We lost power last night. There is a curve in the road near our neighborhood that apparently is difficult to negotiate although I’ve never found it to be so. At the apex of the curve, there is a utility pole that the folks who can’t manage to keep their rubber on the road hit with some regularity. That, in turn, kills power to several neighborhoods, mine being among them.
The real darkness and quiet (no ambient light, no fan) woke me up. After spending a minute worrying that the power would be out long enough to defrost all the contents of the freezer, I heard the unmistakable chirp of a smoke alarm. Not the shriek of a problem, but the chirp of an alarm whose battery had died. Our system is hard-wired into the house’s electrical system so the battery’s life is rarely an issue. It was last night.
I tried to ignore it. It wasn’t the unit in my room but the one about as far from me as could be. The chirp that came each minute disturbed the dogs, who are terrified by the alarms. You’ve never seen three “fearless” beasts shake like Jello when a little smoke from the oven sets off the system (all the alarms go off when one goes off). Still, I tried to go back to sleep despite the chirping from the alarm and the whining from the dogs. I figured if I ignored the problem, the power would come back on shortly and all would be well.
Eventually, I was right. The power did come back on. Not before I got out of bed and found that one alarm was glowing red (they normally glow green) and reset it which didn’t solve the problem. Not before I got out of bed a second time and found a step stool to reset the chirping alarm in the hope that the chirping would cease. Not before I removed the battery from the singing siren despite the fact that I didn’t have a fresh battery to put in. But several hours later, the power came back on.
Did that solve the problem? Nope. The alarm kept on letting me know that the battery I’d reinserted was no good. It wasn’t until I remembered that one of my tools had a 9-volt battery I could swap in that the chirping ended. In other words, it wasn’t until I addressed the problem head-on and with a solution I know was required but was reluctant or unable to provide.
It was a good reminder. We often ignore potential problems until they happen. We’ve lived in this house for 18 months but haven’t changed the smoke alarm batteries since the system doesn’t run on batteries. We often attempt to minimize the problems (but the power DIDN’T come right back on). A small problem can lead to bigger problems. No battery leads to frightened dogs which leads to no sleep. We try to force solutions that we know won’t work but are easier for us instead of doing what we know is required.
Take the time to do routine maintenance. Look for potential problems and anticipate the solutions. Don’t wait for the alarm to chirp about anything in your business. Make sense?
Foodie Friday again, thank goodness. My friend Barry is a restaurateur. He runs a place in Georgia and their tagline is “Everything’s So Right.” There is a lot of wisdom packed into those few words (very much like Barry!) and I got a chance to see that sort of thinking first-hand this week.
I went out with a friend for a beverage. We hit one of our usual haunts and she ordered something that she’s had there before. Unfortunately, what arrived at the table wasn’t even a close approximation of what she was expecting.
We said something to our server (our usual seats at the bar wouldn’t permit social distancing so we took a table) who mentioned that the drink was made by someone our friend, the head bartender, was training. She also immediately apologized and asked what else she could bring instead. Her attitude was one of sincere regret as if she had personally disappointed instead of just delivering a badly-made beverage. She wanted to make everything right.
Making everything right is long-term thinking. The problem in this case wasn’t a bad drink. What would have become the problem would have been the server not taking immediate steps to fix the problem with a customer-friendly attitude. In business, we don’t get in trouble for the things we do. More often than not, it’s for the thing we don’t do. That might be why we visit this place at least once a week.
There’s another restaurant in town that offers the best Chinese food in the area. It’s authentic and as good as I’ve had in NYC’s Chinatown. I rarely go there because the service is unapologetically atrocious. You can wait for an hour for your food to arrive even when the place is nearly empty. It certainly doesn’t take as long to cook as it does to arrive. Does anyone seem to care about making everything right? Nope.
Screw-ups are a fact of life no matter what business you’re in. 99.9% satisfaction means that 1 person in 1,000 is going to have an issue. If you go to sleep thinking that one person is far outweighed but the 999, you’re not going to sleep very well for long. Making everything right has to be the gaol in a time when everyone has access to social platforms and review sites. More importantly, it’s the right thing to do. When people spend their hard-earned cash on your product or service, they expect you to solve whatever problem – hunger and thirst in this case-, brought them to you with a smile. If everything’s not right, you haven’t, have you?
A little reminder this Foodie Friday. I called one of my favorite taco places last night to place an order that I’d pick up. I ended up hanging up the phone without placing the order and the reason why I did so should be instructive for anyone who has customers (and what business doesn’t?).
The place we were ordering from serves very authentic tacos and other Mexican dishes. One of these is a torta – a sandwich – called a Toluquena. While there are minor variations on it depending on the place, it’s a pretty common menu item and I wanted one. I was also trying to get a plate of cheese enchiladas and a “wet” burrito. All of these things were on the restaurant’s menu.
A woman answered the phone. It took a few tries to get her to understand that I would come to pick up the food but once we had that squared away, I asked for the first item: the Toluquena. She didn’t understand. She asked if I meant a Tampiquena, which is a common steak dish but not what I wanted. “No, una torta – a sandwich.” A Tampiquena sandwich? No, a Toluquena. The next couple of minutes involved her getting the menu and pointing out to her where it was. It was sort of a sandwich “Who’s On First” routine.
We moved on to the enchiladas. Cheese enchiladas. “With chicken?” No, just cheese. “Chicken enchiladas?” Let’s try Spanish – “no, no carne, no pollo. Solamente queso.” She said she needed to go check, at which point it was time to hang up the phone. The odds of getting the food we wanted were quite long at that point and I was in no mood to eat something I didn’t order. We ended up driving to another taco place (just as good, by the way) and brought home exactly what we wanted.
The reminder is this. First, more folks are using the telephone to place orders to go these days for the obvious reasons. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the restaurant business or selling hardware or party goods. People want to call in and pick up. Next, because of this, the person or persons answering that phone need to know the products (or menu). In my case, the language wasn’t an issue – I speak enough Spanish to get by – but my guess is that the bulk of your customers speak English so your phone people should be able to as well.
This woman’s inability to handle our order didn’t just cost them last night’s business. The last time we ordered from this place we received the wrong food in our order having ordered over the phone and picked up. I love the food but I love getting the food I order even more. I probably won’t go back until I’m comfortable ordering in person (you can’t order online from this place either). When a customer service issue becomes routine, you’re in trouble.
Every customer interaction is a chance to shine. Every person who will be dealing with customers needs to have the training and resources they need to shine brightly, especially now. Make sense?