Avoid creating disappointed customers

The young woman behind the Panera Bakery counter was perky, friendly and efficient. “Great job on hiring,” I thought to myself. When I added a Diet Coke to my salad order, she smiled and handed me a glass to take to the self-service soda center away from the counter.

When I arrived, a sign was posted on the Diet Pepsi (not Diet Coke) dispenser: “Temporarily out of order.” “Hmm,” I wondered, “How temporary do they mean?”

I flagged down a managerial-looking woman. “When might the Diet Pepsi dispenser be fixed?” I pointed to the sign.

“Let me check into it and I’ll be right back. A few minutes later she said, “It won’t be today because I’m out of Diet Pepsi syrup.”

Knowing they have take out food and catering, I asked, “Do you have any in cans?” I’ve become accustomed to having to be the one to help employees — even managers — think beyond their limits to get what I want.

Her face lit up, “Yes, we do! I’ll grab one for you.” She reappeared moments later with a can of Diet Pepsi, which I took even though I prefer Diet Coke. She said, “Let me know if you want more.”

“Thank you. You might want to tell the cashiers the Diet Pepsi dispenser is broken so a customer can make another choice while at the counter, rather than going through what I just went through.” I wasn’t rude or mean — I meant it as a helpful suggestion.

The root of the problem was something caused a popular item to be out of stock. One would think that the Pepsi delivery person would check stock with each delivery and suggest ordering what they see the restaurant needed. Perhaps they’d had a particularly high run on Diet Pepsi and had been caught short.

But once the shortness had been noticed, whomever had ordered the sign put on the dispenser should have taken responsibility to inform the cashiers so the customer didn’t pay for a drink, then discover it wasn’t available and waste time. If none of the other soft-drink choices were acceptable, they could have offered one of their other drinks — even it was a higher price — to substitute.

Also, the cashier should be trained to tell customers that what they think they are ordering (Diet Coke) isn’t available, even if the Diet Pepsi syrup was in stock. Studies have shown that soda pop drinkers are very loyal to their brands and few relish drinking the other brand even in a pinch. So if the competitive brand is all that’s available, they will go without.

The manager, seeing my disappointment, should have thought, “Do I have Diet Pepsi anywhere else?” So instead of the customer having to come up with a solution, the manager should be thinking of how to satisfy the customer. If there was no Diet Pepsi in the house, she could have then offered, “Would you like to try our strawberry lemon cooler instead? It would be on the house.”

So while the staff was friendly and pleasant, they lacked some customer communication and resourcefulness skills.

Think about these questions for your organization:

  • How do you communicate to the front line that a popular item isn’t available?
  • How do you teach and model how to explain this to the customers?
  • How do you compensate customers when you’re out of a popular item?


Remarkable Customer Service…And Disservice

More true-life scenarios and discussion questions are in Remarkable Customer Service…And Disservice. Order yours today!