April 23, 2007

Is Providing Good Customer Service Really So Hard?

Filed under: Business,General,Idiots — Cory @ 12:26 am

For the past few years I have been paying a lot of attention to customer service. I’ve always cared about customer service, but when I became a customer of Rackspace almost 5 years ago I experienced what it was like to really love being a customer of a company. I told everyone about Rackspace, and recommended several people to them. Finally, I decided I wanted to work there since I thought this company was so great. How many companies affect their customers so much that they actually want to become employees? I am not the only one, I know of 4 other individuals who worked at Rackspace that got there by being customers first.

This post isn’t about Rackspace, it’s about the other end of the customer service spectrum. This is about the companies, big and small, who just do not get it. So, the following are a few experiences I have had lately.

The Unremarkable

Sapore’s Pizza

A couple weeks ago in San Antonio Sandy and I were trying to think of places to eat, and I mentioned Californa Pizza Kitchen. Not the best pizza restaurant, but not too bad either. Sandy suggested instead that we eat at Sapore’s Pizza since it was a small operation run by an Italian man who seemed to do everything there. “Sure”, I said, since I prefer to support small businesses anyway.

We got there at 8pm on Friday night, and noticed they closed at 9. There was a sign advertising “pizza by the slice,” so Sandy asked for a slice of some specialty pizza they had on the menu. She was told that it was too late, “sorry.” This was somewhat understandable since it was late, but they should probably mention that on their menu. Since I just wanted a cheese pizza, we decided to order their $8 medium, half cheese and half with the four toppings that Sandy wanted. He rang it up and the total was $14, which quickly made me suspicious. It turns out that the toppings are $1.50 each, and she ordered 4 of them, so $6.00. I said “but she’s only getting half a pizza of the toppings, shouldn’t that be half the amount for the toppings?” His response was “sorry, no.” I asked again, hoping maybe that we had only had a misunderstanding, but no, they wanted to change $1.50 for covering half of a pizza with basil! Now, I could understand if I had not pointed this out to the guy, but not only had I brought up the issue, but I asked him twice if this was correct. Simply acknowledging the ridiculousness of the situation and taking $3 off the pizza would have made me really happy, and probably a returning customer. Instead, for $3, I will never return there, and I am making it known that Sapore’s Pizza deserves to be overrun by the competition.

Sushi King

Shortly after moving to Houston I discovered a few sushi restaurants in town, and after my first visit to the Sushi King on Kirby and Richmond I decided that I liked the food there the best. Several weeks later I returned with Sandy, after telling her how much I liked it there. On my previous trip I had ordered a tuna sashimi and when it arrived I noticed that it was cut quite a bit thick for my taste. So, this time I ordered it again, but asked that it be sliced a little thinner. The waitor seemed a little confused, and said that he would have to check with the sushi chefs to see if this was ok. When he returned he told me that there would be an additional $1 charge for it to be thinly sliced. A $1 additional charge on an already expensive $18 order! I wasn’t asking for more food, I was just asking that they slice it thinner! I have not been back to Sushi king since then. All because of $1. The funny thing is, if they had have just baked the $1 cost into the price of the sashmimi to begin with, I would never have had a problem with it. It would have just simply been priced at $19 on the menu rather than $18, and I would have probably ordered it anyway.

Blue Fish House Sushi Bar

I had a similar experience at the Blue Fish House Sushi Bar on Richmond Avenue in Houston. I ordered tuna sashimi thinly sliced, the waitress asked the sushi chef, and they refused to do it! Not only were they turning down the opportunity to make an extra buck like Sushi King did, they simply told the customer “No.” Again, I have not been back since.

Grand Lux Cafe

Recently Sandy and I went to Grand Lux Cafe for brunch, and had a pretty good meal. In fact, we were so impressed with the food that we were anxious to come back to try other things on the menu. So, today we returned for brunch.

Grand Lux Cafe is a chain owned by the Cheesecake Factory restaurants, and it has a similar feel inside. Like Cheesecake Factory, Grand Lux seems to care about maintaining a high level of service. As I have noticed recently, its easy to make it seem like you have great customer service while things are going as planned, but the real winners stand out by how problems are handled.

