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Customer Service is STILL Important

Garth Henson
Personal Life
20 Sep 2012

In this day in age, with all the technological advancements from entertainment to dining, many companies seem to lose track of the simple fact that customer service is still important. I know first hand how many companies have (or are) letting the simple principle of “the customer is always right” be slowly outshone by the new principle of “the customer is privileged to do business here.” I worked retail for many years in different venues from shoes to computers, and I saw this slip first-hand when I compared the divergence between what was taught during training and to what standard management expected on the sales floor. Thankfully I now work for a company that still values the customer above all, and though I’m no longer in sales, I have had opportunity to sit with customer service for an entire day and watch first-hand how things are handled – and it makes me proud to work here.

I have considered writing something like this before, but a recent experience provided me the perfect sampling of both extremes, and I felt like venting a bit, so here I am. In the past 4 weeks, I have had two polar opposite experiences at two well-known, international food service providers: McDonalds and Starbucks. In order to end on a positive note, we’ll start with the bad and then move to the good.

McDonald’s Just Doesn’t Get It

On a morning rush to work, I swung through McDonald’s to grab a bite to eat, knowing that I would have to hit the ground running at the office. The smell of a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit filled the car as I unwrapped my sandwich at a stoplight and prepared to indulge. Lifting the sandwich to my mouth, I could feel the heat from the steaming contents before I even touched the food to my lips. I took my first bite…and almost broke a tooth on the hard-as-a-rock biscuit.

I’m not exactly a biscuit connoisseur, but my family is from the south – where I spent 12 years of my life, I might add – and I know how I like my biscuits. A quarter-inch of crusty, over-baked biscuit dough surrounding a somewhat edible interior is not among my list of acceptable food products. Had I not been on my way to work and in a rush, I would have gone back and returned it. As things stood, I was already 10 minutes down the road and could not turn around, so I did the only sane thing I could: I ate the contents, threw the rest of the biscuit away and convinced myself to leave a scathing review on the McDonald’s website for my wasted $3.

When I arrived at work, I did leave feedback, though scathing it was not (as those of you who know me personally can attest – I just don’t do scathing well). I itemized my complaint with details about having to throw away the major portion of my breakfast and was pleased to see an email response in my inbox 48 hours later. Upon opening the email, however, I realized – through the veil of fluffy words and customer service mantra – just how little my opinions matter to this corporate monstrosity. In fact, let me share the entirety of the letter – save salutation and closing – with you:

I am sorry for the unsatisfactory experience during your recent visit. Please be assured that we want to provide you with an exceptional experience every time you visit us. From your email, it is clear we did not meet your expectations. Again, I am truly sorry we disappointed you.

I want you to know that I have already taken action on your feedback. After reading your email, I immediately shared the information you brought to our attention with the local franchise owner of the restaurant you visited. Additionally, customer feedback is reviewed with our regional McDonald’s consultants as part of our ongoing commitment to improving our restaurants’ operations.

Again, Garth, thank you for sharing your feedback. We appreciate your business and we hope to have the pleasure of serving you soon.

Aw, that’s so nice of you to let me know how important my feedback is to you, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m out $3 with nothing to show for it. It’s all well and good to take the negative (and positive) feedback to the franchise involved, but what are you doing to convince the customer who has wasted money on your sub-par food to come in and be willing to give you the opportunity to redeem yourself? Yes, that is a rhetorical question, for the answer in this case is clearly NOTHING.

Thankfully, there are still a few companies who grasp the importance of customer service as a whole and seem to still encourage associates to bend over backwards to keep the customers happy.

Starbucks to the Rescue

Over this same period of time, I have had two different examples of exemplary customer experience from this Seattle based coffee giant. First, similar to my McDonald’s experience, I got a cup of coffee from the Starbucks in the ground floor of my office building and discovered – to my horror – that the dark roast was too weak to sustain life. Having not yet had my first cup of coffee for the day, I logged in to the Starbucks website and expressed my grievance, though with a markedly different outcome that the previous nightmare I shared.

Rather than an impersonal, cookie-cutter email, within 48 hours I received a letter to my home address with a personalized response to my complaint. So far, so good. When I opened the envelope, though, in addition to the letter I found two – count ’em: TWO – vouchers for any free drink of my choice from Starbucks as an apology for my bad experience. So, let’s put this into perspective: not only did they personally address my bad situation, but they sent me vouchers for two drinks that could total up to $20+ as an apology for my wasted $3. Not only does this satiate my desire for resolution, but it gives them two more opportunities to please me as a customer. Well played, I must say.

The second customer experience story I need to share in this positive review happened just last night when my daughter and I tried to pick up coffee for my wife and myself. We came to the drive-thru of the Starbucks by our house and asked if there was any dark roast left. After being told that, “yes, we have our Anniversary Blend” – which is awesome, by the way – I ordered two coffees and pulled up to the window. The associate at the window gave me a look as I approached that told me she was not the bearer of good news.

She informed me that she had just switched the carafes out and that the dark roast was just starting to brew. She offered Pike instead – of which I’m not a fan – or we had the option to wait a few minutes for the new pot of Anniversary to finish. Since we weren’t in a rush, I told her we’d just pull around front and come in for a few minutes while it finished – no worries at all. Having made the decision to wait myself, I wasn’t put out by the delay, and I certainly wasn’t expecting any sort of remuneration for my wait. I was pleasantly surprised when, after about a 7 minute wait with my daughter, we ordered the coffees again at the counter and were provided with piping hot cups “on the house.”

Excuse me? What was that? I have my phone out ready to pay. Oh, you said it’s “on the house”? Why, I ask? She tells me that it’s on the house because I had to wait for it. So, just to clarify, I was given two free cups of freshly brewed coffee because I voluntarily waited for 7 minutes simply because my preferred blend was not currently available. Now, THAT is service. It didn’t matter that there were other options available and I opted to wait – the associate insisted on making it up to me simply because they could not fulfill my first order immediately at the time of service.

Starbucks, thank you for hiring and training your associates to genuinely care about your customer experience. Whether or not you, as a reader, care for Starbucks coffee is not the point today (we may argue that battle at another time): rather, I want to point out the extremes we can see in customer service today (or the lack thereof). McDonald’s may still claim “billions and billions served”, but here is one less from that count until you take a lesson from places like Starbucks.

Garth Henson
Garth is as a lead engineer at The Walt Disney Company, specializing in JavaScript applications.

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