Brand Lessons From a Bad Customer Service Experience

Update: See how Outback Steakhouse responds to my experience.

Everyone has different experiences when they interact with a brand. I’ve had some great brand experiences in the past and some that have not gone so well. And what I experienced could very well be different from what you’ve experienced. Whatever the case may be, there are always lessons to learn.

Over the weekend my extended family and I decided to go out for dinner, which was most likely a mistake to begin with. With four adults and four children six and under, we knew it was definitely going to be an interesting experience. What we didn’t know was that it was going to be the restaurant we chose that gave us a headache and not the children.

Customer Service, the unsung hero of every brand.
Customer Service, the unsung hero of every brand.

We had gone out to the mall on Saturday to eat and decided to try Outback Steakhouse. It wasn’t our first choice but since they had seating available we figured we’d try it. We were seated at 5:15pm and were able to place our food orders at 5:30pm, requesting that the children’s food and the one small appetizer we ordered to come out first. The kid’s food and the appetizer came in about 15 minutes, and 45 minutes later the adults were still waiting for their entrees to show up.

Throughout the time we were waiting, there were no updates from the wait staff, no checking in to see if we needed anything else. After sitting and watching people that were seated after us get their food and eat, we decided to ask a manager to check on our orders, twice. The first time the manager said it would take six to eight minutes longer, and quite honestly, that was not acceptable. For orders to take six to eight minutes longer to prepare that were ordered an hour ago just did not make any sense.

To make an already long story shorter we ended up getting our food, even though we had to remind them of side orders that were missing two times. And the restaurant did their normal attempt at damage control by removing the cost of the one appetizer and taking 15% off our bill, but only after we had complained about it.

In the meantime though, I sent two tweets to Outback Steakhouse, which went unanswered. In fact, I delayed the writing of this post because I wanted to give the brand a chance to respond. At the time of this writing, which is 2 days later, I still have not received a response. So that brings me to these points:

1. Social media is a great customer service platform

There should be no explanation needed for this, and if you find yourself scratching your head on this one, you have a lot of catching up to do. There are people creating Twitter accounts with the sole purpose to complain to brands that have made them upset, and they are reaching out to brands through social media expecting a response. If brands want to make an experience worse, then I would suggest not responding.

2. You can turn negatives into positives

Bad things are bound to happen, and people will have bad experiences. Brands can work to lessen the number of bad experiences that their customers will have but they will never be eliminated. What brands can do, is work to turn those negative experiences into positives. Advocates are created when a brand goes out of its way to make things right. In my experience, The Home Depot is a brand that was able to do this and for me it will always be one of the best examples of customer service from a social media team.

3. Ignore people at your own risk

Like I mentioned earlier, I delayed writing this post because I wanted to see if Outback would respond to me, and they haven’t. What’s disappointing to me is that they’ve tweeted and responded to other people since then, and have chosen not to respond to me. To be fair, it’s well within their right to respond to whomever they choose. One thing that I’d like to say about that is, if you’re going to be very selective about whom you choose to respond to, it doesn’t endear you to the ones you’ve ignored.

4. People need help when they need help, which might not be when it’s most convenient for you

When I did a search on Outback to see where their corporate headquarters was, I was disappointed to learn that it was in Tampa, Florida. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Tampa, I was disappointed because you would expect a restaurant chain to be online during the time when their establishments would be most busy. And since I am also on the east coast, it would seem to me that dinner on a Saturday would be a busy time for any restaurant chain. Unfortunately that falls outside the hours of Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. The thing that brands need to understand is that people are going to need help whenever they need it, and that might not be when it’s most convenient for the brand. Setting up an account and a team dedicated to customer service might not be a bad thing.

5. Customer service is the unsung hero of any brand

If I had to guess, a brand’s customer service representative engages with customers more than a brand’s salesperson does. Customer service is responsible for helping to keep your customers loyal, and if it can’t do that, then it’s counterproductive to whatever sales you have. Lastly, your loyal customers can either be your best brand advocates or your worst enemies, your customer service team plays a huge part in that decision.

3 thoughts on “Brand Lessons From a Bad Customer Service Experience

  1. Well said Jason! I had a similar experience but with a small food service place. Ironically, the business has built it’s actual and online following via social sites for the business, but no response to my customer service complaint (6 months ago).

    I still go there sometimes when someone from the family wants to, but I don’t evangelize for the business any more. Tough cause I’d rather purchase from a local guy than a chain.

    1. I hear ya! Unfortunately customer service is undervalued because businesses don’t see it as revenue generating. Retaining existing customers is just as important as chasing new ones.

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