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A tale of two service experiences

Used under CC0 license from https://pixabay.com/en/man-person-happy-waiter-worker-439040/

Let me say right off the bat that one experience was amazingly good, and the other strangely bad. But even the tale of the bad one isn’t a mere complaint; it’s insight into how you can easily compete against such.

First, the strangely bad

On the way to church this morning I pulled through McDonald’s. I usually get the Sausage McMuffin, at least partly because it costsjust a little over a buck. Yes, I am cheap. My favorite is the Sausage McMuffin with Egg, which until recently cost $3.69. Though my favorite, I seldom get it unless it’s on sale because I resist the idea that an egg is worth $2.40. Objectively, that doesn’t make much sense since many other restaurants with a similar sandwich charge more, and I know they use the cheaper sandwich as a loss leader.

Still, it feels like I’m paying $2.40 for an egg.

But this morning the Sausage Egg McMuffin had moved to the $3 menu—a bit of savings—and the app on my phone said I could get a free hash brown with the order of a breakfast sandwich. In my mind, then, I’m not paying $3 for just the sandwich, but for the sandwich and the side. Bargain!

I ordered at the faceless machine for the drive-thru, in a hurry to get to church, and when I pulled up to the window the young lady said, “That’ll be $4.69.”

No greeting, just a price, and wrong at that. But I chalked it up to her not having scanned the app yet. So I held up my phone. She shot it with a scanner, looked back at the cash register, then back to me, and said, “That’ll be $4.69.”

No change of inflection. No explanation. Nothing.

“Did it not take off the hash brown?” I asked.

She checked the cash register again, then turned back to me and said, “It says the offer does not qualify.” And stopped.

“But the offer is for a free hash brown with a breakfast sandwich. Isn’t a Sausage McMuffin with Egg a breakfast sandwich?”

She shrugged. “That’s just what it says.”

Silence.

After an awkward pause, I finally said, “OK, then take off the hash brown.”

“You don’t want the hash brown?”

“No, I don’t want the hash brown.”

“OK. That’ll be $3.29.”

I didn’t ask for a manager myself because I was in a hurry to get to church. But if this child had had an ounce of initiative, she would have said something like, “You know what, that’s clearly a mistake. Let me get my manager.”

[Update: I have since figured out that the offer didn’t apply because the Sausage McMuffin with Egg had recently moved to the new $3 Value Menu. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the order taker had been able to explain that, or had any interest in figuring it out?]

I paid, then pulled to the pickup window. The young man there looked me straight in the eye and handed me the bag without saying a word. I said, “Thank you.” I’m pretty sure he gave a single nod (though I’m not sure—it could have been a twitch), and then he turned away.

To be fair, he could be deaf. He could be mute. Perhaps he doesn’t speak English. I’m quite willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, though I suspect he suffers from the same lack of awareness and social skills his order-taking partner does.

Blame the store management for a lack of training? Perhaps they didn’t do a good job of vetting people when hiring? Maybe they’re faced with an impossible labor pool benumbed by public school, social media, and video games?

I’m really not seeking to blame anyone here. I just have a concrete, factual observation: unless and until that young lady (because she clearly was neither deaf nor mute and spoke English) starts using her brain for something other than keeping her skull from collapsing, she will doom herself to a lifetime of unsatisfying jobs—assuming she can even manage to keep the one she has.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that with so many out there like this, competing against them presents little challenge.

Just notice what’s going on around you. Pay attention to customers. Smile, for God’s sake. I don’t mean the fake cheerfulness that wears on you to keep the mask on day after day when you actually hate your job. I mean getting interested in other human beings in a way that can completely transform your experience of your job. Who knows, you might actually come to love your job! When you do, you’ll either get a raise, or someone else will hire you away.

Which leads me to…

The amazingly good

Please note that the first person in this narrative fits exactly the same age category as the people in the last narrative. So this is no diatribe against an entire generation.

Tonight my wife sent me to a new gourmet donut shop. We thought we wanted to try it, but we probably wouldn’t keep going because the donuts and sandwiches were too expensive.

[Note clearly: they do not know I’m writing this, and I get nothing from it. This is just my experience, and I’m glad to tell you about a good place. If you’re in East Tennessee, check them out.]

When I walked into the small shop, a young lady immediately greeted me with, “Hi! Have you been here before?”

When I said it was my first time, she said, “Would you like me to walk you through how it all works?” They have a variety of options, and so a newcomer needs a little guidance, but I said my wife had read about them online and had given me clear orders about what to get.

That brought a smile from her, and then she efficiently took my order, calling it to the back while continuing to interact with me.

They make the sandwiches to order, but mine came out in less time than it took me to read three short emails. The young man brought the sandwiches out to me rather than calling me over, and held the door open for me since I used a cane. As he held the door, I commented on their location in the five-store strip mall: “I think I see the wisdom in you being at this end and the weight-loss place being at the other end!”

Not a profound observation, but he laughed and said, “Yeah, we chose the place well. We wanted to tempt the weight-loss people, plus the liquor store over there draws a lot of people for us, we’re located just below that traffic light, and we also wanted to challenge the [chain donut store] over on that corner.”

“At least the weight-loss place is uphill from here. That should help.”

Again he chuckled and bid me a good day.

It doesn’t end here.

I put the food in my car and remembered we had wanted to explore the new store in the middle of the strip mall, a large bargain-type store. It immediately struck me as somewhere between a Big Lots and a Goodwill store. (If you don’t know Big Lots, they are for people who think Kmart is too snooty.) The merchandise wasn’t bad, but the word “organization” would only loosely apply. Obviously, most of the merchandise consisted of overruns, factory seconds, and damaged-package items.

You can’t go to such a place with a shopping list, but you can sometimes find neat surprises for 70 or 80% off, almost like an indoor garage sale.

As I poked around the back of the large store, I looked up to see the young man from the donut shop headed toward me carrying a box.

“Sir,” he said, “You also ordered a caramel long john with candied bacon, and I missed giving it to you. I wanted to bring it to you.”

I’m fairly sure I gaped stupidly at him for a second, then said, “You tracked me down over here for that?”

“Sure did. Here you go!” He handed me the box and headed out of the store at an efficient clip. The donut shop overflowed customers, so he needed to get back, but he took the time to make sure this one got taken care of.

I think I see why so many ate there. They had good food, but they had better business sense.

What a difference!

It’s not rocket science. The simple act of caring is so rare as to make it a secret sauce, accessible by anyone.

Your ability to compete with others who have the same degrees as you will depend not on your technical abilities, but on your ability to communicate with people. If you make it to a job interview, you are qualified for the job, but so is everyone else who makes it to the job interview level. Obviously, you have to have the qualifications, but lots of people have the qualifications. Employers make the final decision based on who will be a good “fit.” That’s simple communication skills—simple, but rare.


About the writer

Donn King helps you communicate confidently. He writes a lot, too, a habit he hasn’t been able to break for nearly 50 years. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.