Our service today at Grand Lux was so-so, and the waitor just did not seem to pay attention to us as guests. We were seated at a table for 4, but were only on one end of the table, facing each other. This is minor, but twice when the waitor brought things to the table, he moved our drinks out of our reach to the other end of the table so that he could put a plate or basket in front of us. Imagine two people sitting at one end of the table, and their drinks at the other end. Fine, so he was oblivious to small things like this, I can live with that.

After we finished eating he returned to the table and begin stacking all of the plates on top of each other, without placing the spoons, forks and knifes together. After the third plate was placed on top the stack became really wobbly, and a spoon full of raspberry sauce fell on my shirt.

Now, as someone who has waited tables in the past, I understand this, and sympathize, especially since a lot of people get angry and make a scene. I wasn’t upset, I just sort of sat there to see how this would be handled. He apologized and then ran off to get a glass of club soda for me to clean my shirt with. When he returned he told me that the manager had been notified and would be coming by the table shortly to work things out. He also took the opportunity to say that “it isn’t really a big deal,” and that it was “just a mistake.” Hum… strike one. When the manager comes by a few minutes later he says that we have two options, either:

  1. I can get the shirt dry cleaned, and they will pay the bill, or
  2. They will remove the cheapest item from our bill.

I am not really interested in getting a t-shirt of a filthy Stewart Gilligan Griffin dry cleaned, and I tell the manager this, and also that I would prefer that more of the $30 meal be comp’d, rather than the just the $6 appetizer. He repeated the two previously mentioned options. I asked what would happen if they paid for the dry cleaning, and the stain didn’t come out, to which he replied, “we would need to see what happens with the dry cleaning first.” Strike two. So, in reality there are three options:

  1. They pay for dry cleaning that might not be able to remove the stain, and the fate of this situation is left in the hands of a guy who has already proven he doesn’t understand customer service,
  2. I take the $6 credit for the appetizer, or
  3. I argue with the guy over an additional $9 credit to my meal

I prefer not to make scenes, especially over $9. I also don’t want to deal with dry cleaners, receipts, trips back to the Grand Lux, dealing with the manager for a credit, and everything else that would be involved in getting this thing dry cleaned. So I end up with the $6 credit. And it is clear to the manager that I am not happy about this. Again, here is a situation where the manager had the opportunity to do something that would make me a loyal customer for life. All he had to do is credit my entree, and if he wanted me to tell my friends about how wonderful the service at the Grand Lux was, he could have comp’d the whole meal, a measly $30. Instead, he chose to take the cheapest thing we ordered off our final bill, and leave a customer obviously not satisfied. Strike three.

You Say I Expect Too Much

No, I don’t think I do. I realize that there has to be some point where the customer is being ridiculous. You can’t give the customer anything they want, because there are unreasonable people who will try to take advantage of you. I also don’t think I was being unreasonable in any of the above situations. In each case, the person I was dealing with had the opportunity to make the situation remarkable, as Seth Godin would say. (I really enjoy reading Seth’s blog, as he frequently gives examples of the good and the bad of customer service). In every case it would have been very easy to do something so good that I would tell my friends about it. Instead, they did something bad enough that I am telling the whole world about it.

And Now For The Praise

Houston’s Restaurant on Kirby

Saturday night Sandy and I decided to try dinner at Houston’s Restaurant on Kirby since Nathan keeps recommending it (and that guy knows food). Although the food was pricey, the service here was excellent. As you can tell, I notice a lot of little things (moving drinks out of reach, etc), and I noticed something like this at Houston’s as well. I typically use a Discover card for most purchases, and occassionally I come across a business that does not accept Discover. Normally it goes something like this. In other words, they say something like “We do not accept Discover” in the same tone that they would probably say “your card has been declined.” However, the waitor at Houston’s had much more tact and politely asked “oh, do you happen to have another card?” This was a completely different way of getting the same message across, and I appreciated it. I imagine if someone at Houston’s had spilled raspberry sauce on my shirt, they wouldn’t have taken the cheap way out.

