Caring for Customers. Which Door Will You Choose?

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I have many guilty pleasures during the holidays – generally food-related. One of my biggest is eggnog and in recent years I’ve grown to love eggnog lattes. They’re sweet, creamy, and delicious with just a hint of coffee flavor. One cold, rainy December evening, after the kids were in bed, I had to have one. I ventured to a local coffee shop for my drink of choice and a hot chocolate for my wife.

When I pulled up to the drive through window, I ordered the hot chocolate without a problem. But when I ordered the latte, the barista informed me that they were out of eggnog. It was unclear if they were out of eggnog for the evening or for the entire season and I didn’t ask. After pondering alternatives for a few moments I decided that if I wasn’t having an eggnog latte, I wasn’t having anything. I said, “Ok thanks. I’ll just have the one drink then.” I paid for the hot chocolate and drove off.

It’s normal for a business to run out of an item, right? That doesn’t diminish the fact, however that the coffee shop lost out on three dollars and some change that night. It’s probably not a huge hit to their bottom line unless a bunch of customers were craving eggnog lattes and were sent away with empty stomachs. So should we just accept this as the status quo and move on? As I drove away I couldn’t help but replay this encounter in my head and imagine what would happen if the barista had thought outside of the box just a bit to take better care of me, the customer.

This sort of thing comes up fairly often in customer service where, for whatever reason, we don’t have a solution and we feel compelled to say something like “Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do for you.” But is there really NOTHING we can do? If our goal is to take care of the customer, by using a little bit of creativity, we find that we do have some options at our disposal. I like to think of these as alternative doors we can walk through. Let’s explore some creative alternatives where the barista could have avoided saying no in this situation.

Door #1- Not now but maybe later.

Rather than saying, “Sorry, we’re out of eggnog,” the barista could have said, “Sorry, we’re out of eggnog, but we may have more tomorrow if you want to stop back in.” This option is only slightly better than the original. The barista did keep the door open by inviting me to try again later, but I’d prefer something a bit more definitive. This would be a great opportunity to offer some sort of a rain check and say, “Since we didn’t have the drink you were looking for, here’s a free drink coupon on us.”

Door #2- One to say yes, two to say no.

The barista could have said, “Sorry, we’re out of eggnog, and to be honest, I’m not sure if we’ll have any more this season. Can you stand by while I ask my boss what the plan is?” Regardless of the answer from the boss, this response gives the customer some confidence that the barista isn’t merely misinformed or being lazy. It’s that whole “one to say yes, two to say no principle” and it’s a good check and balance so we don’t say no unless there truly are no other options.

Door #3- How about an alternative?

The barista could have dug just a bit deeper to better understand my underlying issue and need. “Sorry, we’re out of eggnog, but we do have TONS of other drinks. What do you love about the eggnog latte in particular?” I might have responded with something like, “Well I was really wanting something sweet and creamy with a hint of coffee flavor.” And then the barista might have said, “You’re in luck! We have tons of drinks that fit that description. What about a vanilla latte with half the espresso and two pumps of caramel syrup?” At this point it’s clear to all reading this article that I have no clue about coffee beverages — but the barista most certainly does and they should be equipped to suggest viable alternatives that are attractive to the customer.

Door #4- OK, let’s start thinking outside of the box.

Door number four is a bit more outside of the box. The barista could have said, “Wow it sounds like you really want an eggnog latte. Let’s make that happen for you. Do you see that store over there? If you’ll run over there and get a pint of eggnog and bring it to me, I’ll make you an eggnog latte at no extra charge.” While this would require some effort on my part, I may have actually taken the barista up on the offer. I likely would have offered to pay something for the drink as well, or I would have at least left a nice tip.

Door #5- Now, let’s go WAY outside of the box.

Last one. Now imagine that the barista said, “Wow it sounds like you really want an eggnog latte. I am going to make that happen for you. See that store over there? If you can pull into a parking spot, I’m gonna run over there and get some eggnog and make you that latte. Can you wait an extra five minutes or so?” Had the barista offered that I would have said “Yes” to the wait, I would have paid full price for the drink, I would have left a nice tip, and this article would be all about how that barista had provided me with incredible service.

It’s important to note that if the barista was working by themselves or there was a huge line of cars behind me, this might have been logistically impossible and even irresponsible because of the negative impact to other customers.

Back to reality

I’ve just shared a recent customer service encounter where I was told “No” and presented five alternative responses an employee could have given with varying degrees of associated WOW factor. One might look at doors one through three and think that they’re fairly attainable alternatives for most support teams right now. Door three is what great customer service professionals naturally do. They are experts at marrying their extensive understanding of the product or service they support with the customer’s both stated and underlying needs.

Doors four and five on the other hand might set off alarm bells for some support professionals. Sure there are those companies that go to great lengths to take care of customers and they’re spoken of often because this kind of service is ingrained in their entire culture as a company. I don’t know about you but I love hearing the stories and reading viral posts about these WOW customer experiences. But the reality for many companies is that this level of creativity is up to executives to determine the parameters of how far they’re willing and able to go for customers — especially if it represents a large commitment of time, money, or both.

In the end simply saying, “Sorry, we’re out of eggnog” isn’t an acceptable response. In a brick and mortar store you can literally watch the customer walk out of the store with their money still in their wallet — and they may not ever come back!

My challenge to customer support professionals is to never stop being creative. Take some time, either by yourself or with a colleague, to brainstorm what fantastic alternatives lie behind doors one through five. I’m guessing you can think of more than five options within your control to help the customer rather than sending them away empty-handed. Give that a shot and let me know how it works out for you.

Jeremy-Watkin-Blog-Profile
Jeremy Watkin
Director of Customer Experience
FCR

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Experience for FCR. He has more than 18 years of experience as a customer service, customer experience, and contact center professional.  He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Customer Service Life.  Jeremy has been recognized many times for his thought leadership.  Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.

3 Comments. Leave new

This is great. It’s something about saying no that is such a deflating feeling. As customers we want to know that you as the service provider, will give the best possible solution to our needs. There is always a positive option to consider when interacting with the customer. You just have to dig deep a choose to make it happen. Pleasantly surprising your customer will always be better than a “NO” even if it’s not the customer’s first plan.

Reply
Jeff Toister
01/27/2019 7:18 am

I imagine you had some fun coming up with the alternatives, especially 4 and 5!

The challenge I see is why would the barista do anything different? In this scenario, it made no apparent difference in their day. I’m not implying what they did was right or excusing it. Rather, I think that’s the vexing challenge for businesses.

And if I had to guess, “We’re out of X” was a standard phrase that that place.

Reply
Jeremy Watkin
02/01/2019 4:42 pm

Hey Jeff, if I’m understanding correctly, I do think if that had been the business owner who has a keen eye on the impact running out of something can have on the revenue, the response likely would have been different. Maybe not. Very good points!

Reply

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