When Serving Customers, Who’s It All About?

service, customer service, accountability, outstanding

Our favorite KFC drive-thru failed to give us 3 of 4 large coleslaw sides we’d ordered. Foolishly, my wife and I didn’t check the bag handed to us till we arrived at our daughter’s home 10 miles away for a large Miller family gathering.

When we discovered this, everyone was disappointed. I mean, who doesn’t love KFC coleslaw? The Millers sure do.

To escape the background noise of Millennials and grandkids, I went outside to call KFC. The manager answered. I told her about the missing product, expressed my frustration, and stated matter-of-factly I’d be back for a refund.

Clearly possessing a “tin ear” when it comes to interacting with dissatisfied patrons, her only comment was, “Bring your receipt back and we can do a refund.”

Gee, thanks.

Now, before I go on, let me say this: I suspect while speaking into my iPhone as I stood on a driveway under the Colorado sky, I used not an indoor voice but an outdoor one. We’ll never know, I didn’t record it. ?

The In-Store Conversation

Two hours later, I arrived at KFC. The manager was cold as ice. I handed her the receipt and she began to work the register. Suddenly, she says, “Mistakes happen, you know, and you shouldn’t have yelled at me.”

I was taken aback by her remark and said something like, “Sorry, I do speak loudly,” but then it hit me — this situation was now all about … her?

I know we’re all on this Earth together and I’m accountable for treating people with kindness and respect, but something just felt off here.

From that point, the conversation pretty much went downhill. As I left the store, this exchange took place:

Customer: “I’m not sure I’ll come back to your store.”

Manager: “That’d be fine.”

Customer: “Well, okay, then. I’ll let your franchise owner know you said that.”

Manager: “You do that.”

Out of the Mouths Of …

When I shared this less-than-stellar experience with our 20-yr-old AMC Theater supervisor daughter, she was flabbergasted. Her immediate reaction: “Dad, you’re kidding, right? And this woman works in retail? I get yelled at every day by unhappy customers!”

Now, I’m not sure I yelled at the KFC manager, but if I did, should this situation have become about … her? Or should she have stayed focused on showing contrition while resolving the customer’s problem?

Be Outstanding, Be “Customer Centric”

I submit this to you:

In outstanding organizations — which is what the Outstanding! book is all about — moments like these should be customer-centric where our only objective is to retain customers while increasing their loyalty.

Because we want the patron to return over and over again. Said differently, when I am in the role of the service provider, it is never about me. ??

Do you agree? What’s your view?


33 Responses

  1. I hope you did follow up with the franchise owner, and it’d be a great follow up to know what they said then. I always wonder if an exceptionally good or bad customer experience is an aberration or their norm. I think that’s why we like online ratings – not for the exception but to learn what the norm is. No question they fell short, but is that who they really are? I enjoy all of your newsletters very much. Thanks for this one, too! Ed

  2. I have worked in many retail stores – department stores, bar and grills, dime stores, etc – and the first thing told to me upon hire was ‘the customer is always right’, so act accordingly. And I did – many, many times. Many times having to bite my tongue at the lashings from customers, that surprisingly weren’t even my fault, but I was the lucky one to be working when they came back in. I didn’t like it at times, but I was brought up to treat everyone as I would want to be treated. So, I would apologize, smile, give them their refund, or swap out, or give them a new cheeseburger – whatever it took to make them happy. But not over and over – people now-a-days tend to ‘use’ such instances over and over – I never played into that game with them – and they always knew when they weren’t going to get by with it anymore.

  3. It is too bad that the manager could not stay in role. I try and train my folks that they should not be upset by anything a customer says. Sometimes customers are jerks. (I’m not saying you were.) But the job is to represent the company.
    It takes a lot of Customer Service training to help the representative learn to not take anything personally. When the customer is having a hijack (not saying you did?), give them a refund, coleslaw and a smile. This manager had a lot of tools to make you happy. I’m sure free dinner for the Miller’s would have been much appreciated.

  4. Hi John! Thanks for sharing. I agree with your thoughts and definitely believe the manager could have handled the situation better. It sounds like after the phone call you each had a certain perception of the other (she thought you were yelling, you thought she had a tin ear). I’ve experienced similar circumstances. It seems the stage was set for an unsuccessful in person interaction due to mutual misunderstanding (and frustration on both your parts). We know that the manager could have acted differently? Not making it about her, focusing on service recovery and trying to make the best of a bad situation. Is there anything you would do differently if you had the chance to do it over?