Osaka Japanese Restaurant on Westheimer

Friday night we wanted Sushi, and since Sushi King and Blue Fish House are out of the question, we decided to go to Osaka. I had been here a couple times before, and it seemed pretty good. I ordered a sushi roll, edamame, and miso soup, and Sandy just ordered a roll. After a while the sushi rolls came out, and after we had finished eating those I flagged a waitress down to ask about the edamame and miso soup (which would normally come before anything else). After bringing this to the attention of our waitress she literally ran to the kitchen to get them for me. Afterwards the manager came over to our table and offered us each our choice of ice cream, on the house. Yes! Osaka is my new favorite Sushi restaurant! See how easy that was?

Even The Best Have Bad Days

I also realize that even some of the best screw up every once in a while. One of my all time favorite restaurants is The Tillerman in Las Vegas, and every time I have been there I have had amazing experiences, both for the food and the service. I have taken friends there, and they were equally impressed. Last fall a friend was out in Vegas and after hearing me talk so much about The Tillerman he decided to go there with several friends. I was shocked to find out that they had a horrible experience, with both the food and the service. I love this restaurant so much that I personally felt hurt that they didn’t enjoy it, and I just couldn’t understand how they could have such a bad experience. I guess it is possible that some of the bad experiences I have had were just bad days for the restaurants, but that’s too bad. “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once — shame on — shame on you. You fool me, you can’t get fooled again.”

It’s Everywhere!

This lack of acceptable customer service isn’t just limited to restaurants either. I had a horrible experience with the U.S. Post Office just this week (although that isn’t too shocking). A couple months ago we stayed at the Hotel Valencia in downtown San Antonio. We weren’t planning to check in until around 6:00, so I called about 3:00 to make a reservation at the hotel restaurant. I got a recording saying that the restaurant was closed from 2-5pm, and to call back later or leave a voice mail. How hard would have it been to forward the phones to the front desk and let them make the reservation?

It just doesn’t seem that anyone at these companies is spending any time trying to see things from the customer’s perspective.

Or maybe I just spend too much time thinking about these things.

• • •


  1. As it goes, you’re not wrong.

    But I wonder if its worth being all bent out of shape about it – I mean, you’re dissappointed… so you move on to the next vendor – its Darwinism, no?

    It would be like dating someone and then complaining that they don’t shape up the way you want – se la vi. People are people – what do you do? I feel the same about vendors – it sometimes ticks me off, but in the end its just an opportunity for another vendor.

    In the end, if some of the crappy vendors you meet continue to be in business – it kinda makes you wonder how low the bar is… and thats interesting to learn as well. Personally, I’ve lowered my expectations quite a bit when it comes to certain kind of vendors.

    Oh, BTW.. as Arnold would say – “Stop whining!” :D

    Comment by Richard Yoo — April 23, 2007 @ 8:28 am
  2. I think all of the “I have not been back since” statements show that I am ok with moving on to the next vendor. :)

    The “whining” is my way off getting the word out about these places, so that others avoid them, and superior restaurants do better. Survival of the fittest!

    Comment by Cory — April 23, 2007 @ 8:44 am
  3. I am sorry to hear of your experience at the restaurant.
    I came across this post while browsing. I welcome any and all feedback.
    This restaurant is fairly new and we are still a work in progress. I want
    all my customers to feel that they have been fairly treated and would like to
    extend to you a free pizza, your choice, when you are in town. I can’t remember
    the circumstances surrounding this incident, but I assure you that it was not
    intentional, I may have misunderstood and I apologize. I understand the importance
    of good customer service, being a consumer myself.
    I will continue to make modifications to the menu.
    I do hope that you liked the pizza,and I hope you will come back.

    Comment by Giuseppe Buiano — May 9, 2007 @ 9:06 am
  4. I hate to burst the Osaka bubble, but in reality, you should have got more stuff on the house. Every time we go, we get a free appetizer and a free dessert.

    Maybe you will enjoy these next time around.

    Great reviews!

    Comment by JG — May 15, 2007 @ 7:33 pm
  5. You are absolutely right to expect good service. I’m the same way, so it must be right!

    How simple it is to please people, yet seemingly so hard. Unfortunately, I believe that most people these days either don’t have a clue about what good service should be and the rest just say “oh well.”

    Nothing ever changes if we don’t demand better.

    I don’t think it’s whining, but even if it is, so what.

    Comment by Marie — May 21, 2007 @ 4:23 pm

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