customer serviceI once consulted for a growing deli chain I will call Bon Appetit Café that decided to alter their menu offering in a particular market and include more premium sandwiches. Now let me remind you that the customers in this market were happy with a sandwich that consisted of meat, bread, cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, and no more than a half-serving of vegetables (perhaps a small lettuce leaf and a tomato slice). Nevertheless, someone made the decision to offer fewer traditional sandwiches and more gourmet sandwiches.

For example, one gourmet sandwich included Focacia bread, arugula, pesto, red onions, lettuce, tomato, roasted peppers, feta cheese, and cucumbers. I am still trying to figure out how someone thought this would satisfy customers who barely wanted lettuce and tomato on their sandwiches.

The Frontline Employees were told to talk up the new gourmet sandwiches and get customers to purchase them. You can only imagine the complaints that the Frontline Employees received from the customers, who overnight saw the disappearance of their “simple” sandwiches and the appearance of gourmet sandwiches that had names and ingredients that were foreign to them.

People had different perceptions of what the sandwiches would taste like. The names and ingredients didn’t meet the expectations of their taste buds. After all, I think they had never eaten many of these ingredients before.

When the Frontline Employees received the complaints, they felt a bit helpless and figured the easiest solution would be to issue a full refund and hope that would fulfill their requirement to make the customer happy.  In order to issue a full refund, they would have to call the manager over to issue the refund. In many cases, after receiving a refund, the customer was still going on about their disappointment in the new sandwich.  In many cases the customers just needed to vent, needed validation of their disappointment, and wanted to be heard.

I saw several problems here: The employees needed another method for making the customer happy besides just issuing a refund, the customer still wasn’t totally happy with a refund, the customer experience for both the complaining customer and the customer waiting to be served was diminished, the productivity of the Frontline Employees and the managers was diminished because an employee had to stop serving other customers to summon a manager and the manager was making a number of trips during the day to approve refunds, and the business was not offering samplings of the products so that customers could try the new sandwiches before they purchased them.

My task was to solve these identified problems.

One of my first recommendations was to assign levels of authority.  I recommended that senior Frontline Employees receive six “customer satisfaction dollars,” and that non-senior Frontline Employees receive five “customer satisfaction dollars.” If they could resolve a problem for under six dollars or five dollars (this would take care of the average customer’s purchase), as the case may have been, they were given the power to make it happen. The customer would sign off on a slip, minimizing the time a manager was disrupted. This kept customers, who still had their complaints validated and addressed, happy, and it kept operations moving.

The initial corporate response to the customer satisfaction dollar idea was, “The employees will abuse it; we shouldn’t give them that much power.” But documentation (employees had to turn in the receipt and a signed customer slip) kept employee abuse to a minimum, and customers were sufficiently wowed by the service they were getting to not try to take advantage of the program.

The first phrase out of an employee’s mouth was, “What can I do to make you happy,” and some customers said, “I just want a refund.”  Now the problem with just supplying a refund was that the customer might still be frustrated and not return. However, the employees also had the power to offer a one-dollar coupon that a customer could use on their next visit, and this “cherry on top” really impressed the guest.

Some customers said, “Oh, I just wanted to let you know what I thought.” In many of these cases, the employee would offer the one-dollar coupon and ask them to please give Bon Appetit Cafe another opportunity to make a sandwich that they would like. Frontline Employees were enabled to “make it right,” thus obtaining what I like to call “Make-It-Right Power,” and the customer satisfaction index increased. And now that Frontline Employees, who were previously powerless when a manager was busy or out, could help a customer who simply wanted to vent or have a minor problem resolved, the bottom line improved.

Make-It-Right Power puts the ability to deliver a World-Class customer service experience in the hands of the people who are best able to deliver it: The employees who interact with the customers, be it in person, on the phone, online chat/Instant Messaging, email, or snail mail. It’s about empowering and positioning employees to be able to instantly solve customer problems and view them as opportunities to Make-It-Right now for the customer.



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