Tale of Two Companies: Customer Service in the Age of Now

Today I experienced both the highs and the lows of customer service. VeraSage is well known for our work in TQS (Total Qualify Service) and service failures and service delights are always learning experiences and ultimately the difference between the two ends of the spectrum is rarely (and I mean rarely) the fault of the direct customer contact and almost always (like 99%+) is the fault of the leadership of the company, department, or organization.

First the low as I prefer to end on a positive note, much like a composer enjoys using a crescendo – always better to start soft and end louder then the other way around.

So, I am at the Sacramento Airport location of Peet’s Coffee. Now, I rarely visit Peet’s not because I am a Starbucks fan (which I am) but because their coffee is bitter for my palate so today I ordered a Peppermint Tea (I do enjoy Peet’s Teas – so this was perfectly fine with me). When it was clearly my turn for my hot drink at the
Barista bar, the Barista said “Peppermint Mocha” and then she looked at me. I said, “did you say Peppermint Mocha?” and She acknowledged that. I responded with “I order a Peppermint Tea”. And the world stopped.

The registers stopped. The conversation stopped. She starred at me like I was an idiot and how could I have not realized that I must really want a Mocha and it was already made. So then the fun began. The Barista looked at the order taker and said….”do you want to make the call or should I?” I am thinking call? What call? Make a Tea, give away the Mocha, estimate the refund, and give me back the $2 (like I was sensitive to an airport pricing of a Tea relative to a Mocha). And the order taker disappeared and came back exasperated. Next the Barista took over and she even runs down the hall to find……”the Manager”. You know, the person who has the only key to open the register without a sale. This takes like 10 minutes. My hourly rate is in the pennies……LOL.

Finally the manager arrives, a 45 year old frustrated looking guy because he had to walk down 100 yards, show me his key, all for $2. What a waste. Strong leadership would have provided alternatives like “hey sir, sorry for the hassle, do you fly through SMF often (often enough would have been my answer)” or say – “sorry for the hassle her is a bottle of water or some snack – are we fair?” And I would have said “yep”. Fair is fair.

People makes errors. Orders are misplaced and mishandled. I wasn’t upset and had they been real smart – the Barista would have just fixed it and I would have been on my way – the $2 wasn’t my big deal – call it a tip. But the process of leadership at the SMF Peet’s did allow me to shake my head, reaffirm I like Starbucks better (actually I really like Stumptown Coffee in Portland – come visit me and I will take you there), and remember that leadership is what really matters.

Meanwhile – earlier at the airport I had an opposite experience. When I returned my rental car to National (I am premier member of their Emerald Isle – great program by the way) I mentioned to the team member checking in my car that there were some items they should note. I mentioned that when we rented the car we noticed a rear seatbelt had been cut – that wasn’t a concern as we weren’t going to use the back seat so no reason to move suitcases and my contract had note to it. During my trip I noticed a tack in a tire – but it wasn’t causing a leak nor dangerous driving so I left it alone and I mentioned it to the manager. I also noted that twice the check engine light came on when the car was cold (it was 26 degrees this morning) and it cleared when the engine warmed. None of these issues really impacted my driving experience however I wanted National to know about them and to have the opportunity to correct these matters before they could lead to a future issue.

Turns out I was being checked in by the Manager on Duty. He listened to my comments and made notes on the windshield.  He expressed appreciation of my comments.  Although they can print out a receipt on the spot, I always let them know the automated email for me is great. And he stops me for a moment and tells me that his is lowering my rental by $30 for the “inconvenience”.  He didn’t have to ask anyone.  I didn’t ask for a reduction as the price I had already received was more then fair price for my rental.  The point is he wanted me to receive something for a less than perfect experience.

I appreciated it.  I will, of course, tell all of you how much I like National Rental Car (www.nationacar.com)  and how much Peet’s disappoints (at least at SMF).

The difference is leadership.  Trust and lead to happiness.  Control and you lead to a culture only comfortable to Putin.  The question for you, is what is your leadership style and does it align with your desired customer experience.


Think about it and Happy New Year.


  1. A Quick Update –

    Sr. Fellow, Ed Kless retweeted my tweet about this posting and Peet’s Coffee reached out to me. They appreciated my comments about how the Sacramento Airport “represents” their brand and sending me some coupons to improve my experience. It wasn’t my intent to receive some freebies (but I will take them), however handling a customer challenge directly is always a moment for resurrection. Good Job Peet’s.

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