The following tale is a story about customer service. Or more pertinently, the importance of listening to your customer. The tale itself is not extraordinary. What makes is stand out for me, and why I am moved to blog about it is the final result. The conclusion to the tale is pure genius. However, the genius is provided not by the company concerned, but by my fellow breakfasting companion. Read it. I think you will agree.
Every 6 months or so I meet with an old friend who I first got to know whilst working together nearly 20 years ago (scary thought that!) His name is Peter Marin. We always meet for breakfast and we alternate between the cheap and cheerful corner cafe outside of Marylebone station and the Landmark hotel. The cafe experience costs just shy of £10 for two, all in. The Landmark, by contrast, a wallet popping £58 for 2. However, it’s a nice treat.
When we met on Tuesday it was a Landmark day and after the usual pleasantries, the conversation turned to a poor experience Peter had recently had at he hands of his local Costa Coffee. In short, we agreed, that listening is a dying art in the context of customer service. Little did we know that our breakfast at this rather fine hostilery would turn out to be such a classic example of what we had been talking about. In short, we made our breakfast order and what transpired over the next 30 minutes was nothing short of comedy. My only regret was that I didn’t take photographic evidence of this farce as it would have made fantastic twitter fodder.
At this point, I shall let Peter take up the story. After leaving the hotel and going our separate ways, Peter sent and email to the hotel, outlining our ordeal. Here is the email:
Subject: I had breakfast in Fawlty Towers today.
Luckily it was with a very good friend of mine, whom I have known for years and who has a splendid sense of humour.
Of course I do not mean the real Fawlty Towers as that was pure fiction, though John Cleese did base each story on a real experience. I refer, of course to your hotel, The Landmark.
Now to put this into perspective, I have broken my fast at everywhere from a roadside food vendor in Bombay through to the George V in Paris so I am neither snobby nor untutored in the realms of a jolly expensive breakfast.
Today I wanted a cheese, ham and onion omelette with two sausages. Not difficult but the staff member who took my order did look at me as if I had ordered a new born baby on toast!
Gareth, being a traditionalist, wanted nothing more difficult than a “full English” with two poached eggs, with a latte to wash it all down.
I got my order, all present and correct, he got three poached eggs perched on top of miniature muffins. When he pointed out the error, another baby on toast look was offered along with the solution, we’ll bring the rest shortly!
On the basis that I had mine, and being very agreeable, Gareth fell hook line and sinker for the old “the rest will be here shortly ploy”.
What actually happened was that about five minutes later (roughly the time it takes for poached eggs to go cold), two sausages appeared.
Five minutes after the sausages, two slices of cold ham, and a slice of cold beef appeared.
A further ten minutes later, four rashers of bacon appeared, and when we tried to refuse these on the basis that it’s tough to eat bacon with just the spoon they’d left us with, the staff member pleaded with us to keep it saying “you might want it later”.
The purpose of this email is NOT to have the staff member disciplined, maybe a bit better trained, nor to elicit a refund of any sort but to point out that we have been to your hotel for breakfast of many occasions and it has never been like this. I detest shoddy service anywhere anytime and I have to say this went beyond shoddy, past really very bad indeed and straight into farcical.
In these tough economic times, you really ought to do better and if you want to find out how, nip next door to the cafe on the corner, there for less than ten quid for two, you’ll get a brilliant breakfast with superb service.
A little over 24 hours later, Peter received the following response. Note the interesting way ‘James’ addresses Peter as Mr Peter Martin. This can be explained by the fact that the email was actually sent by a lady by the name of Agnieszka Lorek, so it appears that either James didn’t even scribe the following missive or at best, he dictated it. Given the cost of this little gathering, I would have expected something a little more, shall we say, personal?:
Dear Mr Peter Martin,
Your email has been passed on to me in the capacity of Winter Garden Restaurant Manager.
