Journey in Light
A Consumer Experience Consultant and a Marketing & Communications Strategist are in a restaurant having coffee. At some point, they try to order a plate of chips… and then things fall apart and it rapidly becomes ‘no joke’.
This is a true story that happened in one of Jo’burg’s more popular all-day hang-outs in Parkhurst. We were in a ‘deep meaningful conversation’, in a perfect location for a cold winter’s afternoon, enjoying the brand promise by reputation and previous experience of good coffee, attentive service and a cosy welcoming atmosphere. Unfortunately more common than it should ever be, this ultimately degenerates into two professionals in a supposedly neutral and safe setting being gifted with more perfect material for understanding why businesses fail – or at least don’t do nearly as well as they might – and the almost glaringly obvious lessons that leap out, but always only to those willing and able to learn, ideally with guidance.
Needing a nibble to quell a diabetic sugar slump, inappropriate corporate rules and head office policies, poor training of junior staff (ironically the primary brand ambassadors), misguided communications and putting the business ahead of the customer (in terms of vision as much as infrastructure), a sale was lost, at least one customer was lost and so it begins…
Our request was simple: “How about a plate of chips?”
Immediately and assertively answered by the repeated statement (no less than three times), “No, that won’t be possible, as we don’t do sides”.
“Really? We’re not staying for supper but need to have a carbohydrate, as a snack – you know, for a diabetic. Do you really expect us to order a hot dog, as the cheapest item on the menu at something like R120, to get a few chips? Oh – and ‘our bad’. We see in fact that the hot dog is on the lunch menu, so that obviously won’t be possible now that it’s evening?” (Correct!)
We hadn’t heard the last of the rules yet, trying to find a different solution (noting that as the customers we were looking for the solution, not the restaurant): “Options on the kiddie’s menu would be perfect – how about it?”
“No, that’s not possible either as you’re not ‘kiddies’”. (As an aside, this opened the door for an easy lie that we weren’t prepared to offer – in other words, something like ‘my nephew will be here shortly; let me order for him in the meantime’. Through the application of rigid, non-customer-centric rules, the business was fine with losing the sale altogether).
Then the inevitable “please may we see the manager”. Much the same story… including hearing without listening, some different and changing versions of the same story already told, and increasingly our feeling that it was ‘time to go’.
While wrapping up our conversation (and having another cappuccino, this one with a couple of spoons of sugar added – as this was actually allowed), a third force emerged – the General Manager. As senior professionals in our respective and very much related fields, we felt for the guy. Head Office had decreed… and he needs to comply (and even defend), while acknowledging the folly of some of the rules and, even worse, the apparent failure of putting the customer first while rather deferring to the supposed ‘perfect’ design of the menu.
It’s unlikely that anything will change. Few customers complain; we gave a complimentary professional consulting opinion, including possible solutions, constructively and openly. Most unhappy customers would simply leave and not come back – while as simply telling everyone but those who may be able to do something about it what happened (or didn’t). If there is a change, I suspect it will be in time with the General Manager leaving to join another restaurant where local management and staff are empowered, where there is a voice from the customer that is actually – even gratefully – heard, and where rules and policies remain relevant and necessary rather than draconian and self-serving.
Through this, we left to the unappealing smell of ammonia as the early evening tables were wiped down, excited about the possibilities of how much value can so readily be added to organisations while realising that this is only true for those willing to listen, to learn and to actually effect change.