The most important single thing is to focus obsessively on the customer. – Jeff Bezos

Bad experiences as a customer leave a bad taste in the mouth. These come in several flavors. A common flavor is rudeness on the part of the salesman or customer service representative. Or it could be bad service. It could be taking the customer for granted, for example, by making a mistake and not rectifying it. “It is not rocket science to provide a good customer experience – you just have to treat them with respect and solve their problem”, I am often tempted to say when I am the recipient of a bad experience as a customer. Sadly, the number of flavors of bad customer experience appear to be quite large.

While musing about bad customer service experiences, I thought of the other side of the coin—memorable customer service experiences. While these are a rarer breed, I recalled a couple of instances where I was the recipient of excellent customer service— experiences that made me feel delighted, and which stayed with me. 

Starbucks

My Dad, brother, and a few friends were hanging out at a Starbucks during a break. We were participating in the 2009 North American Bridge Championships held in Washington DC. My favorite drink in Starbucks is the Chai Latte. “A tall Chai Latte, skim milk, extra hot, one-and-a-half pumps” is my standard order. I get skim milk for obvious reasons, to cut down on the calories. I prefer it piping hot. This is a sugary drink after all, and instead of the usual three pumps of syrup, I ask for half of this quantity. The end product is a perfectly crafted drink.

That day, I felt like trying a different drink. Instead of a Chai Latte, I ordered a Green Tea Latte. I was rather excited with this order – I like green tea very much, and was hoping that this concoction would do a number on my taste buds. When I received the drink, the experience was rather the opposite: I hated the drink

It was obvious to my companions that I was struggling through the drink. “Why don’t you ask for another drink if you don’t like this?”, suggested a friend. “There is nothing wrong with the drink, it just happens that I don’t like it”, I said. “Why don’t you try nevertheless”, he advised. I took his advice and went to the barista, and explained my situation – there is nothing wrong with the drink, but I don’t like it – could they give me another drink? “Sure”, she remarked cheerfully without any hesitation, and made me a Chai Latte, to my surprise as well as delight!

In December 2019, when I visited the US, I spent most days at the library, learning a new skill. One evening, I caught up with a friend at Starbucks. An idea struck me, I could spend an afternoon or two studying at Starbucks, which would be a change of setting from the library. I went up to the barista and asked, “If I spend a few hours here, is it alright if I purchase just one drink, or would you like me to purchase more than one?” “Oh, you don’t have to purchase a drink at all. You can sit here however long you’d like, we don’t mind”, she replied.

Count me impressed, Starbucks.

Taco Bell

My brother, a mutual friend and I went to grab a bite at the Taco Bell in Charlottesville, VA. One of my favorite items at Taco Bell is the Mexican Pizza without meat. A couple of taco shells are baked with cheese and beans, the end product being a delicious and crunchy fare. They typically cut this into four pieces, helping me grab each quarter just like a pizza slice. 

On this occasion, I ordered the Mexican Pizza, but when I received the order, they gave it to me without cutting it into four. When I asked them to cut it, they told me that they don’t have a knife and they can’t cut it. This would mean a messy dining experience, with me trying to bite though the pizza with the contents spilling all over my plate, if not my face. I wasn’t too happy about it, and told them as such, but went ahead with the messy yet delicious meal. 

While we were eating, the manager brought us some goodies (my recollections of this was that he brought some kind of chips), apologizing for the fact that I was not happy with the order, explaining again that they did not have a knife with them. I knew that this was a common practice in the US, giving the customer a freebie or not charging them if their order is not perfect, but this was the first time I experienced it as a customer, and I was indeed happy to receive the unexpected freebie as a way of apology (which in my eyes, they didn’t have to do, they went over and above what was necessary to make it up to me).

My brother’s recollection of this is more funny— he recalls that they didn’t bring chips, they brought a second Mexican Pizza, of course uncut, for an encore messy eating display!

Image Credit: Lisa from Pexels

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Prahalad Rajkumar

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