Melting Pot, a favorite fondue restaurant of ours, for dinner on Sunday. When we arrived, the hostess warmly welcomed us and brought us right to our table. My wife had ordered balloons and chocolate, which were on the table when we arrived.
The waiter was personable, even coming over and welcoming “Jess and Scott” to The Melting Pot before wishing me a happy birthday. Throughout dinner, the manager stopped over to see if we needed anything, another waiter stopped over just to pull a couple glasses off the table and the hostess returned with a personalized birthday card.
As we wrapped up dessert, a different waiter stopped over and said he would take my card to pay for the meal. I had questioned a charge on the bill, to which he explained and I thanked him.
When he returned, he told me since I didn’t see that extra charge in the menu, he wasn’t going to charge me for it. He also appreciated how nice I was about it.
That wow’ed me. He wasn’t even our waiter — as far as I know, they don’t split tips there so there is no incentive to help me.
The Melting Pot delivered happiness on Sunday night. Some local and national businesses should take note.