Slaw Dogs, The Big ‘Un,
and Customer Service Lessons…

By Brenda Clark Hamilton, MA Ed.
Recently, my husband Chris and I and our three, school-age sons spent a week vacationing at the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri.  While souvenir shopping in the Bagnell Dam area, we couldn’t resist checking out a small, local diner tucked between the strip of shops.  It was the name that caught our attention—Weenie World.

Upon entering the place and checking out the menu, we were all excited to place our orders, as everything on the menu looked good—from the place’s signature dog, the Big ‘Un, to slaw dogs and nachos with that cheesy “whiz” stuff on the side.  As well, it was a blistering hot day and we were ready for some cold drinks. 

When we approached the counter to place our order, we noticed a young man moving quickly from station to station, placing hotdogs on buns, rechecking his order pad and piling on chili, shredded cheese, onions, slaw, relish, and kraut, per customers’ particular orders.  He moved from food to drinks, quickly filling glasses and tending to whatever requests customers had—additional napkins, a cup of ice water, a plastic fork. 

The young man noticed us at the counter and immediately apologized for the wait, noting that he was by himself that day and would get to us as soon as he could.  During our few-minute wait, he apologized at least two other times and reminded us that he would be with us shortly.

When he did take our order, he was courteous and detailed, making sure that he had our choice of toppings correct and again, apologizing for the delay.  He worked swiftly pulling together our rather extensive order and even made one of the meals “on the house” due to the wait.  He stayed calm, polite, and upbeat during the entire time, though I know he must’ve felt a bit overwhelmed.  And, by the way, the food was awesome.

What is this—  I thought this was a speakers’ blog!

Okay, let me get to my point, at last! 

We’ve all been there:  waiting to be served at a restaurant or in the checkout line of a superstore that happens to be short-staffed that day.  It’s inevitable that from time to time in a business setting, it will happen. 

However, unlike the exemplary service we received from the young man behind the counter at the hot dog joint, too often the understaffed employees are quick to express, either verbally or nonverbally, their frustration, sometimes to the point of acting irritated with you for daring to patronize their business that day.

Statistics from the White House Office of Consumer Affairs TARP study tell us that the average dissatisfied customer will tell 8-10 other people about their experience.  91% of dissatisfied customers will not purchase goods or services from you again. 

However, the good news for those of us in customer service—which it seems we all are to some extent—is that if your customers receive less-than-ideal service but your business acts swiftly and adequately to rectify the situation, approximately 7 out of 10 of those customers will stay with you. 

The reality is that most consumers realize that occasionally things happen in businesses that make their experience less than perfect.  It is how the business responds to that experience that makes the difference in whether the consumer will stay with that service provider.

Several years ago, I coordinated professional development for an Iowa state education agency.  In this position, I oversaw our team’s offering of over 100 classes per year for teachers and school district administrators looking to advance their skills and pick up credits needed to renew their educational licenses. 

As you can imagine, there were times when classes did not meet our customers’ expectations.  Sometimes, teachers didn’t like the class instructor and his/her style of teaching.  Other times, the location was not conducive to adult learning.  Sometimes, the processing of grades was delayed, which became a problem for teachers who needed to renew their licenses ASAP.

I learned a crash course about customer service during those years coordinating all of those classes.  Here’s a quick, bullet-point rundown:

? Truly listening to the customer’s dissatisfaction—the whole, nine yards—is critical.

? Paraphrasing the consumer’s grievance and empathizing with their hardship goes a long way in calming raw nerves.  A great phrase is, “Let me see if I have this straight,” followed by your summary of their complaint.

? Apologize for what happened, even if it wasn’t you personally who caused the adversity.

? Staying calm and respectful is paramount.  While their complaint may feel personal to you, it usually isn’t.

? Taking steps to swiftly resolve the issue, even if it costs your organization money, will usually pay off many times over in the long run.
? Customers appreciate knowing what steps you will take so the issue won’t happen again in the future— to them or to anyone else.

? Thank the consumer for bringing the issue to your attention.

? Some of your most ardent supporters will be customers who started off with a bad experience with your organization but found that you quickly and skillfully resolved their issue to their satisfaction.
I could talk for hours about specific incidents that led to my learning these lessons, but for now, I will close by taking us back to the fine young gentleman working by himself at Weenie World. 

This young man behind the counter actually did one better than responding to a customer complaint.  He actually prevented a customer complaint by greeting us immediately upon seeing us at the counter and apologizing for any impending delay.  His words, actions, and demeanor throughout our visit said, “You are important.  I want to do my best to serve you, and I’m so sorry if you are inconvenienced in any way.  And, by the way, I’ll give you a free meal to somehow try to compensate for any hardship this has been for you.”

I don’t know if the Weenie World organization trained this young man to provide such exemplary customer service or if he just happened to be a polite, thoughtful gentleman, but I was impressed—very impressed. 

Our family is hoping to venture back down to Lake of the Ozarks next summer and do a replay of some of the great experiences we had this year.  I can pretty much guarantee that our trip will include a stop at our new favorite hotdog joint.

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