  5. I personally believe that great customer service should never be about us, it should first and foremost be that no matter where we work or what we do, when working with people in any capacity should involve kindness, patience and respect putting them first. No matter how they are treating us, it should be about them. Because how do we know what they are going through, are they just having a bad day, are they dealing with tragedy, heartache, children, a heavy workload? We don’t know. So be kind by putting ourselves in their shoes and not reacting in a negative manner to their negative actions. 2nd – we should remember the company we might be representing and remember our actions are a reflection on that company. It is our responsibility to represent a company and ourselves in a positive and respectful manner. That is possible even if someone is yelling or otherwise at us. We need to remember it is not about us, but about whatever their frustration is. I have learned I can diffuse any situation by being kind, and understanding and putting the other person first and not taking it personal. I once shared this concept with my son who was 15 and working at Subway at the time. He came home frustrated saying he was sick of people yelling at him if an order was incorrect or even if it wasn’t. I shared my thoughts on the above with him and asked him next time to put himself in his customers shoes, think about what they might be dealing with and be kind. Several days later he came home all excited with a story and said, “it works mom, it really works!” He then proceeded to tell me the story of a gentleman who’s order was incorrectly done (not by my son) But my son took it upon himself to redo the sandwich exactly as the gentleman wished. He was kind, apologized for the error and asked the gentleman how his day was going otherwise and if there was anything else he could do for him. Also giving him a gift card for free sandwiches in the future. Long story short, that man calmed down, Thanked my son for his courteousness and help. But he also came in every day after that and asked for Ben to make his lunch, which Ben did. A few months later he followed up with a job offer which my son was unable to take due to school obligations but was told if he ever needed a job he had one with this gentleman, anywhere, anytime. That scenario changed my son’s outlook on his simple subway job and every other job forever. He is now 25, in the Army reserves as well as holding prestigious position with another company. He is a Sergeant over his own patrol, one the youngest promoted as a leader in the Army, when he was 22 actually. I noticed when attending military events his men follow his every word, he never raises his voice. I asked him one time later how he was able to command such respect and he smiled and reminded me – I taught him to be kind and that’s all it takes. I believe that applies to each of us no matter where we work, what we does, boss or employees, etc. If we look for the best in others, we’ll find the best in ourselves!

  6. You’re right. I don’t want excuses. I want someone to say, Oh my gosh, we messed up, how can I make it right? Let me give me your money back. No excuses. No attitude. Our local KFC has the same issue of not getting the food right on the order. The local franchisee called me one time. Didn’t really help. I hate complaining about food. Just give me what I ordered and we’re all good. I have a theory that good customer service is inversely related to the length of the receipt you get. Long receipt, bad customer service. Short receipt, great customer service.

  7. Great article today. I believe your email today also applies to ministry and our walk with God.
    “I decrease, so that he can increase” 
    Thank you for the good message and reminder of servant leadership!

  8. I have been in that exact situation in a KFC myself, and it was never about me at all, in fact, all I as the supervisor could think of was what could I do to make this customer happy, so the owners were happy with my supervision, so I would make sure the customer always left my store with more than what he had complained about, whether it was an apology for my staff having missed something or how they acted, but at the very least they always left with a refund and a coupon for something in the future. That way I could be assured of a happy customer and hopefully a future customer.

  9. The customer is not alway right, but he or she should be treated so by those working at the store. I agree with your label: “customer-centric”. Our local Taco Bell got my order wrong on two occasions, and as you, I did not check the orders until I got home. When I went back with the orders and showed them what the receipt said and what I had received, they made it right. In both cases, the manager and the worker apologized for the errors, provided the correct food, and allowed us to keep the “errors”. They even offered to reimburse my gas for returning three miles to the restaurant. I still like going there from time to time.

  10. My daughter had a similar incident with a fast food place. She found out after getting home that one of her sandwiches was missing. She called the store and they apologized for the incident and told her that she could come in for a refund or a replacement sandwich. She drove back for the sandwich and was given a coupon for another sandwich to be used later.

