Every Friday I pass right by The Corner Cafe in Riverdale on my way to Rolen Bagels where I get my usual everything bagel with cream cheese and a slice of tomato. Marni and I started going there when we discovered that Bagel Corner, a few blocks from there, doesn’t have a toaster to toast your bagel. “Why wouldn’t they have a toaster to toast your bagel?” Marni asked. Especially when there is another bagel place a few blocks away. The answer, is that Bagel Corner OWNS Rolen Bagels a few blocks away. We didn’t know that when we decided to permanently switch to Rolen Bagels. The first time we went to Rolen, the people smiled at us form behind the counter. They asked us if we wanted our bagel toasted. The bagels were fresh and tasty. We had found our new bagel place. Then things began to change.
When I’m lucky, and the planets align just so, I pull into Riverdale on the 1-train just as Marni is dropping off Noah at the baby sitter. Marni then picks me up at the train and drives me home. On the way, we usually stop off at Rolen Bagels to pick up breakfast. Last week when I opened my bagel in the car, I noticed that the cream cheese was not spread on the bagel. It had been plopped onto the bagel in the same square form in which it had been cut from the block of cream cheese. “I hate when they don’t spread it.” Marni said, noticing the deflated look on my face. I resolved to remember to ask them to please spread the cream cheese.
Today, Friday, I did my usual shopping on Johnson Avenue. I couldn’t wait to get my bagel-fix at Rolen Bagels when I was done. I hadn’t bought enough groceries to justify a delivery, but what I had bought was still heavy, and the plastic bags cut off the circulation in my fingers. But that wasn’t enough to stop me from getting my bagel.
I stepped up to the counter and asked for my usual everything bagel with cream cheese and a slice of tomato. “Do you want that toasted?” The salesperson asked. “No thanks. But could you please make sure to spread the cream cheese well?” I replied. Before I could finish my sentence, she had already replied with a definite, “Yes.” Apparently, I wasn’t the first to make this request. When my bagel came, the cream cheese was not spread well. I sat there for a few seconds debating whether or not to say something. I didn’t want to be the grumpy old guy who comes in every Friday and bitches about the bagels. At the same time, it seemed that the easier thing to do would be to find somewhere else to eat Friday mornings. But wouldn’t they want to know if I wasn’t satisfied so they could rectify the situation before losing me as a customer? Would the counter-girls really care at all? Did they own the place?
Just then the woman who made my bagel stepped out from behind the counter. I was sure she had seen me opening my bagel with that same deflated look Marni had noticed. I was sure she was going to come to my table, take my bagel, apologize and spread the cream cheese properly. Instead, she walked in front of the counter, and stooped to pick up a coin which was on the floor. Not six inches from that coin, were two pieces of trash—a crumpled napkin, and a straw. She picked up neither. She stood up, displayed the coin proudly to the people behind the counter, and said, “A quarter!”
With that simple act, it became clear to me what the problem was. These people didn’t care about me as a customer. They smiled. They made known the services they provided—toasted bagels, coffee, muffins–but that’s where it ended.
Customer service is not simply the sum of all the services you can provide for customers. Just because you have a return policy and remember to have a smile on your face, doesn’t mean you provide good customer service. I imagine it is possible to always, without fail, take into consideration all the various ways in which you can satisfy your customers. You can make a checklist–always greet the customer, say thank you, look them directly in the eye. But this formulaic approach is bound to fail. There are too many tiny details which affect a customer’s experince. You are bound to fail in one of those respects with virtually every customer. The only way to insure that you provide the best customer service every time, is to actually WANT to please your customers. If you view every customer who walks in as a person you want to please, then you can’t go wrong. Sure, there are rules in effect to make sure your business is profitable at the same time. You should have protocols in place which prevent you or your employees from giving away service and merchandise for free. But if your goal is to please, then all your actions will fall into place.
My morning at Rolen Bagels would have been completely different had that salesperson wanted to please me. First she would have actually listened to my request because it would have been an important clue as to how to please me. Second, she would have made sure to heed my request. And third, she would have verified that I was pleased by asking me if she had made my bagel well.
This is another example of how the best way to achieve different results is to change something you didn’t think was changeable. If Rolen Bagels employees thought of themselves as people pleasers rather than bagel makers, they would perform their job differently. They would please people by making them bagels. Right now, they see every transaction as follows:
- Get order
- Fill ordr
- Take money
- Next customer
- Oh, and by the way, remember to smile and say thank you