When Customer Service Goes Really Wrong

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By Carol Tice

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The blogosphere is buzzing with a tale of customer service gone very, very wrong. For those who missed it, New York Times reporter Ron Lieber was dining at tony Restaurant Marc Forgione on a recent Saturday night when the aforenamed chef began screaming at his staff in the kitchen. The dressing-down was loud enough to be easily heard by diners.

After several rounds of this, Lieber had enough, strolled into the kitchen, and asked Forgione to kindly knock it off so he could enjoy his meal. In response, Lieber approached his table and threw him out of the restaurant. And then of course, Lieber wrote a column about it and told the world.

The tale of Lieber and Forgione to me is a cautionary one for all business owners with many lessons to be learned.

Let's start with your place of business's environment. OK, you may not be ripping your staff new ones in front of customers -- let's hope you have that much sense. But have you succeeded in creating a truly relaxing, welcoming environment? Is that background music maybe a little too loud? The lame banter about where we're going this weekend a little off-putting? That pink-haired, tattooed employee a bit too snarky with shoppers? Maybe it's time to conduct a little market research and ask your customers what you could do better to make them enjoy visiting.

Next, how do you deal with difficult customers? Clearly, Lieber was crossing a line by coming into the kitchen and telling Forgione what to do. Forgione later told the restaurant blog GrubStreet he felt massively disrespected in front of his staff.

My reaction: So what? Lieber was still a customer. Have you perhaps heard that they're always right?

Throwing him out the door was hardly good customer service, even if he didn't turn out to be a Times reporter. The fact that he turned out to be someone with the power to easily expose this incident to the world brings me to the final lesson in this cautionary tale: You never know who customers are, who they know, and who they might tell about their experience in your store. So treat 'em all like kings and queens.

Thanks to blogs and review sites such as Yelp, any customer is free to broadcast their tale of rude treatment to the entire world. One tiny bad-service pebble can have amazing virtual ripples these days.

Forgione should have come to Lieber's table and apologized for marring Lieber's dining experience (for which he was no doubt paying handsomely). Then he should have offered him a free return trip for another meal. If he felt dissed, he needed to suck it up and still do the right thing for the business.

Likely, Lieber wouldn't have felt the need to write about the incident in this case, because that's what normally happens if you have a bad retail experience -- the owner offers to compensate you. You get a free dessert, a coupon, at the very least, an apology.

I say those feelings of humiliation Forgione had are for talking over with your spouse when you get home, or venting about on Facebook with your friends. While you're in the store, you need to be professional and customer-focused. Sure, sometimes customers can be obnoxious and boundary-pushing. But they're still your customers, and you need to send 'em away smiling.

What do you think? Did Forgione make a mistake, or Lieber? Or both? Can the customer be wrong? Leave a comment and let us know.

Carol Tice

Owner of Make a Living Writing

Longtime Seattle business writer Carol Tice has written for Entrepreneur, Forbes, Delta Sky and many more. She writes the award-winning Make a Living Writing blog. Her new ebook for Oberlo is Crowdfunding for Entrepreneurs.

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