The Cycle Of Service Starts At Your Website

January 2, 2012

My daughter and I just returned from lunch at Rose’s Café. As always, the service was fast and extremely friendly, and the food was delicious. I’ve never had a bad experience at Rose’s.

But Rose’s is not where we planned to eat lunch today. We walked in and right back out of Campo at about 11:08 today.

My daughter’s 18th birthday is fast approaching, and she wants to celebrate by hosting a special dinner with her friends. She asked me for recommendations, and I suggested Campo. I’ve never eaten at Campo, but I’ve heard great things about it from one of my Facebook connections. We decided last night to have lunch at Campo today so she could check it out before planning her birthday event.

I checked the Campo website, and it clearly said they open at 11 am. I went to the gym early this morning and told my daughter to get up and ready earlier than usual so we could head downtown by 10:45 am. We parked in the parking garage and walked the two blocks to Campo. The doors were open when we arrived about 11:08, but when we got inside, we were told that lunch did not start until 11:30. I told the hostess the website says they open at 11, and she politely replied “sorry.” She invited us to have a seat and wait, but I felt the wrong information at the website had already wasted my time and I was not willing to let them waste another 20 minutes. As we left, we walked past the owner standing outside the restaurant. We don’t know each other, but I recognized his picture from his website. I once again said “your website says you open at 11” and he politely replied “sorry, we need to change that; we open at 11:30.”

At 11:30, we had already walked the two blocks back to the parking garage, driven to Roses, ordered, and were taking the first bites of our exceptional sandwiches.

A company website frames expectations and makes the initial promise of satisfaction to customers. Campo failed the cycle of service with me when their operations did not deliver as their website promised. It was reasonable for me to expect them to be open at 11 am because their website said they would be, and it was reasonable for me to be very unhappy when I was on time but they were not.

They made a mistake, but they could have easily recovered from that failure – if they had seen it as a service failure, which they clearly did not. To compensate for their mistake and our inconvenience, they could have simply offered us some complementary coffee while we waited or a complementary drink or dessert with our lunch. A large gesture was not necessary, but some gesture was. I’m sure they thought their polite apologies were enough, but I interpreted those to mean “we really don’t care.”

If you can avoid it, never let a customer leave your business unhappy, and never let someone that walks through your doors with the intention of making a purchase leave without spending money. Campo lost a good lunch ticket today, but they also lost a much larger dinner party sale and my free word-of-mouth marketing. They did not give me the opportunity to do for them what they cannot do for themselves – recommend them to my friends.

Check your company website right now and fix any inaccurate information.  Review your entire cycle of service and make sure you have procedures in place to meet or exceed your customers’ reasonable expectations and to recover impressively when you don’t. If you leave impressive customer service to chance, chances are it might not happen. Never forget that the cycle of service often starts long before the customer ever walks through your front doors.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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Comments (32)

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  1. mark estee says:

    i like what you have written here. these are all valid points and trust me, i look for places we have missed the chance to make people happy all the time. As a customer, if you HAD taken the time to sit down and wait, i am sure what you had written would have taken place for you and your daughter. I am sorry that you had to run out. We falied you in the posted time (we fixed this directly after) BUT i promise had you stayed we would have made it right. As a service provider, we strive for perfection, as a customer, when i am out there as one, if there is a mistake, we need to be open to letting it be fixed and accepting that. Thank you for trying to come to Campo and i hope you come back! please ask for me so i can make up the mistake to you! best, mark estee

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Mark. I’m sure your food is as good as I’ve heard it is. I’ve had my say, and I’m very glad you took the time to share your thoughts and side of the story. Best wishes on your new endeavor. Thanks, Bret

  2. Mike Moore says:

    It is too easy to “fail(ed)the cycle of service” where such a commitment is not a core part of the mission. Too many make commitments as a “marketing” technique but aren’t committed to delivering. It’s the “be careful what you commit to” viewpoint.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    To me Mike, the proof is always in the proverbial pudding. Every transaction is critical. Thanks! Bret

  3. Hi Bret. You are one tough customer! And of course, you are correct. In today’s highly competitive marketplace, the customer always has alternative choices. I agree with you that an initial promise has to be fulfilled. Branding and positioning creates expectations and the product or service must fulfill those expectations.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I am, Chris, and with no apologies! This establishment is not cheap, so part of their brand signals excellence. When you send those signals through your brand, every detail matters – more so than it does at Rose’s Cafe. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Bret

  4. Steven Murphy says:

    After reading this blog and the reply of the Mark Estee I decided to check the Campo website to see if the problem had been fixed. Unfortunately a potential customer checking the website would in the same situation you found yourself.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Steven. I did the same thing, found exactly what you describe, and was baffled. Thanks for pointing this out! Bret

  5. Jim Taggart says:

    Indifference breeds sloth which produces lost business which results in going out of business. What amazes me in your story, Bret, is that the U.S. economy continues to limp along while businesses fight (in your case) for stomach share. Yet the owner of this business doesn’t seem to care.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    What I don’t get, Jim, is how indifferent we are as customers. If I had sat and waited the 20 minutes for them to open as I was asked to do, I would essentially be colluding poor business practices. Yes, everyone makes mistakes, but stop making excuses and fix it! Thanks, Bret

