Customer Service Speaks Louder than Advertising

My wife and I went to a McDonald’s near our church for a quick and cheap dinner. Our toddler in tow, we stepped through the door and into line to order our food with little problem. Though it had only barely begun, that was where our pleasant dining experience came to a screeching halt.

The cashier, who seemed more interested in flirting with the person back in the kitchen rather than helping out customers, seemed indifferent to her hungry patrons. She didn’t smile, try to up-sell us or even look us in the eye. We ordered our food and were given our cups to fill with our drinks while we waited. When I went to go get our drinks, I discovered there was no ice. I looked around – the place was pretty crowded, had all these people gone without ice as well? Or were we just unlucky enough to have walked in right as the last of it was taken? I told my wife and she was surprisingly calm about it, saying, “Oh well, the Coke is still served cold. We’ll be alright.” I did make a point to tell the cashier however, who nicely asked if we wanted ice – almost as though it was some sort of luxury, only given to those who specifically asked for it. I declined, because our food was ready and we were in a bit of a hurry, plus there were others waiting. We found a table and sat.

I’d no sooner sat down then I realized we needed a few essentials: napkins, straws, and of course ketchup. The first two were in ready supply; the ketchup, not so much. I held the wax cup under the dispenser and pushed down on the pump, only to be rewarded with a small bit of runny juice and a noise that made the ketchup sound flatulent. My ears turned a bit red.

Disappointed, I returned to our seat with what I could, and we proceeded to eat our meal. We thought we had ordered easy enough, but there must be have been some confusion between what we said and what our cashier entered into the computer, because what we received had some stark differences from what we had actually ordered.

I’d about had it – no ice, no ketchup, lousy service and the wrong food? How did this place stay open? Surely this wasn’t a regular experience, but as you can tell, it’s not one I’ll soon forget. We ate what we had and left, deciding never to return to that location again. On our way out, some 20 minutes later, I went to get a drink refill. Still no ice.

I never expected great service from fast food. The term itself has a different sort of stigma associated with it. When you go to a restaurant and you’re seated and waited on, then you expect good service, but fast food is different – we all know this. Even so, I expected better than what I got, even with my low standards for fast food. Not but two weeks later, I was extremely surprised by a Wendy’s that had decided to buck the system and raise that standard.

From the moment we walked in, it was grand: the lady behind the register cooing over our toddler, proudly proclaiming that she had thirteen of her own (yes, thirteen). The food was quick and delicious, and all the condiments were well stocked, including the ice and ketchup. While waiting for our food, a couple of guys came in and were greeting the employee with the drive-through head gear on. He welcomed them like old friends, lots of hugging and handshakes. I didn’t even think much of it until we were seated and eating. He then came out and started chatting with us about having a child about the same age as ours and and asked how we liked the food. His name was Eugene.

“It’s great,” I told him. “We really like the new fries.” On the spot, he offered us some for the road. No charge. “Really? Wow, thanks.” I said.

We left there and my standard of expectation from fast food had been kicked up a notch. Why can’t more places treat their customers this well, I wondered.

In a world where the folks you do business with aren’t headquartered in your state – or even your continent – customer service is becoming something of a lost art. I am reminded of my relationship with my online marketing agency, when you work with sites  like you learn how to navigate and deal with the differences. Having worked in and around the service industry a long time, the best service I get is from those who work as though they own the place. There’s a lesson here  for even the “too big to fail” corporations. In the midst of public scandal and greed, consumers are getting weary. People are clutching their money in an attempt to keep from being taken advantage of, and rightly so. Should American businesses of all sizes wish to attract loyal customers, customer service will call more loudly than the best marketing campaign – truthfully, great customer service is the best marketing.