How much does a hot chocolate at Christmas cost?

I tend to write a lot about customer service because the web is inherently a faceless communications tool where customer service is often lacking, but can be enhanced through usability, simplicity and truly knowing your visitors.

Offline examples of good / bad service offer great learning opportunities. One such lesson occurred Christmas evening when my family went out for a dinner.

As you can imagine the choice is somewhat limited on Christmas and were expecting a little wait. We ended up at Jerry’s Deli in Encino, a popular and ‘famous’ (in their own words) traditional New York deli experience, with a bit of Encino attitude thrown into the mix.

Surprise (not) it was crowded. Actual surprise, there were about 50 people waiting for tables, the list about 20 party long “30-40 minute wait”

A few *real* surprises:

  1. Every time the door opened, the ice cold wind blew in, arousing curses and complaints from the Encino crowd (not known for their patience). The hostess was shivering, dressed as she was. Not a great environment for a waiting area as we waited for the hostess to come down with pneumonia!
  2. I walked into the restaurant area to find > 15 tables / booths open. Absolutely empty. When I asked the manager “What’s up?” she said that they didn’t want to “overwhelm” the kitchen. Yep. Much better to underwhelm the waiting customers.
  3. I asked the manager if she could serve some hot chocolate to the crowd of cold, patient and ‘growing rapidly restless’ patrons. “That’s a great idea. We don’t do it. But it’s a great idea.” No. A great idea is one you implement and find out it’s even better than you expect it would be, to actually *demonstrate* true unexpected customer service! Surprise!!! We care!

It didn’t get much better, as by the time we reached our table (50 mins after we arrived) the service was slow, the food cold (what was available as they were ‘out’ of lots of stuff) and the apologies of the waitress were lame as they provided little in the way of empathy, only excuses.

It doesn’t take much to exceed expectations. Seriously.

A cup of hot chocolate, a bit of holiday cheer, and hot food isn’t too much to ask, is it?

As it turns out, I think Jerry’s has finally lost us as customers, we’ll go to Fromin’s down the road, who at least welcomed us will a smile and excellent service this morning.

Cost of a mug of hot chocolate (bulk – one serving, including dishwasher) = 25c

Lifetime value of my patronage – $40 x 12 times / year x 10 years = $4,800

Online it doesn’t take much to meet or exceed expectations either. Offering something as a surprise or something unexpected (free upgrade on shipping? smoother checkout?) can often tip the balance, changing an online visit into an online experience.

Don’t think of the sale as a one time event, think of the customer experience as a lifetime relationship, one in which all parties involved profit.

Complimentary hot chocolate when you’re cold and waiting? That’s just one way to start a relationship.

4 replies
    • Grant
      Grant says:

      *Work* in LA… live in Vegas, it’s a helluva commute, but these days it’s about chasing the opportunities. Here all week and every other weekend. Tweetup welcome and looking forward to it!

  1. Matt Williams
    Matt Williams says:

    Waitrose is one of the better supermarkets in the UK and our local one is worth travelling to the edge of town for. They have a cafe which I’ve always found enjoyable to stop at while you’re shopping. Last week we went and it was awful. It was at the end of a long Saturday, there weren’t enough staff attending, the floor was littered with food that hadn’t been swept up, and the people serving had obviously gone beyond the end of their tether. I have always felt that you get to see the real quality of an organisation when conditions are hard. At the start of the days it’s really easy to give your best, to be attentive to the next customer even if the last one was hard to deal with, but when you are exhausted, things change, you have to dig deeper into your personal reserves of energy. A good company doesn’t allow harrassed employees to risk its brand, so it puts measures in place. I think the simple answer is that if you can’t give good customer service you are better off shutting the shop for the day.

    • Grant
      Grant says:

      Matt. Thanks for your comments. I was in the UK last week. Service in US and UK may have different motivations (or lack of) and different cultural differences, however key to great customer service in either county’s is always common goals, buy-in from employees and customer-centric empowerment.

      The biggest challenges come when resources are lacking (current economic climate), resources such as training, communications and personnel.

      None of these replace great attitude from employees that love what they do, but they go a long way to making the place where they work more conducive to an environment where people actually want to work.

      Some people just don’t “get it,” (and never will!) For the rest of the workforce there’s hope, just needs management that cares and enough resources (or creative options) to let people do the best job they’re capable of.


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