  11. John,
    As the Owner of a Company i have learned this lesson the hard way; ‘The customer is Not always right but they are Always the Customer.’ Meaning right or wrong we bite our tongue and serve them to the best of our ability. Fear of poor Google Reviews dictates that more than we’d like. Once someones intentions become known (something for nothing etc.) then we adjust by becoming firm but fair while being polite and courteous. It’s what we have adapted to in this ever changing world of folks trying to get one over on those of us who try to make an honest living.

  12. I’ve been a raving fan of QBQ for many years, so it is only natural that I pay close attention to personal accountability, mind and other people’s. Unfortunately, it seems to me there is a trend away from personal accountability toward, “it’s all about me.”

    Having this observation I try Zig Ziglar’s approach. “You can get anything you want if you give others what they want.” So I try to figure out what they want.

    When I been treated poorly, age and wisdom have taught me soft and kind produces better results then loud and demanding. Even when I win by expressing my angry I walk away feeling like I lost something.

  13. Hi John,

    I think everyone has at some point been in this situation. While I agree that the customer is always right I try to go back to the QBQ my friend. What could have I done to avoid this situation as the manager says “mistakes happen”. However, it’s not an excuse for KFC or the manager. I personally measure the situation based on the importance. For me coleslaw is not a big deal (I do love it though). I don’t think I would have yelled at the manager. I would have stated it was inconvenient and established a better relationship with the manager as a coaching moment instead one of conflict.

  14. Hi John,

    I am going to take a bit of a different stance here, popular or not. While reading through your experience, I couldn’t help but feel you set the tone of the conversation off on the wrong foot from the outset. I could be wrong, but that is my perception based on pieces of the story. At one point in my life I owned and operated three restaurants and truly understand the “customer is always right” mantra. I get it. Part of the success/failure of any food establishment is customer satisfaction. My differing stance here is based on your position. When asked above if you would do anything differently, you simply reply with a “nope”. Instead of having a crucial conversation or utilizing one of the 7 habits, you (possibly) yelled at the manager or spoke in an unkind way. I get it. We have all arrived at home only to find a missing or wrong item. Not the end of the world. This doesn’t excuse the managers “cold” response or dismissive position, but maybe you could have handled your interaction differently. We all have bad days. No one is perfect and none of us handle every interaction perfectly. A little grace goes a long way these days.

    And as a response to your April 30th rhetorical question “Is it the paying customer’s job to coach the service provider?”: No, it’s not our job to coach those who provide us a service, but maybe your/our expectations are lofty by expecting someone making minimum wage to be beaming with sunshine every a customer walks through the door. I had an experience just last week that would fit perfectly in to this scenario. I was picking up clothes at the dry cleaners last week and the lady who was helping me couldn’t care less that I was there or that I was about to give her $70+ for a service they provided. She asked for me phone number (how the system stores my info) in a way that seemed like she was doing me a favor. Upon return of my card she didn’t say thank, she didn’t offer a smile or even brief eye contact. It took me a second to process it all as I drove away. Instead of turning around I pulled off into a parking lot and called the establishment. I asked for her specifically and when she got on the phone I explained to her what I had just experienced with her. I wasn’t rude. I didn’t yell. I simply explained that as a customer I have certain expectations and at a minimum I expected a “thank you” or “thanks and come again” or something similar. At first she was defensive, but said she understood and did not mean to come off as rude of dismissive. I picked up again just yesterday and the same lady was at the pick up and she smiled and said thank you this time. Point of my story, people have bad days. People have personal life issues that sometimes carry over into work. A little coaching may help someone through their day and may even teach them something the owner/manager failed to.

    Thank you for the article and have a great day.

  15. John, I’m the Director of Operations for Mere Bulles Restaurant in Nashville. On Sunday, a customer ordered food for delivery, but then called to say we left off one order. I immediately said, “I’m on my way!” Jumping into my car, I brought the dish to their home in 10 minutes.

    Though it was our fault, of course, I didn’t look to blame anyone. I just knew there was a family starting to dine and one person didn’t have food.

    I felt a sense of pride and joy that I was able to make their meal great. We gave them a $25 gift card for next time, too.

    Never take your guests for granted. Moments of truth happen all the time — it’s how we handle them that matters!

    1. Well, there ‘ya go, Brandon! Exactly what my blog was saying was missing. I am pretty sure an outstanding action like this never crossed the KFC manager’s mind. Congrats to you!

  16. This is so normal and so frustrating!! I pay extra and go further to places that have great customer service because it is worth it to me.

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