Thursday, March 13, 2008

Flexibility: The Tale of Two Pizzas by David Reed

Flexibility! A key to developing customers who return! Recently, I had a pair of experiences that are a perfect illustration of this customer service secret.

My family and I were looking for an early dinner before returning to our church for normal Wednesday activities. There is a family owned pizza restaurant near our house in Frisco. We had been there before and really enjoyed their pizza. It was early, so we were just about the only patrons there.

My son happens to be a fan of cheese pizza and does not care for all of the other toppings. My wife and I prefer a good pepperoni pizza. We approached the counter to place our order. The cook took his place just behind the counter and started flipping the dough, trying to convince us of their Italian authenticity. Politely, I told the young lady working the register (I’ll call her Rose), that I wanted one large pizza. I asked if I could have three fourths of the pizza with pepperoni and one fourth with extra cheese. (I also let her know that I was fine paying for an entire one ingredient pizza.)

Rose looked at me and said that they could only split the ingredients on a half pizza. (The cook was listening to the conversation and was anxious to start building our order.) I restated that I really wanted only a couple of the slices to be extra cheese for my son. I asked, “Can’t you just tell the cook (who was listening to the whole conversation), to leave off the pepperoni on a couple of slices?”

Her response was: “No. Our system won’t allow us to do that and it will confuse the cook.”

After an additional unpleasant exchange of comments, we cancelled our order and left the restaurant. I have spoken to several groups since that day and have used this establishment as the negative example of flexibility. Without naming the restaurant, one person in the audience guessed the location! She had experienced the same poor service and also vowed to never return.

Several weeks later, we were in the same position on a Wednesday night and my wife was hungry for a good pizza. She had seen another local pizza restaurant called “Sal’s” in Plano and we decided to give it a try.

We walked in and were greeted by a friendly young man. (Let’s call him Tony.) It was early and we were again the only people in the place. Tony escorted us to our table and gave us the menu. He took our drink order and then the moment of truth happened…

I asked Tony if it would be possible to get a large pizza with three fourths pepperoni and one fourth just extra cheese. (My wife kicked me under the table, not wanting to go through another unpleasant experience.) Tony smiled and said, “Sure, I don’t see why not.” (My wife breathed a sigh of relief and smiled.)

The experience and pizza were both great and we have recommended Sal’s many times. We would choose their pizza whenever we are hungry for that type of food.

What is the difference between these two experiences?

It is their flexibility and willingness to give the customer what they want. Organizations need standards, policies, and rules to operate efficiently, but it is critical that all employees utilize some basic common sense when dealing with customer requests. Your goal should be to satisfy 100% of needs for each customer, within reason. Also, don’t let your computer system dictate what you can deliver to your customer. Learn to deal with exceptions!

Here is another example of this point. There is a phrase that appears on the bottom of many menus that drives me crazy! You can probably guess it. “No Substitutions Please.” When I see that, I read “Mr. Reed, we are not interested in truly meeting your need. Please go elsewhere.” (I’m not talking about asking to substitute a skewer of shrimp for my fries, but for only some comparably priced item on the menu.)

Contrast that with another line at the bottom of a menu I saw just this week: “Anything is possible. Please ask.” This demonstrates a true desire to give a customer what they want and dramatically increases the chance that your customer will return.

This same concept applies to businesses outside of the hospitality industry. Employees should be trained to ask the question: “How can I satisfy this request?” instead of simply answering, “No, we do not do that.” Many new product and service ideas come from organizations that listen to their customers and make every attempt to tailor their offering to the specific need. Chances are there are other customers who want the same thing, but have been conditioned not to ask.

Flexibility! Giving your customers exactly what they want will eliminate their desire to go to your competitor! Take a few minutes and review your systems and policies and ask yourself, “How would my employees deal with a request that is slightly different than what we are used to hearing?” Develop a culture of flexibility and your organization will be one step closer to delivering world class customer service.

Reproduced with permission Customer Centered Consulting Group

By Kirsty Dunphey with No comments


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