    Jim Taggart Reply:

    You’re correct, Bret. But we Canadians are even more tolerant of crappy service than Americans. It’s pretty pathetic what we put up with, whther in stores or restaurants. Maybe it’s because of my age (56) but I’ve become a bit of a consumer Nazi in recent years. My adult kids think it’s a riot.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Interesting point about the cultural differences in service expectations. I’ve spent some time in Canada and remember noticing the difference in service when we ate out. Thanks, Bret

  6. mark estee says:

    this has been a great experience for me. as a chef and sole owner of Campo i have been forced to make sure i have the tools at my disposal to make changes to website and copy (not my strong point) i can add webmaster to my resume now! thanks for catching that for me! hope to see you for lunch!!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I actually love your website, Mark. In so many ways it is better than 90% of the small business websites out there. The best thing about the site is the blog, which has tremendous potential to make your site a true inbound marketing hub – something really rare in Reno or anywhere. I also like being able to find menus and the fact that you posted a picture of yourself. I recognized you when I saw you yesterday, which sent a strong positive signal. Hours of operation seem like a minor detail, but it is an important one. It’s easy to fix, move on, and keep improving. Thanks for being part of this conversation! Bret

  7. It looks like Campo (never heard of it) missed a great opportunity to engage you and keep you interested. I agree that offering a cup of coffee or other beverage while you wait may have done the trick.

    If the hostess was unable to make a simple decision like this, she should have asked to step away and talk to her supervisor about what they could do to make your wait more pleasant.

    Another good scenario is if the owner took a few minutes and sat down to chat with you. Maybe they could have set up a table a few minutes early because of their error.

    As a customer experience manager, it kills me when I hear of employees and owners who blow it big time! thanks for sharing 😀 Miriam

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome back, Miriam. I think it’s just an awareness issue. For me it was a critical moment, but he just was not framed to interpret the events that way. As you know, that stuff is easy to train for. Thanks! Bret

  8. I think there are many small business owners who have not yet realized the true power of the Internet. On the one hand, you have the 20-somethings who are ONLY now finding new businesses through such avenues as Google searches, Yelp reviews, Facebook recommendations, and iPhone apps while on the other hand, you have people who are still using the phonebook, clipping coupons from the newspaper, or who are relying on radio and television advertisements for local market information. Never before has there been such a need for a good marketing to capture ancillary business. For example, this holiday season I visited a local meat shop in Omaha, NE that my dad used to frequent as a small child with my grandmother. I noticed they had some amazing looking beef jerky in addition to some unique, local gifts. But when I asked if they had an online store, they just looked at me and laughed. (However I did later find that they do have an information web site: Point being: in not all cases does your business need an information-packed, up-to-date web site to be successful, but depending on who your target market is, whether or not you want to grow, be found, or even be taken seriously – it’s definitely something worth considering.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Tiffany! You make some great points in your comments. I do think there is tremendous opportunity for small business in this space, and it really is not that difficult, but it does require the informational web portion of your profile to be accurate. Thanks for sharing! Bret

  9. Kevin Jones says:

    It’s pretty common for some nice restaurants to open at 11 and only start serving at 11:30-12. While I agree they could have said it better, by no means does it warrant a blog post calling them out individually.

    There is something very valuable about Mark not only responding to this post, but also updating the site in a timely manner. I think your preconceptions should go out the window immediately and give him a second chance. Any business that’s willing to engage that well and try to remedy the situation (as well as promising to make it up to you if you return) is doing something right by my book.

    This blog post would have been just as compelling to businesses had you not called out one in particular and targeted them individually.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Kevin. I appreciate you sharing these thoughts because I know many feel as you do, that I should not have been critical about a business by name. Let me start by agreeing with you, Mark has been a great contributor to this conversation. By responding to my concerns, he has earned my business so I can evaluate his food and service separately. He has done EXACTLY what every small business person should do and I respect that a lot. I will spend money in his restaurant and post my honest review on Yelp, as I do everywhere I eat.

    I don’t want to write a long response defending my actions, because given the nature of my job (management professor) and the topic of this blog I am comfortable that the content, while direct, was professional and hopefully helpful to other small businesses. But I do respect that others might disagree with my assessment – that’s just comes with the territory.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!! Bret

  10. Keith says:

    Thanks for sharing your suggestion on how to recover from failing to meet a customers expectation. This priciple to use a “plus” to cancel a “delta” is a valuable practice I intend to implement. I confess, my human nature is to pull back from someone who tells me I have not met their expectations but as you point out the business owner should always focus on filling the void in expectations. It is not good enough to feel sorry expectations have not been met.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Keith. Great point that it’s our human nature to not like bad news, but frankly its the only way we can learn and improve. Thanks for sharing! Bret

  11. Bret,
    I couldn’t agree with you more on the importance of keeping your website accurate. In addition, when misinformation is on their website they should rectify the problem in some shape or form with the customer. Your situation is similar to when a store has the wrong price listed on a product. If it is a good store they will give you the sticker price even if it has changed just to maintain their integrity and reputation as a store. Thanks for sharing your experience. Brandon

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome back, Brandon! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and glad to see you are blogging again! Bret

  12. Beth says:

    Hi Bret,

    Great post, great comments.

