Companies and corporations are not human

What’s the best way to communicate to existing customers that you are moving from a Pret a Manger model (good quality at reasonable prices) to a Little Chef model (stack ‘em high; sell ‘em cheap)?

One way is to cut your costs and seek to maintain your profit margin. This will affect your service and product quality and your previously loyal customers will start to notice, bitch about the lower standards and, eventually vote with their feet.

Or, if your staff have a fundamental misunderstanding about the importance of customer service as a means of communication, over time your business is likely to become complacent about its customer loyalty. This will clearly signal that you don’t really care about them and they won’t come back.

Food outlets, now taking the place of charity shops on our high streets, are clearly in a sector of incredibly intense competition with each other.

At Le Pain Quotidien, for example, though staff levels appear to be consistent, the quality of service appears to have gone downhill. The efficient staff I had become used to seem to have been replaced by folk who do not appear to have been trained in the simple skills of hospitality and efficient service. Not their fault, of course; no such thing as bad staff – only bad managers.

So I bitched about the service to Head Office and got the following response from a real person:

“Dear John

Firstly, please accept my sincere apology for the delay in replying to your email.

Secondly I would like to thank you for your time and letting us know about your latest experience at Marylebone High St branch. I would like to ensure you that we took your feedback seriously and I’ve spoken to whole Management team regarding your feedback. We rely on feedback like yours to ensure that the company can grow and improve, as well as our guest enjoy their Le Pain Quotidien experience every day.  

“I would like to take this opportunity and ensure you that customer service is our priority and daily focus. We will continue working on improvements until our guests and we are satisfied with the level of service our team provides. We will address your feedback with each individual team member and highlight importance of knowing the code of conduct with each and every guest and makes sure that the level of service is raised (and kept) at a high level.

“I completely understand you might be put off by your last experience however I would like to offer you complementary gift card for your next visit to regain your faith and show that we took your feedback on board and are working on improvements.

“I truly hope that my offer is acceptable and your future visits at our restaurant will become more pleasant  and enjoyable for you.

“Waiting to hear from you soon.”

I declined the offer, generous though it was, because it would colour my judgment (nothing is really free). I have been back to the outlet in question and it was clear that improvements had been made.

If there were marks involved, this has to get 9/10 for customer comms.

Compare and contrast with this response from Yo Sushi which, when it launched was a fantastic place to eat reasonably priced Japanese food and experience polite hospitality.

My recent three experiences, however, were poor on all levels including cleanliness in the washrooms. I fed-back to the chain and received this in response:

“Dear Mr John Blauth 

Thank you for taking the time to communicate to us why our service did not meet your expectations.

We have every desire to address your needs and provide the best solution available to resolve your issue as soon as possible. 

Please accept our sincerest apology for any trouble or inconvenience we have caused you.

Again we highly appreciate your feedback as it will assist us in becoming better at what we do.

It’s our goal to retain you as a satisfied customer and will hope to serve you again.”

Anyone convinced by this? Nor me.

It says nothing, fails to address any of the specific points made, and appears to be one of a series of standard responses picked by someone on work experience.

Marks? 0/10.

Companies are impersonal and unloved entities which care nothing about anything or anyone. Generally, the people who work in them are neither of the above. But you will only learn if they are or are not when you communicate with them or they communicate with you. And then you will learn more about the company than it might want.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn on 5 January 2016.