Friday, November 10, 2006

Too Demanding?

As the person who started both The S**T List and The N**E List in hopes of highlighting the good and the bad in customer service, you might be somewhat surprised to learn that I've never necessarily felt "the customer is always right." In fact, many years ago I wrote an award-winning market research paper on the very topic.

The paper focused on retail banking and customer retention. Most banks have (or, at the time, had) policies limiting the types of transactions conducted at the drive-through. While some of these rules were intended to prevent fraud, many of them were in place to maximize efficiency. Transactions such as issuing cashiers checks, large cash deposits or multiple transactions were restricted because of the time it took the teller to complete them. Considering the drive-through is intended for more speedy banking, tying up one lane and one teller (keep in mind most drive-through tellers are handling multiple lanes) was simply counterproductive. Invariably, you'd find that each bank had its pool of repeat offenders living under not only the "customer is always right" mantra but also a belief that their excrement had a pleasant aroma. The problem was that if the bank attempted to make that one customer happy, many more sat in line behind them growing quickly impatient and dissatisfied with what was supposed to be an efficient and quick stop at the bank. One happy customer has resulted in several more unhappy ones.

More recently I had the opportunity to witness how such a customer may not necessarily impact the satisfaction of other customers but actually cost the business money. Two nights a week, Eagan's on Water runs a half-priced bottle of wine special. The only caveat on the special is that it does not include wines on the reserve list. These are very pricey vinos that if Eagan's did offer them at half-price it would actually be at below their cost and they would incur and instant loss. One regular customer who we've nicknamed "I'm Better Than You" asks for bottles from the reserve list on at least a weekly basis. Each time the bar manager explains to him why those bottles are not included. Unfortunately, one evening the bar manager was off and IBTY, knowing he could sneak one through, got his half-priced bottle from an unsuspecting person unfamiliar with the policy. Eagan's took a loss and a very popular special is now jeopardized.

The point is that The S**T List strives to make other consumers aware of egregious shortcomings in customer service. Before making any additions to it, I'll always be sure that the demand I'm making of the business is reasonable and that in fulfilling it they're not doing so in a manner that loses them customers or money. If neither of those are the case, then I think my expectations of the business are fair and reasonable.

So when staff writer Jason McDowell attacks Jimmy John's service because they won't let him bring his dog into the restaurant but also won't hand deliver his food to the sidewalk outside the store during the lunch rush, it's interesting to read how so many readers reacted to his gripe.

Hopefully you'll never find a complaint like that on The S**T List.