Lousy Customer Service Starts At The Top

O book

Silly me.

Every time I think the corporate world has a handle on this “customer service” thing, I hear an anecdote like the one below.

When we wrote Outstanding!—which Dave Ramsey endorsed because he knows how critical it is to not be mediocre—we included at least five chapters that today’s story could have fit into:

Never Forget Who Pays the Bills

Put People Before Policies

Management Sets the Cultural Tone

Keep “The Mission” Top of Mind

Get Actions in Line with Values

But, since Outstanding! is already written, we’ll use it in this QBQ! QuickNote.

In response to our Outstanding Customer Service: Seize the Moment! blog published recently, Paul sent us his story …

John, every Easter we have a fun tradition: each child gets to order the pizza of their choice from the store of their choice. Since three of the five kids wanted pizza from Hungry Howie’s—and I had an on-line coupon for a free pie—I decided to place an order.

When the on-line system wouldn’t process it, I called the store to see if they could help me. The response?

“Sorry, that’s a corporate thing and I can’t give the free one away without an on-line order.”

So I spoke with the store manager and told him that I was attempting to order on-line and that the on-line ordering system wasn’t working. His response?

“Yeah, it’s probably because it’s Easter Sunday. But also it’s a corporate thing and I can’t do anything about it.”

Not wanting to penalize my children, I placed my order anyway and also wrote a comment on their website. I even offered to send them a copy of the QBQ! book so they could learn about personal accountability and how to take care of THE PAYING CUSTOMER!

The next day a Hungry Howie’s regional manager called me. When I explained what had happened, guess what his response was?

“Well, I admit the store could’ve explained it more clearly to you, but the coupon for the free pizza is only for the on-line ordering system, so they handled it properly according to the policy.”


Is “the policy” going to order more pizza’s from them?!? I hope so because I certainly won’t! When following “the policy” is more important than pleasing a customer, there is something wrong.

Hungry Howie’s in Jenison, Michigan will have to survive without this family’s hard-earned money.


Zowee! In summary, what can I add? Just one thing:

Not outstanding.

Share a thought on our story or share a story of your own.

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21 Responses

  1. Same thing happened to me at a Sonic Drive-thru. The price on the drive up menu was lower than the price I was charged. I told the drive up window clerk and she told the manager. The manager said she would honor the lower price this one time but, next time I come I have to pay the price on the cash register. I said, “Huh!” and she said it’s a corporate thing and she has no control over what is on the drive-thru menu board. Again, I said, “Huh?” and no longer order food or drinks from Sonic. There are too many other choices to put up with this nonsense.

  2. Having worked in pizza business for nearly 20 years, I’ve seen more products given away for free without coupons. Surely HH could have “comped” you one for your troubles online. BAD SERVICE!!!

  3. I agree this is a good example of poor customer service. On the other hand, it might be a great example of a poor marketing effort where the terms and conditions were not clearly defined and the employees are left holding the bag and defending the policy. This can be complicated by a “company policy” that states job dismissal is a possible outcome due to failure to follow corporate policy and can be devastating to a family. Is everyone willing to take that risk and be a maverick? That is a tough question. Bottom line, we are all put in the situation from time to time where we have to defend poorly thought out policies that we do not agree with but we are required to comply….resistance can be futile! The solution….better overall corporate awareness of the value of customer service and the FLEXIBILITY to allow employees to take personal initiative to better serve others.

  4. I recently had an interesting experience with Sprint. We ordered 3 new iphones and they sent us a Samsung tablet. We didn’t want or need the tablet but we thought it was part of the deal so we took it. I never even opened it but when I got my next bill I saw all sorts of connection and data charges for the tablet. When I called Sprint to tell them I wanted to send it back the CSR said I need to pay $200 cancellation fee! Needless to say I went back and forth arguing that I didn’t even want it in the first place and could I speak to a manager. They kept me on hold forever and a manager never got on the phone. The next day I called and hit the “cancel my service” prompt and spoke to a wonderful CSR who apologized for my treatment. She took everything back, wiped out any cancellation charges and gave me a $75 credit for returning the tablet!

  5. Please don’t take this wrong, because I love your teachings, but my question is at what point did customer service mean “I always get my way”? It feels more like entitlement or a small child stamping their foot until mom and dad give way. Under the above situation wouldn’t the customer have some responsibility to be a good customer? The free pizza was not taken from the customer, mearly not usable on this particular order.

