Operations – Firing A Customer

by Dave Ostrander

In my 30-plus-year career, I have done everything humanly possible to make the guest experience positive. Nothing was out of bounds. If they were not having a great meal or pizza I made it right, right then. My staff was truly empowered to do whatever it took to turn around an unhappy customer.

You and I have all seen the good, the bad and the ugly of customer service. I wonder why we rarely experience unforgettable service. After all, it’s relatively free. I’m convinced that management has not trained the staff to deliver even mediocre service. I’m convinced that staff mimics management.

We decided to hire tough and then manage softly. By waiting for the new hires that had ‘The Right Stuff’, we rarely had to deal with attitude. With positive attitudes everywhere, we were able to give the crew that ‘At Your Service’ mentality. Sure, we had our share of meltdowns during rushes and when under mega pressure times. These incidents were very short lived and the kitchen comedians kicked in with humor to salvage the moment.

I was very subtle in the messages I sent my crew. One of the messages they received was stamped across every paycheck they ever got at Big Dave’s. The seven magic words in big red letters were ‘A LOYAL CUSTOMER MADE THIS PAYCHECK POSSIBLE.’ A large banner at the customer order area shouted; YOU’RE THE BOSS AT BIG DAVE’S. I coined little acronyms like: SIN, Solve it Now, and TLC, Think Like a Customer. XOG, Hugs and Kisses, Grandma, never say anything to a customer you wouldn’t say to your Grandma.

Last week I overheard a manager griping to the owner about a perpetually rude customer. I listened up but held my tongue. I almost always side with the ncustomer, and give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, they pay all the bills and feed my family. It seems that this particular customer had been verbally abusive for a long time. Nothing was ever right and he was always looking for a freebie. The owner and manager asked my advice. I asked for the details, and they said he was a swearing, threatening, pain in the you-knowwhat.  No one liked to take his phone order or his following call of complaint.  I told them I would fire him — just like the Donald on “The Apprentice.” I have personally exercised this right five times in two million pizzas. This was hard, but it had to be done. _ese situations almost always come down to the fact that the customer cannot ever be happy and you almost always end up remaking the order or listening to a guilt trip. This is a lose-lose situation. Ain’t nobody happy.

These customers are either professional verbal abusers or actual recipients of poor service and food. Either way, you cannot win. Since our job is to guarantee customer satisfaction we just have to let someone else deliver it.

My advice was to call the customer and tell him that, try as we might, we just cannot get it right when it comes to making him happy. I would explain to him that this is really distressing to us and we are sure it must be for him also. Therefore, we suggest that he buy all of his future pizzas from our competitor down the street. I really hope they will better serve him and to prove my heart is in the right place I have purchased a $20 gift certificate from my competitor’s pizzeria for him to use on his next pizza purchase. Would he like me to mail it or have a driver drop it off? I have ordered my staff not to process any more orders to your address or phone number and have so noted that in my database. Three out of the five times when I have implemented this tactic, the customer has humbly apologized in time and was allowed back into the fold. The other two went away. But because I had empathized with their issues and provided the gift certificate, they had a hard time badmouthing my restaurant.

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