Author / business / generations

Personal Experience: Bad Service at Wendy’s

As a trainer and speaker, I am always looking for examples from my personal life to share in my sessions. A couple weeks ago I had an experience that touched on customer service, customer loyalty, sales, and generations. As many of you will not be in my training sessions (although I would love to see you there!), I wanted to share the experience, what went well, what went poorly, and the lessons that can be learned to ensure that we all deliver amazing customer service. Incidentally, this happened at a franchise and my conclusion speaks to franchisees or managers of multi-location corporations. 

I am a HUGE fan of Wendy’s and have been since I was a kid eating a bowl of chilli on a family road trip. As I was travelling out to Niagara with my girlfriend, we decided to stop and grab a bite. I cannot remember the exact location, but we pulled off the highway and we went into the restaurant as I didn’t want to do drive-thru. From the very beginning, things started going wrong. By pure fluke, the order of the events happens to match where each generation would deem the situation as “bad customer service”. As a result, I’m going to break this article up into the generations.

Where it Went Wrong for Boomers

We stood back from the counter looking at the menu, then took a step forward. I hesitated as the cashier did not welcome or greet me. Eventually she looked up and said something like “I can help you here”. No smile, no warmth, no excitement about being able to help. All of us would be a bit put off, but this is particularly true for Boomers. They are traditionalists and expect to be treated with respect. Manners are key! For them, they want to be greeted with a smile. “Hello sir, how can I help you today?”. Witz Education speaks and trains a number of restaurants on their service, and as a trainer for the program I am highly sensitive to how I am greeted. We preach the 10-4 rule: from 10 feet away acknowledge the guest (smile or wave) and from 4 feet greet them. The distance is a bit arbitrary, but the point is that we want to recognize our guests as they want to be recognized! We want to know that we are going to be taken care of and this starts the second we walk in the door.

Where it Went Wrong for Gen-X

We started to place our order and had to repeat it several times. The cashier was not familiar with the menu or the POS and had to call over two different colleagues for help. These interactions were not supportive, collaborative or warm. Phrases used included “what do you want” and “its here and here”. The ordering process took a long time and the preparation took longer as another error was made in the back of house. Again, the communication was cold and direct. A woman who I can only imagine was the manager, strolled up from the back, phone sticking out of her shirt pocket, walked across the front of house, did not acknowledge the situation or us (even though we made eye contact), no smile, then walked back into the back of the restaurant. Gen-X’s make their buying decisions based on cost to value to time and will quickly leave if a process takes too long. The entire interaction took (again, big fan so know these things), about 3 times as long as it should have. Gen-X’s might have let the poor greeting slip, but the amount of time would have them walking out the door, especially as it was not busy. To make it worse, we were charged for a drink that we did not want or get, even though the cashier “looked over” the receipt!

Where it Went Wrong for Gen-Y

The error on the bill was the start of where it went wrong for Gen-Y’s. We caught the error once we were in the car but, being in a bit of a rush, decided it wasn’t worth complaining over $2.60. We hit the road and started to eat. I took my first bite and I thought something was wrong. Looking closer, they had left the wax paper used to separate cheese slices in the burger. Thankfully I had my girlfriend, who removed it so I could eat, but any pleasure or enjoyment of it was gone. We got the hotel and, instead of jumping onto social media to slam them, I used their online complaint form. It is not the easiest to find and, as so many things had gone wrong, I found it was not flexible enough to encompass the situation. Regardless, I filled it out and as a bit of a test, I put in a comment box that they could call me on my cell, but in their form told them that email was the best way to get in touch. Within 15 minutes, I got a call from Mike, who I’m guessing is the owner of the Wendy’s (he didn’t say). The quick response was a good start and I started to feel better. He apologized, explained the woman on cash was in training, and went through the situation with me but two things stuck out for me. First, he got fixated on the cell phone in the manager’s pocket. That was the least of my concerns and should have been pretty low on his list as well. Second, he said “I know you weren’t looking for it, but do you pass by here often? If you do, stop in as I’ve added your name to the list and had a meal on us.” Actually, I WAS looking for some financial compensation and by phrasing it this way, he made me feel embarrassed and closed the conversation. I don’t go by there often and after all this I hung up respecting the fact Mike called, but still disappointed with the outcome. Despite my love and loyalty to Wendy’s for all these years, I doubt I’ll be going back again anytime soon (and not just because I rarely eat fast food).