    1. Gretchen, I do agree that he American consumer has become entitled and spoiled, but this was a simple fix by the local store that would’ve created some goodwill with the customer and that’s always worth a few dollars! And of all people, the regional mgr should’ve known better. The customer is not always right, but they’re always the customer! 🙂

  6. Hi John,
    Seeing the ‘not outstanding’ behaviors, I had to share an ‘outstanding’ one. This happened quite a few years ago but it has forever kept the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, MI near and dear to my heart. My husband and I stayed at the Townsend on our wedding night. It was lovely. When we got back home, I realized I left the nightgown my bridesmaids got me in the room. It was a lovely piece and I was heartbroken. I called the Townsend to see if the cleaning people may have come across it. Unfortunately the nightgown and the towels were pretty much the same color so it would certainly be easy to miss. The Manager said he’d get back with me. We left on our honeymoon the next day. When we got back 10 days later, we had a message from the Manager to call him. I called him and he said they did not find it but to please bring him the receipt so he (the Townsend) could pay for it and I could get a replacement. I told him that it was my fault and it wasn’t necessary. He insisted and they paid for the nightgown for which I was fortunate enough to find a replacement. This was certainly above and beyond any call of duty. We’ve been back for overnight stays and dinners – the Townsend never disappoints and I recommend them to everyone. Thank you for letting me share my story.

  7. Management Sets the Cultural Tone
    A friend and mentor once told me “You teach what you allow”.

    That pretty well sums up the service culture.

    It does start at the top.

  8. As a huge fan of QBQ, my past weekend nightmare from AT&T is beyond explanation. Condensed version; my recently widowed mother decided she was going to lower her cable bill since Daddy was not there, she did not need so many sports channels. She never informed me she was doing this. Arriving home late from work this past Friday evening, my phone rings, it’s my mom in a near nuclear meltdown. The ATT&T folks had been at her home for nearly 11 hours, not only removing her phone, internet and cable but most of the neighborhood who were on Comcast. The was embarrassed and in tears!! After hearing this I went into auto protection mode, you don’t take a telephone (lifeline) away from a senior adult, for 4 days was the soonest they could get that for her. Especially if the voice mail still has her deceased husbands voice as the message. I spent hours on the phone with AT&T and Comcast. My last resort was social media. Within 10 minutes of posting on social media someone reached to try and “assist”. Nice try to sweeten up the fiasco my mother had endured all day Friday. I spent the entire day Saturday at her house trying to walk thru dozens of steps the techs “thought might work”; to no avail. More hours on the phone into Saturday evening. Back on to social media and what do you know…..another specialist reaches out to assist.
    It should not take posting on social media to get the service that was originally agreed to. Obviously on Sunday, all that was to take place as “promised” did not happen. Back to social media I go. Sunday she got it all back, but was told she would need to bring the equipment they left to a UPS store and send it back or she would be charged an excessive amount. Here we go again, her response to AT&T was; she did not bring the broken stuff in, they can come pick it up. Needless to say, you know my next move was back to social media. It is now Wednesday, they are scheduled to be there around 4 today….we shall see.

    What I do know is that AT&T forgot in what stage of life that people are in when they are interacting with them. They never picked up on the fact and she told them, “my husband passed away and I don’t need the sports channels.” Yes she got the scripted condolences, but they never picked up that possibly, my father always handled the cable/phone/internet negotiating. Having to do this for herself opened the emotional floodgates that he was gone. She was doing this alone. She was dumping sports channels because she would no longer be making “snack trays” so they could watch the game together. She didn’t care about the sports, she loved cooking for him enjoying “snack trays”, just doing stuff together. Companies forget when dealing with senior adults that they don’t know to jump on social media to get help, they know to call the company and it gets taken care of. She had to learn thru tears, that even though the company said they would be there, it just does not always happen. Companies seem to only listen to the “social media posters”, the folks calling can wait 4 days. That is pathetic, I tried to explain to her, when you are only speaking to 1 person on the phone there is lots of room for broken promises, when anyone and everyone can watch and see what the company/customer is experiencing PUBICALLY, well, things tend to happen usually as promised. It is very sad that unless our senior adults are tech savvy they must endure unfulfilled promises. It is also sad, 1 post gets attention, when 14 phone calls with multiple escalations and “mishap disconnections” result in nothing.

    As a Daddy’s girl I went thru similar feelings, but nothing like hers. I did see first-hand that companies need to do a lot better job of LISTENING and listening beyond the words that are spoken, but listen with heart. At one point I even asked a phone agent if both of his parents were still alive. Then I caught myself and told him not to answer that question, that I just prayed he never had to endure the experience I was trying to help my mother through, and yes they had not listened to my heart either. As we all know you cannot mix emotions with logic, emotions usually win.

    As a society we need to always keep in mind that even if the “customer” cannot do anything; they probably have a family member who will charge hell with a water pistol for them. Don’t mess with older people, they could be my mom.

