Lessons on Customer Service from the Family Car Trip

This summer, as always, our family visited my mother in the Adirondacks. There are many important life lessons to be learned from five-hour family car trips (i.e., ask kids if they have to ‘go’ before you pass the rest area and then the sign saying the next one is 30 miles away). Also hidden amidst the moderating of backseat arguments, however, is a very important business lesson about the critical role customer service plays in people’s experiences, large and small. If your company is not consistently evaluating its interactions with its customers, you are neglecting one of the most important public relations tactics available and possibly subjecting your consumers to a very rough ride.

In countless years making this trip to Mom’s, we’ve rushed directly from point ‘A’ to point ‘B,’ limiting our stops to a bathroom break and fast meal at one of the interstate fast food joints. This did not make for a pleasant trip. Aside from taking a toll on my nutritional makeup, my wallet and my patience, eating at fast food restaurants while traveling often left me feeling somewhat abused and confounded. Countless times I waited in line, ordered, received my number and watched as someone picked food from shelves and bins while staring at the ticket on screen and never once looked me in the face as the consumer. Even without the distraction of eye contact, it was almost without fail that the order was faulty when I got it. I regularly returned to the counter from the parking lot to request the small chocolate milk that should have come with the meal, a sandwich that was ordered and not included or even to change out a wrong fish for the right chicken.

Customer service here was at its worst – no eye contact, scripted communication, customers by the numbers and mistakes aplenty. We put up with it because we were captive audience; it was on the way, quick and convenient. In fact, though, it wasn’t that quick or convenient to have to go back to fix mistakes and we were spending a small fortune for lunch for a family of four. As research shows most disgruntled consumers will do, we complained about this poor experience to many people.

As unhappy consumers are also inclined to do, we stopped frequenting these food businesses. We found a more friendly, delicious and economical solution and have stuck to it. The rest stops are now just that to us: a quick in and out along the road where we don’t spend money.

Their replacement is a small restaurant about an hour and a half away from my mother’s that serves pizza and subs. The pizza is fabulous and we often eat it outside at a table under a tent so the dog can get out of the car, too. We generally call the restaurant from the road and order pizza so it will be ready or in the oven by the time we arrive. Each time I call, a friendly voice asks me when I’d like it ready and how many plates I’ll need. We are greeted upon arrival with eye contact, the right pizza and number of plates, smiles and such a genuine desire on the part of the staff to make our meal enjoyable that we don’t feel we’ve stopped for lunch, we feel we’ve just had one of our favorite recurring experiences. Their regular staffers have become familiar faces that represent a refuge from hours of traffic, canned air and electronic device recharging. It’s not just the food that keeps us going back, it’s their “Welcome home; what can I feed you?” approach.

To generate the customer loyalty the pizza and sub restaurant has earned from us for your business, you need to make sure that really good, experience-generating customer service is practiced by everyone in your organization that comes in contact with a human that doesn’t work for you. On the interstate, the fast-food employees were thousands of miles removed from their corporate bosses and company’s culture, yet created a brand impression with us that ultimately lost them our business.

Evaluate and train everyone and always consider what more they could do to be treating your consumers the way they feel they deserve to be treated. If you don’t, there’s a competitor (or a pizza shop) around the corner who will.


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