What Should Have Happened

Let’s rewind and take a look at how things should have gone in the perfect world. I’ve already mentioned the 10-4 rule, which would have made me feel welcomed and looked after. A smile goes a long way. In fact, up until the new menu board, McDonald’s had smiles listed on their menu as a “free” item. I actually ordered it once as a kid not realizing what they meant and the cashier died laughing when I looked confused when she smiled at me and asked for it again.

The woman on cash was still in training and, given the number of problems, still quite new. I’ve worked behind the cash at Starbucks and for my first couple shifts I had a manager behind me, supporting me, helping me out to ensure that service never suffered. They were not dedicated to me, they were expediting behind me but were there to help. Additionally, the culture at Starbucks is one of support. At any time, I could turn to anyone behind the counter and ask for help and I would get it with a smile. This is what I would have thought Mike would have been concerned about: new staff left to struggle on their own having a negative impact on service. In fact, I even mentioned it a couple times to try and get him concerned (and secretly trying to pitch him for training). Part of this process is ensuring the order is delivered accurately. All good waiters know to repeat back the order before leaving the table. It ensure the right meal is delivered and leaves the guest feeling comfortable knowing what they want will be coming soon. The delay due to the mistake from back of house could have been communicated more effectively. It’s so easy to do “I am so sorry, we made a mistake with your order and we are making a fresh sandwich for you. I apologize for the delay.”

I’m leaving the food prep mistake aside. That can happen, although it shouldn’t. While I was impressed by how quickly Mike got back to me, he did not make the situation right. Yes, he acknowledged things went wrong, apologized, and explained that the cashier was new, but he left two very crucial things: he didn’t make it right or go the extra mile. Making it right is easier to do when it is in the restaurant versus once someone has left, but it’s still easy to do. Apparently I’m in the system for a free combo the next time I come by. Great, but that means nothing to me. I have nothing to show and no confidence that this is the case. Would it not be easy to mail me a coupon? In fact, not only do that, but include an extra voucher to go the extra mile. 91% of unhappy people will not do business with you again but if you make it right and go the extra mile to rectify the situation, 70% will give you another shot. Had Mike asked for my address so he could send me a couple vouchers, I would have been thrilled.

I believe part of the reason Mike didn’t is that I would not be returning to his location. This is a very common response from franchisees or managers of multi-location corporations. Similarly, we always receive a fair amount of push-back when we talk about giving out a voucher as franchisees don’t want to accept a coupon that was given by another location. If you run the corporation or are the franchisor, your owner/operators/managers need to know that those coupons will be covered by you, not them. If you want a culture of customer service where your guest not only return but bring their friends, you need to support them when they take steps to make it right and go the extra mile. Take that one step further, they also need to recognize the impact that their store has on the entire brand. Mike may have offered me a free meal at his location, but that’s pretty useless to me. I am still upset about the entire experience and it is unlikely that I’ll go to any Wendy’s any time soon…and again, I was a huge fan of Wendy’s and it was my go-to road trip food location but because my situation was not made right, Mike not only lost a customer at his restaurant, but cost the company an advocate. In today’s age of social media, it’s not just one advocate that is lost, but anyone who they are connected with, which may and can come back to impact that specific location. Nobody operates in a bubble anymore and we need to adjust the way we do business and deliver customer service to reflect this.

If you are worried about the service in your company or franchise, I would highly recommend the smartSERVICE program from Witz Education…you may even get me as the trainer!

2 thoughts on “Personal Experience: Bad Service at Wendy’s

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