I suppose it was inevitable - I received a call today from a very upset Mark Rogers.
Before I get to our conversation, a quick review of the story you've probably heard ad nauseum.
Mark is owner of Legends American Grill in Des Moines, where a group of teachers were dining a week ago when one of them found a hair in her salad.
What actually transpired next is known only by the people who were there.
What is agreed on by all parties is that a series of poor customer service decisions by staff members led to an altercation between Mark and the teacher. Another teacher, Marsha Richards, documented the entire event in an email which became a viral sensation. Mark later apologized, both on TV and in print, and offered to make amends.
I came forward in an interview with Des Moines Register columnist Marc Hansen to explain that I'd consulted Mark nearly a year ago about poor customer service in his restaurants, based upon reports from secret shoppers that work for my company, The Buyosphere. Mark agreed but didn't act. We haven't talked since - until today.
In our brief phone conversation Mark told me that I should have tried to contact him first before I did the Hansen story. I told him I had, that I'd sent several emails to Troy Lebeck, director of operations for Legends. Mark said I should have tried to call him.
I replied that I had, a year ago, multiple times, but that he'd stopped returning my calls. Mark said he stopped communicating with me because he "didn't trust me" back then and didn't want to have anything to do with me. I replied that if he didn't trust me then, why in the world would calling him have mattered now.
He then told me to "just keep [my] mouth shut" - twice. And hung up.
I'm sure Mark has taken a lot of heat. He's also had a lot of support, particularly from people in the business community, many of whom share a belief that teachers can be notoriously demanding.
So we have an angry owner, an angry teacher and, for about ten minutes this afternoon, an angry customer service trainer. I ate a Reese's cup. I'm fine now.
But most important is that we're now having the conversation - thousands of employers and employees and shoppers (which pretty much covers everybody) talking about customer service, in blog posts and web site comments and chat rooms and Facebook and Twitter and even, occasionally, in actual face to face conversations. We're all talking about who was right, who was wrong, what makes great customer service, what's the worst we've ever had and how in the world one hair in one salad created such an uproar.
I'm thrilled about the conversation.
Customer service is my passion and my livelihood. I've dedicated myself to creating a better retail experience for shoppers and staff alike - not only because I like to help people but also, frankly, because I just got tired of bad customer service and decided to do something about it. I'm selfish - I want a helpful smile in every aisle and every table and every check-out counter of every store on every street in Des Moines.
I'm working on it.
Meantime, the best way to get revenge with your detractors is success. Mark, if you feel maligned and want to get even, then I say to you what I say to every business owner in Des Moines and Central Iowa - wake up tomorrow, look in the mirror and make a commitment to yourself, your employees and your customers to create a customer service culture inside your four walls.
And here's how you do it.
1. Teach, train, hound and challenge yourself and everyone whose checks you sign, to smile, greet, engage, help and nurture every customer, every time, every day, no exceptions.
2. Insist that your employees learn your customer's names and use them.
3. Get rid of unhappy employees, and those who refuse to elevate their game, because they are holding your company hostage - even one of them can crush the spirits of co-workers and literally bring down what you've built.
4. Empower employees to take ownership of customer issues and solve them.
5. Kill customers with kindness.
6. Teach employees how to find their empathy, to walk in the customer's shoes.
7. Adopt a "do whatever it takes to make the customer happy" philosophy.
8. Hire staff that are clones of you, not faded copies.
9. If you're not happy, get out of the building and don't come back until you are.
That's the revenge - in this case, a dish best served warm, with a smile. And no hair.
Agree? Disagree? Don't care? Have a bad or great customer service experience you want to share? Email it to me at email@example.com.
Jonnie Wright is a customer service trainer, marketing specialist and ad writer living in Des Moines.
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