    All of this to say, as an advocate of QBQ I did offer one of the agents the book, they were clueless as to what it was. So if you know anyone at AT&T reiterate the fact that everyone needs QBQ.

  9. Example of Excellent customer service experience:

    I purchased 2 HDMI cables online from Twisted Veins who sells through Amazon. I was happy with the performance of the items, and said so in a review online. I gave them 4 stars. I mentioned that if someone had to hide the cables that the cable was a little thick. My thinking was that people should know that they are not thin cables. I received an email from their office saying that they were sorry I was unhappy with the thickness of the shielding, that they had tried to call me personally to discuss it with me. I was floored! They would call me for 2 $7 cables just to make sure I was happy? Wow! I emailed them back and told me that it was totally unnecessary, that I am perfectly happy with the cables for me. They emailed back and told me they were giving me a $10 credit back on my account for my trouble. Oh, and if you wouldn’t mind, edit your comments at the following link and give us 5 stars. They also mentioned they had tried to call me again. I think I need to check the phone number associated with that account because we just got rid of our land line. $14 in product, free shipping, and a $10 credit back on my account. Two phone call attempts and at least 3 emails! It tells me they know that I will look at their product the next time I need a cable first. I know their product works great, looks great and that they care that I buy from them!

    I always told my associates to think of what is reasonable to them. If it sounds reasonable, take care of the customer. We’ll have a discussion later if that’s not what I think they should have done. Always ask the customer what would make it right, then do as much as you can for them. There will always be corporate “rules”. Customer service oriented companies will never stop you for taking care of the customer. I LOVE companies like that!

  10. Good story. Thanks for sharing.

    At so many stores and places of business, the customer seems to be the enemy. Hmmm…

    I always advocate for calling the manager and letting them know if their customer service was bad. It would be very disappointing, as in your case, to get the same poor customer service from the manager, as well.

  11. I can’t tell you how many times, after I told my supervisor what all I did to get an excellent outcome, I was told that that was not my job, and was not an efficient use of my time. (I tend to communicate with other departments or even benefit vendors to see if a patient will have coverage for certain things). But yet, our company has a focus on outstanding customer service. I keep doing what I’m doing though.

  12. Thought I would share an exact opposite experience.
    A particular Carl’s jr. in my town seems to get orders wrong more than they do right. After the fifth or six time of this happening I left a comment on the web site explaining the issue. The next day, which was December 31st by the way, I got a response from Guest Relations, indicating a persons name and phone number, thanking me for the report with an offer to call with any further questions or concerns. I did not respond and thought, not a bad response. On January 2nd, I got an email form the COO and Partner of Carl’s jr thanking me for the report, and offering some free gift cards. I replied that the free gift cards weren’t necessary. The COO replied again informing me that the regional vice president was following up with the store in question to address any training issues.

  13. My husband and I travel from time to time. Instead of racking up the miles on our vehicle, we usually rent a car. Since it was close to our house, we would rent from Enterprise. We rented a medium size car because one person traveling with us was extremely tall and would not fit in anything smaller. When the person brought the car up, he insisted it was a mid size car. We thought we would try it and accepted the car. About 30 minutes into the rental, we decided it was way too small because we would hit our head anytime we went to get in the car. We drove back to Enterprise and discovered that they were now closed and everyone was gone. We called several locations and found an open store at the airport. We drove an extra 45 minutes to get to the airport because we did not live in town. When we arrived there, they told us that was not a mid size car and we should have been give another vehicle.They swapped out the car. They treated us with extreme care and took care of us beautifully. We went on our trip. We went back to the original Enterprise that gave us the wrong vehicle, charged us the mid size price and turned the car in. When the manager found out that we had swapped out the vehicle at the airport, he started screaming at us. Not whispering, not a raised voice but screaming at us about how we were wrong, we should not have swapped the vehicle, we were dumb and other stuff. We wrote corporate about it but no one ever responded or contacted us. Needless to say, we have never gone back to Enterprise again.

  14. I stayed one night at the Ritz Carleton in Almaty, Kazakhstan. I picked it because it was associated with Marriott. I spent 50-80 nights a year in hotels. They told me that my Marriott status was not recognized by Ritz Carleton, but that they would comp me breakfast anyway. The next morning, after a remarkably sub-standard breakfast, I went to checkout and found a charge for breakfast on my bill. I informed the desk clerk of the conversation with the people the night before, but as he could find no record of it, I was charged. Basically, I felt that I had been called a liar. Two days later, I got an email from the Ritz acknowledging their error and rebating me the cost of the expensive, poor breakfast. That took care of the overcharge, but did nothing for the insult. I find that I do not need to stay at the Ritz anymore.

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