Understand the Rules Customer Service

One unhappy shopping experience can influence the behavior of 16 customers. Can you afford to lose that business?

By Jim Callahan.

Great customer service is still and will always be the hallmark of any successful retail business. As convenience store operators we have high standards to compete with.

For example, it is standard practice in most all full-service restaurants for the server or manager to ask customers how they are enjoying their meal. In the vast majority of instances the reply back from the customer is that the food was good or satisfactory. How many times have you heard or uttered that the food or service were sub par and seen a stunned deer in the headlights look from the face of the person asking the question? This to me is a huge disconnect and a sure sign that this part of the training regimen was neglected.

Satisfying Customers
I was recently called on to handle a customer complaint by a c-store chain with a restaurant and the experience was the genesis for a new training session. A customer that called in an order was unhappy that her French fries were soggy by the time she picked them up. Instead, the customer asked to swap the fries for a baked potato. The customer claimed they arrived within the correct timeframe and the employees contend that she was 30 minutes late. While we agreed to substitute the baked potato, the customer alleged that the cook uttered a remark under his breath.  The cook’s story varied greatly. He denied the remark and claimed the customer became unruly.

I called the customer within a few minutes of finding out about the issue and found her to be grateful for the call and quite reasonable. I apologized for her unpleasant dining experience (even if she had been in the wrong, it was still a bad dining experience for her) and explained that I would address it with the staff and order some additional training.

While she did not wish for anyone to get in trouble, I tried unsuccessfully to give her a free meal for two and then offered her a $25 gas card. I couldn’t let the incident go because I sensed I had not sufficiently closed the deal. I told her that while I couldn’t sing or dance for her, I hoped the card would be a suitable replacement.

Much to my surprise she asked why I couldn’t sing for her over the phone. Now I love a challenge and the bluesy lyrics of Bill Withers “Ain’t No Sunshine” came to mind so I belted out a few rhymes to win her over: “Ain’t no sunshine when were rude, got to change that attitude.” Fortunately, she started to laugh and I felt like I made that crucial connection to restoring her faith in us. We quickly agreed on giving the gift card to a local minister, much to her delight.

The Rule of 16 magnifies the importance of satisfying each and every customer. Simply stated the rule teaches us that a satisfied customer is likely to tell as many as five friends or acquaintances about their good experience. Conversely, an unhappy customer will share their negative experience with 10 others immediately after the experience–and they don’t necessarily have to be friends. They can speak ill of your organization online or just in line with strangers at the bank. I figure the average customer spends roughly $1,888 in our stores annually. The potential to negatively influence 16 total customers could cost your store $30,218 annually.

In today’s economy no chain can afford that kind of loss. The lesson here is to handle customer complaints quickly and effectively to keep your customers satisfied.

Jim Callahan has more than 40 years of experience as a convenience store and petroleum marketer. His Convenience Store Solutions blog appears regularly on CSDecisions.com. He can be reached at (678) 485-4773 or via e-mail at jfcallahan502@msn.com.



  1. cstoreoffice1 says:

    i read your whole post and i would like to say that the customer service rules you provide us is really helpful thanks for sharing this info with us!!!

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