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How Customer Service Can Neglect Customer Care

When it comes to customer experience, the height of efficiency can take you to a low of satisfaction. Here are two recent personal observations: the first from a small, local eatery during the recent, challenging winter season, and the second from a large restaurant chain that’s new in town.

Efficiency Isn’t Everything

A nasty winter brings a lot of mess into a storefront. Retailers have to cope with dirty, melted snow getting tracked in, over and over again. Keeping things tidy makes the environment more pleasant, and also prevents slips and falls. In times of bad weather, it’s a boon to have employees who care about maintaining order rather than waiting for someone else to handle the cleanup.

In my recent visit to this independently-owned establishment, two of the four tables were occupied, one of them by me. The other two tables had just turned over. Seeing her chance to clean up, the counterperson sprayed and wiped the vacated tables. The antiseptic smell was strong, but it faded quickly.

Given the lull in traffic, the counterperson also saw an opportunity to clean the floor. She pulled out a mop and swabbed vigorously to sop up the puddles of melted snow that had been tracked in. Because she was more efficient than nuanced, she dragged the metal back of the mop head over and over the pebbled surface of the floor, making quite an unpleasant racket.

As she mopped closer and closer to the two occupied tables, including the one where I was sitting, I took in whiff after whiff of a cleaning product that was not at all complementary to my lunch.

It’s so hard to balance having everything in good working order with giving customers an experience they can enjoy. This woman works diligently and with good will. It just happens that she sees her tasks much more clearly than she sees the people that her work affects.

Sometimes you can’t find everything you need in a single package. This restaurant’s owner needs careful and hard working people, like this woman. It’s very difficult to teach people to step back and see the forest, not just the trees — particularly if their vantage point is even more specific, and they’re mostly looking at the bark.

Customers Are People, Too

On a whim, Spouse and I decided to try a new restaurant in town rather than an old favorite. We were already in the car, so I called to ask about a reservation in 15 minutes. “Oh, we don’t take ‘call-aheads,’” said the fellow who answered the phone, “but we have tables if you’re really here by then.”

“We’re ‘call-aheads,’” I announced to my husband, “and they don’t take them, but it sounds like they’ll seat us, so let’s go.” At the restaurant’s front desk, I greeted the young receptionist, and asked for a table for two without mentioning our unacceptable calling-ahead.

“You’re ‘walk-ins,’” she said. “Just a minute.” And within a few minutes we were seated, although at a table you wouldn’t really want — much too close to the exit point from the kitchen. There was one table even closer to the kitchen and worse than ours, apparently being saved for even later “walk-ins,” as better tables were still available in the main seating area.

This was a big place, highly organized, with various people delivering food items and checking on us at different points in our meal. But we felt like bystanders to the restaurant’s processes and jargon. The employees were tightly scripted to handle their generic idea of customers as efficiently as they could, and for our 75-minute visit, they just happened to be handling us, including labeling us twice as a kind of event instead of thinking of us as people.

In both dining-out experiences, the staff seemed to treat customers as mere pieces of work, things to be done, rather than as the heart of their work, the very substance of the restaurant’s existence.

What kind of customer experience are you trying to create?

Onward and upward,


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