Have you ever had customers break the rules or otherwise misbehave? The other day, I was accidentally among a group of “bad” customers. We were enjoying a day of being tourists in Niagara Falls, which is an absolutely lovely place by the way. After touring the falls and buying trinkets in the souvenir shop, we made our way through the other shops in town. By mid-afternoon, the day had turned chilly and overcast with a few drops of rain. We had a couple of hours to kill before our train was scheduled to leave and all came to seek reprieve in the outdoor patio area of the Hard Rock Café where a fantastic artist was performing acoustically.
To set the stage, this tourist town was pretty dead as it was about 3pm on a Thursday – and we were the only people hanging out on this patio. 4 or 5 of the 14 of us had eaten lunch there a couple of hours earlier, another 3 or 4 ordered a beverage from the outside bar, and a couple of souvenirs were purchased from the gift shop. A few of us also had warm beverages from the Starbucks next door. We were all dressed nicely and had several shopping bags – a good indicator of money to spend. The woman serving us was lovely; she seemed to understand that although our large group was not going to be a huge revenue generator – there wasn’t a line of people needing our seats either.
Everything changed when one of the group members returned from shopping with a bag of fast food from down the road, which she intended to eat on the train ride home. She happened to wander back to the patio as the server’s manager walked through – and here is where this story turns sour. The manager came storming onto the patio, arms flailing, and announced loudly, rudely, and in an exasperated tone that we were not welcome to sit there with outside food or drink. The group member with the food apologized immediately and let the woman know it was intended for the train ride and that she didn’t plan to eat it there – but there was no convincing the manager, who rolled her eyes, let out a deep breath, and proceeded to read the riot act to the server who had permitted such intolerable customer behavior and then drove us away with an impressive glare.
Here’s the thing – we were being unknowingly inconsiderate. We had overstayed our welcome after having taken advantage of an empty patio and great music without considering that we weren’t spending much money. We were, however, preventing the server from falling asleep and the musician from playing to an empty patio – so we were understandably without guilt.
At the end of the day, we were in the wrong, but the manager handled the situation with absolutely no diplomacy and lost customers because of it. When she noticed our outside food and drink at her establishment, she should have put on her happy customer service face to deliver the bad news graciously and humbly to us. She should have said something like, “Hi everyone – we’re so happy you’re here and enjoying our patio, but we actually don’t allow outside food and drink here. If you can finish them up, maybe we can get you something from our menu?” We’d have gotten the hint and either ordered something or left without feeling like evil villains; I wouldn’t be writing about it and spreading the word about the poor service either.
Customers are often in the wrong, but unless they’re threatening bodily harm, handling them with dignity and respect is a requirement for any organization that intends to claim good service. As a manager this young lady should have known that. She handled the situation very poorly – and I suspect that if corporate had witnessed it she’d be explaining herself to someone. What is your confidence level with your managers? Will they handle customer mistakes with grace, or will they make you the subject of someone’s blog? Teaching this skill is something I’d suggest you consider putting on your agenda!