Bad policy or bad service - same result

Budgets are tight. Competition is fierce. Putting your head down and hiding from your customers' wants and needs is a surefire way to *not* grow your business.

Image Credit - flickr mnxam opena


The Scenario

There's a little Mexican food joint in our neighborhood which is in our rotation of "good and not-too-expensive" restaurants, mostly because their rolled tacos and refried beans are fantastic.

Yesterday I came home from work and Cheryl was making tacos for dinner, except the boys had a friend over and we didn't have enough ground beef to feed a crowd. No problem, I said, and I headed out to get some supplemental rolled tacos.

The Order

Unfortunately it didn't go as smoothly as usual. Here is the transcript of me placing my order, as best as I can remember:

Girl (over the drive-through speaker): Can I help you?
Me: Yes. 12 rolled tacos, please. 6 beef and 6 chicken.
Girl: We can't do that. We can only do all beef or all chicken.
Me: (incredulous). What?
Girl: It has to be all the same. 12 chicken or 12 beef.
Me: But that's what I always order, and we've been coming here for years..?
Girl: Sorry, I'm not allowed to do that.
Me: (thinking she must be new). Can you ask your manager if you can do that, because - like I said, we've been coming here a long time and that's what we always get.
Girl: She isn't here. You can call her tomorrow if you want, but I can't do that.
Me: So how can I get 6 beef and 6 chicken rolled tacos.
Girl: You can't. You can order 3, 5, or 12. Do you want 5 of each?
(At this point I got frustrated. Not only was she being unhelpful and unfriendly, but either she didn't see the math (3+3=6) or she was being rude on purpose. So of course I pushed further...)
Me: So I can't get 6 chicken and 6 beef? It's not possible?
Girl: It's impossible. We can't do that. You can order 5 of each, or you can order 12 of just one.
Me: Even if price isn't an issue, and I was willing to pay extra? (because 2 sets of 3 is about the same price as a dozen.) Maybe a 5 piece and then a single, or something like that?
Girl: Sir, we can't do that. You can only get 3, 5, or 12 of the same kind. Do you want to order anything or not?
(Here I realized it's game over. She's not going to help me, and she isn't much fun. I can either order and get home, or make a stand and "take my business somewhere else." Unfortunately I wanted to get home and eat.
Me: Sure. Just give me a dozen chicken rolled tacos. (because realistically I didn't want to pay double to get 6 of each.)
Me: Can you do me a favor and put all the toppings on the side, because my son can't eat dairy. (they serve the rolled tacos with heaping scoops of guacamole, sour cream, and cheese over the top of them.)
Girl: No problem.
I then get home, only to find my chicken rolled tacos covered with cheese and sour cream. (my fault for not checking this one while at the drive-thru..!)

The Aftermath

Maybe this was a new employee who didn't realize she's allowed to mix n match, and that it's ok to make customers happy.

Or maybe the store changed policy, thinking they could make more money if customers are forced to buy 2 sets of 5, or 4 sets of 3, rather than a simple 12. If this is the case, it's dangerous thinking. This store competes on price. Raise prices too much, and there are a half-dozen other Mexican food restaurants within a 2-mile radius that become a lot more attractive.

I doubt it's store policy. Since they sell chicken and beef for the same price, what would it matter to them if we split up the order?

I'll probably give this taco joint another chance. We've been eating there for a long time, it's good food, it's reasonably priced, and it's right around the corner from our house. Hopefully the new girl gets some training and things go back to normal.

If not, and my experience was the new normal? Well, I'm not going to say I'll never eat there again. But I will eat there a lot less frequently. If I'm going to have to pay the same price as the full menu sit-down restaurants to get what I want, I might as well just eat at one of those sit-down restaurants instead.

It doesn't matter whether this was one employee giving bad customer service, or a change in the restaurant's policy to be less flexible to customers. This one interaction was almost enough to lose a long-time, local, repeat customer.

Great customer service can have a major impact on your business.

Bad customer service? Even more so.

Keep this in mind whenever you pick up the phone or answer an email.

- Chris Butterworth