Customer Service 101: No Excuses

This weekend I had the privilege of experiencing the joy of a wedding. It was a wonderful affair, very private and intimate, and I have to say that Maggiano’s in Dallas Texas did a wonderful job making the occasion memorable.

Not everything this weekend measured up to that standard, though. We had a number of situations that left a lot to be desired, and what “sealed the deal” was how those providing service chose to react to the situations.

Take dinner the night before. We walked into a place and got seated right away. Not a “high end” restaurant, but definitely a family friendly place, and a bunch of people, which was a good sign (empty restaurants tend to worry me). While I thought it was weird that I was in Texas, but everyone in the place was sporting Nebraska wear, I didn’t think it would be the cause of the disaster that dinner turned out to be: multiple times I had to find a server, our waiter forgot things more than once, food came out cold and undercooked, you get the picture. My Customer Experience nerves were being tested to their ultimate with each issue, and I was doing my best to hide my anger, so I could focus on family and the groom’s happiness.

When we were finally able to pay, the waiter came to us and began a litany of why the service was so horrible: first game of the season, all of the wait staff was new, he had only been there a month and was senior, another person had to leave to take care of her mother… He went on and on, long enough for it to “justify” the service. Mind you, we never complained about the service. I guess he could see that we were less than satisfied, but he was really responding to his own perception of service, not to our complaint.

Here’s the problem: excuses do nothing to alleviate the customer’s experience. In fact, many times excuses exacerbate the experience because they reinforce that the experience is more of the norm than the exception to the rule.

Take something as simple as a perceived delay in a computer program. Rather than walk the customer through the silence, the service person apologizes for the delay saying, “these computers are just so slow”. The customer is “forced” to acquiesce to the delay, and play nice, even if they were not bothered by the delay in the first place. Now, what sits in the customer’s mind is that their experience was marred by computer problems.

Customers do not want to hear excuses about why things are not working. They do not want to know that “our vendor is unreliable”. Customers have a vague notion of how things should work – food should come out in a reasonable time – but they don’t want to go beyond that. The customer experience should not include having to understand all that the service professionals have to go through in order to provide them with service.

There are better ways to fill time, to handle lapses in service and to ensure that the customers leave with a positive experience.  I had to make some last minute reservations for my mom and brother, and after speaking to the hotel was transferred to the reservation desk. I was a little perplexed initially because I didn’t have the information in front of me, having looked it up on my phone before calling them. “Not a problem”, she said. “I can see that you were calling about the Sheraton Market Center.” Wow! Ok, beginning of a great experience. While she was working on securing the reservations, she engaged me about the reason for the trip. She made my experience the reason and focus for the call. I never thought about the time it took to book the two rooms. I left the call thinking, “this is how service should be.”

For customers, excuses highlight that something is lacking. Especially when the excuses come before the customer has said anything. When that highlight happens, the scales tip, and unfortunately tip in the wrong direction. What then happens is a spiral: the customer leaves with a less than positive experience, the service provider becomes satisfied with the level of excuse given and never truly addresses the issue, only to have the cycle continue with the next customer.

So how do we deal with this? How do we ensure that we are providing the best customer experience? Here are a couple thoughts:

  • Take excuses off of the menu. Train your service professionals to never give them. Customer experience is not about reacting to a situation, but responding to a customer. The tough part for the service professional is that they have to stay engaged with the customer and let them determine if they have had a positive experience or not
  • Know your product / service. Busy times in a restaurant happen – prep the customers up front, or give them something to occupy their time (or their tastebuds) while their food is cooking. If a computer is routinely slow, it is slow to you, not the customer. Fill the silence with conversation or instruction. Just knowing what is happening or what will happen next can ease the customer’s mind and make for a positive experience
  • Engage the customer. Are they there for something potentially positive in their lives, like a wedding or graduation? Maybe something hard but memorable like a funeral. Providing positive feedback to that situation helps the customer to remember their overall situation.  Is it something negative, like a computer not working, or needing to schedule a doctor’s appointment? Letting the customer know that you are with them “to the end” to ease the stress of their situation will help them remember the best parts of the interaction.

Small changes in the service provider can make a big impact in how customers will talk about the business and not only whether they return, but whether they will refer other customers. Stay engaged… no excuses.

Notable Notables

Excuses are easy. Facing tough situations with a mind to overcome them and have a positive experience is tough. Sometimes you have to get inspiration to face those situations from what we think are unlikely sources – sources like Isaiah Bird. The video below is worth a watch… No excuses.




Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: