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Customer Service: It’s Not About the Pickles

Eric Thurston blog
Chick-fil-A is well known for its outstanding customer service (and amazingly efficient drive-thru). Whether it’s a friendly greeting from the cashier, quick service followed by a “My pleasure,” or going above and beyond to make up for an error, this business knows how to take care of customers and ensure they come back. I recently heard an anecdote from a Chick-fil-A franchise owner sharing his perspective on dealing with upset customers. To paraphrase, the owner said when a customer comes to him ranting about how their sandwich has no pickles, it’s not about the pickles. Most of the time, that person is simply having a bad day or has kids screaming in the backseat or any number of things that might make a small thing like missing pickles the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

This perspective got me thinking about customer service issues I’ve dealt with myself. Regardless of how amazing your organization’s customer service is—and TCP’s is top-notch—it is inevitable that you will have an upset customer from time to time. It made me realize that when a customer is unloading on me with their issue, it’s because they are probably in a “pickle” themselves. Their issue has them in hot water at work or their system isn’t working as expected and they want it fixed—now.

There’s power in this kind of realization and acceptance. By taking a moment to empathize with the customer, rather than responding defensively, you can immediately start to diffuse the situation. Stellar customer service has always been a distinguishing factor for TCP. As customer Rhonda Thornton has shared, “I’ve never had the word no said to us. It’s always been, let’s see what we can do to help you implement and do it well and do it right.” At the end of the day, good customer service isn’t the lack of having issues, it’s how you handle them.

Whether you’re working in food service, telecommunications, retail or technology, here are a few things I’ve learned about customer service.

    1) Listen & empathize: An attentive ear and a little empathy go a long way to appease an upset customer. Ask questions to ensure you have all the details you need to solve the problem.
    2) Make this a learning experience: These situations often highlight opportunities for improvement within your organization. In fact, at TCP, many of the features and enhancements of our software have come from customers coming to us with problems they couldn’t solve themselves.
    3) Follow up upon resolution of the issue: What may be considered a negative experience can be turned around by showing a sincere desire to correct the issue. In cases like Chick-fil-A, where most issues don’t require a follow up, they often offer a free meal coupon to conclude the situation on a positive note...and ensure they come back!
    4) Customer complaints aren’t necessarily a bad thing: Ultimately, a customer who comes to you demanding a fix to an issue is far better than the kind who doesn’t. Those are the ones who may take their business elsewhere without even giving you the opportunity to resolve it.

So, next time you’re having an uncomfortable conversation with a dissatisfied customer, take a deep breath and repeat after me: it’s not about the pickles. Empathize with their situation and work towards a resolution. As they say, everyone is fighting some kind of battle: be kind always.

Want to read more from CEO Eric Thurston? Check out more from his ”How I See It” blog series.