To Err Is Human…


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A few days ago, I was reflecting on an experience with customer service and decided to twist an old saying:

To Err is Human. To admit fault, fix the problem and make sure it doesn’t happen again is great customer service.

I was at a restaurant last week picking up dinner for the family on my way home from work. I had called in the order as I frequently do. In my old age, I am trying to eat healthier so my orders are “lightly” customized but not overly so. In this case I asked for a wheat tortilla instead of a white one.

The friendly staff had the order ready and I was out the door. Past experience with this restaurant told me I should just double check my order to make sure it was correct. I have made it all the way home in the past only to find something was missing or something was completely wrong. In this case it turned out they did not give me the wheat tortilla. What is it about take out orders that are so easily messed up? Anyway, that’s not what this post is about.

After an inner dialog where I deliberated as to whether or not I should say something, I did. The manager immediately apologized and said that he remembered me saying it on the phone but forgot to put it on the order. They had my order fixed within two minutes and I was on my way.

This takes me back to my statement at the beginning of this post. The manager absolutely did the first two things perfectly. He admitted the fault and fixed my problem quickly. In this case, it was his fault because he took my order but how easy would it have been to throw the kitchen staff under the bus in that case? No, he owned the problem and the solution. Great job manager!

Now onto the third thing…making sure it doesn’t happen again. This particular restaurant has messed up my order more than once hence the reason I checked my order before leaving. I have been well trained. They could stand to spend time looking at the quality of their product and ensuring that orders are correct. Perhaps this entails training order takers to read the order back to the customer in detail or perhaps it means going over the order when the customer shows up to pay.

In customer service I have found that admitting fault and fixing the problem works with most customers but customers grow weary of this if it becomes a pattern. I recently attended a demo of a “Complaint Management System” that had been developed for a phone company that receives more than 6 million complaints per year as a way to negotiate credits for customer bills. In doing so, the company is essentially accepting the fact that they are going to screw up and have to credit customers.

Let me suggest that treating the symptoms without fixing the root cause is not the way to go. To have great customer service it is imperative that companies be aware of their problems and complaints and implement ways to prevent them from happening again.

Now back to my original issue. Did the restaurant learn from their mistake? We shall see next time if my tortilla is white or wheat. I know one thing is for certain. I have learned from my mistake and will always check my order before heading home. Keep in mind that all customers aren’t this gracious.

Jeremy Watkin
Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Support and CX at NumberBarn. He has more than 20 years of experience as a contact center professional leading highly engaged customer service teams. Jeremy is frequently recognized as a thought leader for his writing and speaking on a variety of topics including quality management, outsourcing, customer experience, contact center technology, and more. When not working he's spending quality time with his wife Alicia and their three boys, running with his dog, or dreaming of native trout rising for a size 16 elk hair caddis.


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