From Where I Sit – An Opportunity Lost

Conventional wisdom in business circles says it takes at least six times as much money to attract a new customer as it does to hang onto an old one. This is not a state secret or rocket science. It makes sense to address customer complaints promptly and mitigate the damage an unhappy customer can do.

Many businesses incorporate the notion of customer service and satisfaction into their mission statements, signage and advertising. Some businesses hire consultants to develop images and do the branding required to get noticed in a world of endless choices. As consumers, we hold incredible power. We can decide which businesses will receive our hard-earned money and which we will avoid like the plague. The decision will be the result of a complex mix of logical facts and gut emotions. It may be made in an instant or after days of nagging thought. It could be a bad-taste-in-your-mouth kind of feeling of dissatisfaction or a feeling that generates a warm-the-heart kind of glow.

Given all of this, I’m hard-pressed to explain why the employees of Boston Pizza located in Fort Saskatchewan dropped the ball. Roy and I ate a meal there on May 4, 2006. I put the bill of $35.35 on my credit card. Imagine my shock to see the transaction appearing twice on my statement.

“Oh, crap, now I suppose I have to fight this,” was my first reaction. Is it my word against theirs? Because this was a board-incurred expense, I had already submitted the receipt to the CEO of the board for reimbursement. I needed to email him, have him locate the receipt and fax me a copy of it. I needed to gather up the fax, the credit card statement and drive to Fort Saskatchewan. Was I happy at this extra aggravation? Was I thinking happy thoughts about Boston Pizza?

I arrived at the restaurant on May 31, 2006 and quietly explained what happened. Michelle, the supervisor, stared at me in disbelief. Eventually, she explained that the system prevents a credit card from being swiped twice. She has no idea how it could have happened. Without prompting, she reaches into the cash drawer and gives me $35.35 in cash. She asks to make copies of both my receipt and credit card statement. She urges me to black out any important numbers with a Sharpie felt pen. She promises to discuss this error with, I believe her name is Bobbie, the general manager. Michelle stated she would have the general manager call me. At no time does she apologize, on behalf of the waitress or the restaurant, for the mistake or my inconvenience. I am now officially ticked.

“What do you normally do in a case like this when a customer is ticked off and inconvenienced in this way? Because, we all know the power of word of mouth — both positive and negative,” I said. “Oh, I couldn’t possibly make that decision without talking to the manager. Is your number on there? She’ll call you,” was Michelle’s reply.

It’s now June 13, 2006. Boston Pizza’s silence is deafening. An apology, a gift certificate or even some lousy Air Miles would have done it for me. It is a lost opportunity to save a customer, from where I sit.

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