Did you ever open the front door to a restaurant and, when the smell of hot food hits your nose, you started to feel even more hungry? What is it about sizzling beef or chicken and onions, garlic, bacon, breads, sauces, or even a well-maintained salad bar, that causes that reaction? I’m sure there’s some science that can explain it. And I’m also sure that, once I start smelling those smells, I’m not going to care about the science, and neither will you. The nose is one of the best parts of our bodies, as long as it’s not getting picked or has to be blown.
So I’m standing in an absurdly long line at one of my favorite Mexican build-to-order burrito joints, allowing my nose to carry me off into the bliss that is smoldering cooked steak, chicken, etc. The steak had just come off of the grill, so I knew that it would still be pretty hot when it was my time to order. Ten or so minutes later, just as I am opening my mouth to say “steak burr-” a young lady about 4 persons in front of me comes storming back to the assembly line, for lack of a better term, and insists that she ordered “chicken and red beans on one and steak and cheese with rice and black beans on the other”. Her complaint, rather vehemently expressed, went something like that. In other words, the assembly line messed up her burritos-as she watched them put the 2 together. Hmm. Well, the worker on the other side of the counter said, “No you didn’t.” And, just like that, I, along with about 25 other customers, were yanked out of bliss and into ‘Real Customers of New Jersey’.
Let the Sideshow Begin
For the next 15 minutes, the customer and the employee argued back and forth about who said what, when, and why. Needless to say, the customer got what she wanted, 2 new burritos and a coupon for 10% off of her next purchase. What did the salesperson get? At minimum, she received a public tongue thrashing by her less-than-conscientious supervisor. She may have gotten worse, as I haven’t seen her on the line since. If she lost her job, my question is, was it worth it?
The Fourth Side of the Story
In our never-ending quest to be right in all situations, we know there are three sides to every story…my side, your side, and the truth. Sadly, we often forget about the fourth side. Let’s call it the perception side. We miss it because it is often disguised as complete agreement or disagreement with our side. Where it really shows itself is in the compromise that takes place, especially when an outside party, like a supervisor, or a judge, has to decide who is right and what, if any, consequence will result. We get so caught up in believing that we are right, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to see how we could be wrong, that is, not until minutes, hours, or even days later. Individual perception is reality…watch this…in the eye of the perceiving individual. Every person standing in that line had their own perception of the incident and, if isolated, would probably tell as many different versions of what actually happened. Now add in the fact that the supervisor was not present during the interaction and perception becomes interpretation. The supe had the less-than-desirable task of pleasing the customer while supporting his employee. Unfortunately, in this case, he opted exclusively for the customer.
So, there’s lots of fancy reasoning above, all to say, choose to be happy. Right is overrated. Right can get you fired, or at least unjustly reprimanded.
Some of you can’t stomach the thought of a customer getting the best of you, and trust me, I completely understand, but let’s look at our burrito situation from a different perspective. If the salesperson had said, “Sorry about that”, and just made 2 new burritos, none of us would have lost our precious 15 minutes, and she might not have lost her job. Incidentally, training at these restaurants typically discourages arguing with a customer. Ms. Employee could have had a nice laugh with her coworkers about the crazy customer that watched her make the burritos then swore they were wrong. Instead, she opted to be right.
I also know that there are situations where a customer must be dealt with more severely, as in perhaps refused service, asked to leave, or seek assistance elsewhere. Those instances are meant for a manager or supervisor to deal with, as being on the front line, so to speak, gives you way too much pressure for you to have to consider when to refuse service to someone. Of course, if you’re an entrepreneur, you’re it as far as the front line so you have to be willing to pick and choose your battles carefully. How much will it cost your company to lose a particular client over a dispute? Can you replace that lost revenue? Either way, there is no just cause to allow yourself to be a doormat for anyone behaving in an extreme manner. How extreme is too extreme? I think the line can be safely drawn at personal insults and or foul language. Both tend to shift the focus off of the situation and onto the person attempting to provide assistance. Sarcasm is a good indicator that the conversation is going south quickly as well.
And with that…
In any customer service situation, try to remember that you have a choice. Most individuals are not angry with you but rather with the situation that they are in. Would you be angry if you thought that someone mishandled your burritos? Of course you would. How about if you received the wrong change from a cashier or were told incorrect information by your computer support person? Yes, and yes. When you know that you would be angry if you were “them”, that’s called empathy, which I discuss in further detail here in my “I don’t really care if you’re sorry…” article. Empathy can temper your reactions in situations if you will allow it to do so. Understanding a person’s frustrations is key when providing a service. Also, knowing the consequences of engaging in an argument that you cannot win is helpful as well. Just a little more of the lessons that I have learned on my journey in this industry. Thanks for reading! We’ll talk again!