    To me it’s all about setting expectations. Whether on your website, or at your brick-and-mortar point of service, all messaging needs to be clear, coordinated, correct, and current. Period. Otherwise, expectations are likely to get misplaced, and service can suffer, especially when and where it most impacts customer satisfaction.

    In my experience, the job of Messaging Creation is highly specialized within many service organizations. Marketing, PR, products, customer service, training, legal, finance and operations groups may all be creating text to populate web pages, telephone call scripts, voice prompts, employee training programs, disclaimers, media ads, in-store print materials, stock responses or store signage. These groups essentially aim to meet the same business objectives while hitting various target points of customer interaction. And that’s all good. The problem occurs when these departments don’t talk to each other well.

    Since this work is spread out among several originators, coordination is key. Otherwise messaging can be a minefield. Your end users or customers can get conflicting impressions about even basic truths (such as hours of operation) not to mention lawsuit-generating misconceptions about important policies.

    Any time that messaging is unclear, uncoordinated, incorrect or not current, organizations risk dissatisfying their customers and ultimately eroding the trust their users have in their brand.

    So you would think this would merit a special systematized focus from the start, right? Unfortunately, also in my experience, messaging coordination and confirmation is often somewhat random — “hey, why is that banner still up, that promotion was over last month” — because it’s dependent on faulty assumptions about who is noticing what. Success can be the culprit here: as companies grow, they generate increased layers to the communications creation process, but not enough inherent watch-dogging keeps pace as management roles multiply or diversify.

    My best quick tip for organizations who are having this issue is to establish a formal reporting system whereby customer-facing staff can question or report bad messaging, including a small but desirable reward for catching errors. These empoloyees are the ones who have to deal with customers who are irate due to poorly-set expectations, so they have a built-in motivation for setting things right — but many times there is no channel for them to do so.

    Which brings up another deadly side effect of bad messaging: employee apathy. If your troops don’t think you care enough about your clients to be fanatical about telling them the right thing, then they will without hesitation pass on the perceived shrug to your customers.

    And we’ve all been on THAT receiving end, haven’t we?

    Give them a means to report and correct bad messaging, and they will use it.

    Caring is contagious. Communicating is cyclical. Both are fueled by top leadership’s commitment to service excellence. Constantly re-tuning your own service perspective as a leader will push you to develop systems to counter bad messaging, which will help you avoid the communications gaffes that end up turning your customers — and your clerks — into cynics.

    Just my take – – Beth

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Beth, Beth, Beth… YOU really should be blogging! But you know how much I respect your thoughts and opinions. Thanks once again for sharing! Bret

  13. Greg Blencoe says:


    I just found your blog yesterday and have enjoyed looking through your recent posts.

    I view the situation in a similar manner in that the lack of an adequate response was the big problem. Mistakes are going to happen, but it’s a bit surprising that the owner wasn’t more aggressive in taking action to make up for what happened.

    Another big problem is the example that it sets for other employees. If the owner doesn’t aggressively correct problems right when they happen, then employees are likely to do the same.

    But I think it’s wonderful that he posted that nice comment here. And it’s a reminder how how many different skills are required in the restaurant business. I can imagine that owning and running a restaurant must be REALLY challenging.

    Looking forward to future posts!


    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Greg. Great point about the possible example set for employees. I actually think this guy has a LOT of good stuff going on and sets a great example, but as you point out the stakes and standards are high. Like your blog as well. Thanks for visiting and sharing. Bret

  14. mark estee says:

    I am writing back to say that a few weeks after the situation, we were able to use this as a wake up call. So this has been a very positive experience for my business. Every little inch will be inspected and re inspected by customers and in a living and breathing place such as a restaurant all this needs to be weighed out in a sensible manner as the owner. Our host staff, our managers, our service staff are all on the look out for ways to make people happy. We ask our people to get the most joy out of work when they are able to make the guests happy. Now if any of you have ever worked in a restaurant, you know that is not always possible. And regarding the interaction of that day when Bret left down the stairs, i was asking him to “wait a second” and let me take care of the him, but he was in the mode to leave, it was too late. Needless to day, we ended up meeting at Campo one day and i think the blog and the insights of the people who write in are great tools in my toolbox and i am grateful to be a part of the process. thanks again. mark

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I don’t mind businesses that make mistakes, Mark, but I do mind them not caring enough to listen to customers and strive to improve. You obviously care a lot about both your business and your employees, which I find impressive. I am actually coming back to your property tomorrow night with a colleague and a job candidate from out of town. Keep up the great work, Mark!

  15. mark says:

    Ahhh..was great to go back and re read this blog and all the comments. Love to Learn!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    You were awesome last night. Thanks! Bret