I am saddened to hear of the service that you and your colleague received this morning as this is certainly not the level we continually strive for here at The Landmark London and for this I apologise sincerely.
You were in deed served by one of our trainees who has only recently started with us however this is simply no excuse. After speaking with the trainee this afternoon about the incident, it is clear there was a misunderstanding coupled with poor listening skills on our side was to blame for the scenario.
Further training has already taken place to ensure mistakes like this do not re-occur.
Thank you for taking the time to write and give me your feedback as it is through feedback such as yours we are able to improve.
In order to restore your faith in The Landmark London and indeed the Winter Garden I would like to invite you for a complimentary breakfast for two in the future.
Please contact me personally in order to do so and I will arrange a table for you.
Once again I apologise for your recent experience and I look forward to seeing you in the future.
Restaurant Manager – The Winter Garden
Here we go – the old blame the trainee trick. Notwithstanding that, and once you get past the rather odd grammar, my initial thought was “Result! Job done.”. So I then scrolled up to see Peters response, fully expecting it to be a list of dates for the two of us to return and claim our complimentary nosh. Which is when I read this:
Thank you so much for your reply.
I’d prefer it it you would offer the complimentary breakfast to the trainee who served us, as often, seeing service from the perspective of the recipient is the best way to learn.
Thanks again and we will now be sure to be back and enjoy breakfast once more.
Genius. Ace in the hole. Trumped. What a corking response. Perhaps every member of the waiting staff should have a complimentary breakfast as part of their induction and ongoing development. As Peter correctly identifies here, seeing service from the customer perspective is the best way to learn. Seems a shame that so many businesses fail to do appreciate and demonstrate this.
Great post Gareth. What is it with you and bad breakfast experiences? I believe our relationship started with one!
Hey Marc. Thats a good point – it did indeed! I dunno, maybe its the way I look! Perhaps I should write a book… 😉
Very interesting. I received truly terrible service recently in a Strada and when we didn’t leave the waiter a tip he looked as us like we’d rob his house on Christmas Eve. So terrible was it that I emailed Strada to say I did not believe it was acceptable for a waiter to be so insistent the customer was in the wrong when they had waited 50 minutes for their food to arrive only for the wrong meal to be delivered! I did receive an email back that said all the right things but the formatting suggested it had been cut and paste from past responses!
Hi Alana, thanks for stopping by! Yet another badly handled retail experience. Food retailing seems especially vulnerable to the poor service disease. How interesting that the response you received appeared to be a cut and paste job. Methinks that was the case in the response we had from “James”!
Brilliant story Gareth, beautifully written as well – does Peter blog? The sad thing is you kinda know that our hapless hero won’t get his free breakfast training opportinuty and all he’ll get is a moody lack of trust from his supervisors. I agree with you, Peter’s response was pure genius!
Hi Jon. Yes, I did think we should ask for photographic proof of the said trainee having breakfast – maybe we still will. It was actually a she and a charming one at that. It’s not that she was awful, just missing a few key learning points. You should have seen the panic on her face when we attempted to send the bacon back – you just knew that if we had insisted, she would have been subjected to a significant telling off. Really felt for her.
And yes, Peter does blog. His blog is here:
It’s good and it’s grumpy – perfect for those of us fella’s who are “on the outer suburbs of Generation X” 😉
Sadly I expect Jon is right, the free breakfast will go unoffered and a valuable opportunity will have been wasted. Here’s hoping we’re wrong 🙂 Great tale!
Good story. Seeing things from the customer perspective was the first lesson I had when starting at the hospitality industry. I guess I was lucky 🙂
Great article, and I have to say I now see you being served by a Basil Fawlty look-a-like rather than a scared young trainee. Although what decent chef would keep sending out bits of food? Maybe the extra poached egg was supposed to bide them some time in nipping to Sainsbury’s to get the bacon? But at least you eventually got your sausages and bacon – a staple in the ‘Full English’ as I thought everyone knows.