Talk About Exceeding Customer Expectations


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© Jack Cashill
Published in Ingramsonline.com - September 2012

Lunch at a local restaurant could have been a disaster, but a little something extra came with that order.

Conventional wisdom holds that customers will tell 10 times more people about a negative retail experience than about a positive one. To reverse those numbers, the retail establishment would have to make a gesture dramatic enough to merit a column in Ingram’s. I am here to tell you that such a gesture is possible.

The story centers on a smart phone. When Blackberry introduced its first such creature in 2003, I could not conceive of why I would ever need one. The e-mails that I received from other people’s Blackberries—the source duly noted in the e-mail—struck me as exercises in self-promotion as showy and unwelcome as a text from Anthony Weiner.

By 2006, I found myself wondering how I ever lived without my own Blackberry and wondered why I even bothered to get out of bed in those pointless pre-Blackberry days. By 2012, I was wondering how I had allowed myself to get stuck with a Blackberry when all my friends seemed to have—and were pleased to show off—phones much smarter than my old, wood-burning clunker.

The complication was that my Blackberry had actually become for me what Sprint’s marketing whizzes hoped the smart phone would become for everyone, our personal digital assistant. Unfortunately for Sprint, almost no one called it that. Many don’t even know what “PDA” stands for. Unfortunately for me, every bit of my work history was embedded in my phone. To replace it would be as complicated as firing—no, killing—a trusted executive secretary and hiring a new one.

Reasons to Be Wary

On this particular day, I ventured out to visit Reko in Blue Springs, the fulfillment house that handles my various books and videos. The proprietors, Terry and Janis Reed, have built a thriving business from nothing by exceeding customer expectations, but their success is peripheral to this story.

On the way to lunch, the Reeds and I talked about smart phones. Like many employers, they have become wary of these phones in the hands of the seditious employee. Every employer has at least one such ingrate, the kind whose idea of the American Dream is a successful lawsuit.

For the clever among them, the smart phone has brought that nightmare version of the dream within reach. If the employee can catch an employer or supervisor on video offending one of his or her precious sensibilities and, in the process, creating a “hostile environment,” the employee can go to the bank on that video.

So after being seated for lunch at the local Olive Garden, with smart phones on the mind, I took mine out of my front pants pocket and placed it alongside my keys on the tabletop. I was told that in Silicon Valley, where I had just spoken two nights earlier, you can tell the muckety-mucks because they are the ones not wearing sport jackets. Their assistants wear them so they have adequate pockets to carry their smart phone and their boss’s.

In the way of pure digression, on the way from Pleasanton, where I was visiting, to Mountain View, where I was speaking, I drove by—to my unexpected delight—California’s newest tourist attraction, the ill-fated, absurdly subsidized Solyndra Plant. Don’t expect to see it listed in any official state promotional material.

Back at the Olive Garden, a supervisor explained that we would be waited on by a trainee. We jokingly asked the supervisor if she wanted us to “test” the trainee, and she joked back, “Sure.” As it turned out, we did not have to.

The waitress dutifully brought us three large glasses of water. She leaned over to place them on the table—something of a rookie mistake—and the glasses exploded off the tray like a mini-tsunami. So violent was the action that we all thought that the glasses had broken. They had not. Only my Blackberry had. It was drowning.

By this time in my relationship with the Blackberry, I could field strip and reassemble it blindfold. So I quickly pulled off the back cover, took out the battery, and nursed the phone like a sick child. My little PDA struggled to charge up, but it had been terminally soaked. It died in my arms. The waitress watched in horror.

Righting the Wrong

The shift manager came to our table. He apologized profusely. “It’s a little worse than you might think,” I told him. “My phone’s dead.”

This was the kind of moment that tests a manager’s mettle. I half expected him to turn into Monty Python’s parrot shop owner. “It’s not dead,” he would tell me. “It’s resting. It’s stunned. It’s fagged out after a long squawk. It’s pining for the fjords.”

And I had prepared myself to respond, “This is what I call a dead Blackberry. This Blackberry is no more. It has ceased to be. It has gone on to meet its maker. This is a late Blackberry.” And worse, he would have been too young to get my reference.

Young or not, the manager surprised me. “Go get a replacement,” he told me without hesitation. “Bring back a receipt and we’ll reimburse you.” When asked, he reassured us the cost would not be subtracted from the waitress’s salary. He also, of course, comped my meal.

After my free lunch, I found the T-Mobile in Blue Springs. As a rule, customer service at a franchise improves in direct correlation to its distance from the center of the city. This T-Mobile was no exception. Its employees were much more helpful and congenial than at the one in town I usually frequented.

They took an interest in my story but, like myself, were not sure whether the Olive Garden manager would—or could—honor his commitment. In any case, it was bye-bye Blackberry. I bought a Samsung Galaxy III more complex than an IBM mainframe, used one of my upgrades to lower the cost, and headed back to Olive Garden with a $411.67 bill in hand.

Although probably not thrilled to see me, the manager took the receipt, walked away, and came back two minutes later with $411.67. In cash.

Viva Olive Garden! Long may its story be told.

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