Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Customer is...

The customer is always right: it’s a very nice theory. But as Homer Simpson once said, “In theory, communism works.”

The phrase was meant to be a guideline for how businesses approach customer service. And it’s a nice thing to keep in the back of your head. However, consumers seem to have stolen this phrase and like to throw it out with a wink and nod, inferring: “So what do I get for free?” The problem with consumers cannibalizing this phrase is that they forget that they, the consumers, are often stupid, crazy, drunk, or all three.

I prefer to look at customer service like the rules of golf. Scenario A: A golfer hits a shot that comes to rest on a sprinkler head or on a cart path. A bad thing has happened to him/her through no fault of his/her own. And so the rules grant relief: the golfer may move the ball at no penalty. Scenario B: A golfer hits a shot out of bounds. Usually, this means the golfer has hit a shot off the course or, more likely, into someone’s backyard. Oftentimes golfers will not only trespass through someone’s backyard, they will also play a shot after finding the ball. This is not only against the rules but grossly outrageous. Therefore on an out-of-bounds shot, a golfer has hit a horrendous shot that was his fault and he is severely penalized with loss of stroke and distance and should probably be arrested for traipsing through someone’s backyard.

By the same token, in a customer service situation, if a consumer has a problem with a product or service through no fault of his/her own he/she should be entitled to relief. Other times a consumer has a problem because of his/her own horrendous actions and is therefore out of bounds.

So this will be the first of many quizzes in which the reader can test his/her customer service skills against real life situations that actually happened in our restaurants.

Answer options:
Entitled to relief: the customer had a bad experience through no fault of his/her own and is entitled to relief

In a sandtrap: the customer is in an unfortunate situation but there is no penalty other than not grounding his/her club on the next shot

In a lateral hazard: the customer has put himself/herself out of play and will have to take a penalty but not lose distance.

Out of bounds: the customer did something really stupid or horrendous and should probably be banned from the golf course/restaurant, if not the planet.

The Quiz:

1. After perusing the menu, the customer says, “I would like some enchiladas.”
“Um we don’t have enchiladas on the menu,” the server responds (confused).
“That’s okay. I’m sure your kitchen can make some.”
“I don’t think they’re set up for that.”
“But I really want some enchiladas.”
“I’m sorry we can’t do that.”
“Fine! I’ll have the t-bone. Well-done.”

“That was the worst steak I ever had in my life.”

This customer is:
A. Entitled to relief. While the manager went out to buy ingredients for enchiladas, the cook should have downloaded some recipes, learned how to make enchiladas all the while cooking for other tables. Or all customers are entitled to free meals if they order something that’s not on your menu.
B. In a sandtrap. The server should have suggested the most Mexican looking dish on the menu.
C. In a lateral hazard. Saying bad things about the steak was uncalled for.
D. Out of bounds. The customer should have planned a little better, thinking about what he was craving and what restaurant would come closest to resolving that craving.

2. Good Eats served a ceviche appetizer (a citrus marinated seafood dish) that came in a martini glass atop a small round plate. A beverage napkin was placed between the martini glass and plate to keep the glass from sliding while the ceviche was being served. One night a woman orders the ceviche; the server sets it in front of her. The woman proceeds to dump the martini glass of seafood onto the napkin and plate underneath. The server thinks that’s kind of weird but, whatever! (Can you see where this is going yet?) Upon completion of the ceviche, the woman summons a manager. She berates the manager, “I just ate half a napkin!?!?” in the same way that Lucy from Charlie Brown yells, “Uggghhh! I’ve been kissed by a dog!” She continues, “I can’t believe you put napkins in your food.”

This customer is:
A. Entitled to relief. Anytime you eat half or more of the serving utensils, you are entitled to a free entrée.
B. In a sandtrap. Upon seeing her dump the martini glass, the server should have pulled the dish away and said, “your IQ must be more than 50 to enjoy this dish.”
C. In a lateral hazard. The manager should have said, “If you can finish the entire napkin in 2 minutes or less, the entire meal is free.”
D. Out of bounds. She should have ordered the beef kabobs where there would have been a 50-50 chance of her choking or stabbing herself to death with the skewers.

3. Two young couples with children sit together for a birthday celebration. After some drinks and appetizers, they order entrees, running up a $150 tab. But then something goes wrong. One of the women looks at the other in a funny way. A remark is said that maybe shouldn’t have been. The woman stands up and slaps the other one. Pandemonium! The men jump up, fists fly, kids start crying, someone holds back the fighting women. After some order is restored, the couples decide that maybe they should leave (without paying). On the way out, one of the men says to the bartender/assistant manager, “So we’re good, right?”

This customer is:
A. Entitled to relief. It is a well-known fact that when you start a fight in a restaurant you are entitled to free food and drinks.
B. In a sandtrap. If the restaurant had bouncers like any well-run biker bar or strip club, disaster could have been averted and the customers would have thought twice about starting a melee
C. In a lateral hazard. They would have “been good” if the women had taken their tops off or if mud, pudding or Jell-O was involved.
D. Out of bounds. And there’s really nothing I can add to that.


The correct answer to questions 1 and 3 is “D – Out of bounds”.

Surprisingly, the correct answer to question number 2 is “A – Entitled to relief.” That’s because anyone who is willing to eat paper products to save $9 on a check deserves it. And all the laughs that come with it.

Stay tuned for more.


  1. Ah. But in the corpoarate world where "because of the economy, managers will not receive merit increases for a second year in a row. Thanks for all your hard work." The correct answer for all scenarios is A.

  2. One of my favorite quotes from a business colleague, "This job would be great--if it wasn't for the customers."
    Great read!!!