Customers: treat them right or get left

I recently started my quest for physical fitness and that seemingly elusive washboard stomach with 6 pack abs (vain..maybe, but if I’m gonna be healthy, I may as well go for the perks as well). All my research and consultations pointed to the fact that “abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym”.¬†Being a busy young professional with several projects and pursuits, I ¬†very seldom have the time to make a home cooked meal (I have justified many years of spend on eating out by the diseconomies of scale of cooking for one). This led to me scouring the local food service landscape for a decent quality, good tasting and affordable restaurant (I need value for money, savings are important)with healthy food offerings. This proved to be a fun and exhilarating process for a self professed foodie. My weeks of painstaking testing (I take culinary research seriously) paid off and I hit pay dirt; or so I thought then. I found a family operated little grill and sports bar which specializes in grilled meats, roasted organic ground provisions, farm fresh garden salads and other healthy eats.

For days I was in bliss, trying different elements of the menu. Within a week I had selected my favorite combination: BBQ-Jerked chicken breast and roasted sweet potatoes; but my kicker was the fresh garden salad (I couldn’t figure out how they kept the lettuce so crisp, got the tomatoes such bright red and the carrots so sweet). Having started calling in to order, I developed a rapport and could have my order recited and fulfilled upon just the sound of my voice and hearing my name. I was happy. I was also very proud to be supporting a local business providing a quality product.

By week two, my new found romance began to unravel, as having now gone through the process of wooing me into this gastric love affair, my once attentive Belle had begun to show her true colors. My calls to preorder my meals were now greeted with a cavalier demeanor and worse the engagement of the much dreaded “Negatory Mode”. You know that mode once it has been activated by the easily discernible proclivity for saying things like: “No, I don’t think so”, “I’m not sure that’s possible”, “Maybe not”. Employees at some businesses apparently believe that its is your job as a paying patron to make their jobs easier. “How dare you interrupt my day’s flow?”. I called to order my heaven-sent, yet premium priced salad only to hear that “I’m not sure you can get that today, I’d have to check”. This of course was followed by a notably lengthy pause almost implying that I should understand her plight with having to make the impossible 3 feet trek to check with the chef to validate the salad’s availability. This pause was broken and she was spurned to action only after I exclaimed quizzically “ok, can you check for me please?”. Resignedly the call was placed on hold so the check could be made. Upon resumption, I was informed that I “should be able to get it”. Not wanting to cause further distress, I decided to visit in person to place my order. Maybe after seeing that it was me, their newest, biggest fan, waiting to spread the news of my new found love I might be regarded with better treatment. This was not to be. Upon arriving, and querying about the salad I could now see that “Negatory Mode” had not only been engaged but was turned up to max power. “I don’t think you can get that you know”. In stoic disbelief, I looked on and listened as I was told of all the plights of working in a restaurant. Due to all the orders the chef had churned out earlier, he would not be able to tend to my order, though the restaurant was now close to empty. Upon advising that I would be ok with waiting, I was told that “it would be best if you order something else or come back later”. That was enough for me, my years of dating had taught me to read the early warning signs. This romance had met an untimely end.


I left my once new favorite restaurant that evening feeling dejected and dare I say pissed. I had referred several friends and had been touting them about the health benefits of the offerings on the menu and why it pays to eat organic. This was a major let down. I wanted to now start a campaign against them. My campaign would have to wait though, hunger was calling me by name. After doing a couple rounds around nearby malls, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that a nearby fast food restaurant with a very attractively packaged salad comprised of all the ingredients of the salad from my now ex-favourite new restaurant. Whilst, I could not vouch for whether the veggies were organic, it was tasty, came with options for toppings and was half the price to boot (See actual pic attached). With that I had made the switch. I guess my most recent belle wasn’t as special as I thought.



Looking back at this simple yet resounding situation I decided to note the key learnings. Here are a few which resonated:

  • The customer comes first– they seldom care if you are having a bad day, handled a 100 before, each exchange is a new one and should be regarded with the utmost respect and attention.
  • Disengage “Negatory Mode”– kick start that general can do attitude. Resolve in your mind that you will take a request as far as is possible to meet a customer need. Very often people will value the effort even if the answer ultimately comes back a no. “No” should never be the default/ initial disposition and response. This is how loyal customers are created.
  • Consistency is key– fickle creatures we are; thanks to recency you are as good as your last interaction with humans. Save for family, people are not tolerant of inconsistent behavior and certainly not inconsistent service levels when spending our hard earned dollars.
  • Keep your customers’ blinders on– the minute you send them looking to your competitor, you stand a good chance of losing them forever. Do your best to ensure that you are all they see.

Building a profitable business is a difficult pursuit. 95% of all new businesses fail within the first 5 years and 95% of those left fail within the following 5 years. Many companies spend millions attracting new customers. Due care should be taken to ensure that those budding new romances mature into loyal customer relationships. Customers are a needy bunch, “Treat us right, or get left”.

Can you relate? Have you had a similar experience? Leave a comment or question below..