I will never understand why fast food chains use anything other than the Chick-fil-a model for customer service. Until Chic-fil-a came on the scene with their We’ll-Do-Whatever-It-Takes-To-Make-You-Feel-Like-King-Special-Britches philosophy, we were all fine with, “Welcome to the Altar of the Arches. What can I get ya today?” But now, we can see a new world of possibility when it comes to customer service, if only every other chain would buy into it.
It’s a super-duper morning here at your Chick-fil-a.
It’s our pleasure to serve you todaaaaaayyy!!
For some reason, even though these other companies have trouble keeping employees, and their lines aren’t looped around the building twice, they don’t seem to care nearly as much about how their customers are treated.
This episode is about a couple of times when customer service wasn’t just below the standards of your typical Chick-fil-a, but it dove into ridiculously bad. And it’s about a better world we may all experience if we’ll just embrace the pure, unadulterated power, of two little words … My pleasure.
From Atomic Red Studios, I’m Michael Blackston, and this is my Funny Messy Life.
I’m not proud of my actions - the ones that resulted at the climax of the situation I’m about to tell you. I am a Christian, who strongly believes that how we respond to negativity can set the tone for not just those around us, but those who happen to be downstream to those around us later in the day. In other words, there’s a butterfly effect that starts with us, and can brighten or ruin the day for a bunch of people. It’s up to us to decide who we want to be. The bad news is that on this particular day, I wanted to be a stressed out director of a stage show that was opening the curtain to an audience sooner than later, and in the car with me was my stressed out Co-Director and wife, as well as my Assistant Director, and Set director, who happened to be my stressed out sister. We were running late, but we had to stop to pick up food because otherwise, we would all die before the show was over.
We decided a popular fast food chain that serves Mexican fare would be the best choice, because it was on the way, supposedly fast, and cheap. Simple burritos are hard to screw up, right?
No. Not right.
Mistakes are common among those who consider themselves a human person, and I’m no exception. In my profession, I will occasionally make a mistake, and there are much larger consequences for those mistakes than if you screw up a burrito. And yet, I manage to own those mistakes in a humble, customer friendly way. I would think that with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars on the line, I might have at least some reason to be in a less than happy mood if I make a mistake. But it wasd MY mistake, not theirs, and as long as they treat me with civility, I will try everything in my power to fix it with both parties happy in the end.
Enter this burrito that will soon take a prominent role in this story, not to mention a short flight.
You will recall that I said we were already in a hurry, and supremely stressed. There was a show to put on, and inevitably, cast members would be late, somebody would be feuding with somebody else. I don’t think this was opening night of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, when a massive storm raged up right as everyone was supposed to get there, the wind literally blowing my wife to the ground in the middle of the street, and the rain flooding the entirety of stage right only an hour before curtain, but we expected something to happen to cause us panic. That’s why it was important that the order taker listen carefully as we drove up to the intercom. None of us in the car like lettuce or tomato on our food, so we all three made a simple order of beef burritos with no lettuce or tomato.
First, the person on the intercom was rude. Unlike Chi-fil-a, their salutation did not come over the speaker riding a rainbow.
I’m thinking Really?
I ordered the burritos. No lettuce, no tomato.
We pulled forward and paid, received our bag of burritos, which was basically tossed into the car, unceremoniously by a worker who wanted to be anywhere but there, and pulled over to check it. We thought that would be a smart move, using the service we’d gotten up till then as an example.
Every burrito had both lettuce, and tomato.
I took the bag inside and got the attention of a worker. She walked up to me with an irritated look on her face, and said, “There a problem?”
I could have handled the situation in a couple of ways. I could have matched her body language and responded as if her very presence evoked the temptation to throw up. IO could have mirrored her obvious distaste for anything that resembled a customer, thereby verifying the age-old I’m rubber and you’re glue philosophy. But I didn’t do that. I understand that appearances can be deceiving, and sometimes people are just having a bad day. I would not mirror her, but instead, I would smile and calmly explain the issue.
“I’m sorry to bother you, ma’am. These burritos were supposed to be beef and cheese only. No lettuce, no tomato. I truly do not mean to be trouble, nor, in fact, rubber.”
The young lady sneered and snatched the bag violently from the counter like I had insulted her mother, her pet bunny, and her priest.
I watched the person remake the order. I could not see their hands, but I was focused on their lips to make sure nothing got spit on. The young lady shoved three new burritos into the bag hard enough that I’m surprised they didn’t break through the bottom. It reminded me of those superhero movies when the hero has just realized their powers, and everything they touch ids destroyed by their newly found strength. Except that this woman knew exactly what she was doing, and looked up me as she handed me the bag, as if to say, That’s what I do to burritos in paper bags! She didn’t say a word - just thrust the bag toward me, and turned around in a huff when I took it.
I should have looked at them again, but I thought at least they probably got the order right this time, and I was in that much more of a hurry now.
We sat in the car, hurriedly grabbed our burritos so that we could get to the theatre, where certainly, we would find out somebody had used up all the eyeliner pencils and foam makeup wedges. This was a show about Egypt, after all, and nobody in the cast naturally looked anything like an Egyptian.
We each opened the wrappers, and of course, there was lettuce AND tomato on each one. I sighed, and calmly took the burritos back into the restaurant.
The young lady was not as happy to see me this time, as she was before.
“What’s wrong now?!”
I was pleased with my demeanor. Mr. Rogers, himself, would have been very proud. But as it goes, pride cometh before the fall.
“These still have lettuce and tomato on them. They’re supposed to be beef and cheese only.”
Here is what she said … “Just eat the D*#@ burritos!”
I, being much more euphoric than I had a need to be, asked for the manager, who came up to the counter. He was a large, sloppy looking, Neanderthal of a man, wearing a scowl reminiscent of Tommy Lee Jones on a bad day. Have you seen Tommy Lee Jones on a good day? It’s still a scowl.
“What’s the problem?” he asked me, not as would a manager at Chic-fil-a, smiling from ear to ear, and simply delighted to be able to solve a problem for his valued customer. This guy yelled the question at me like he was daring me to say anything negative.
I took a deep breath.
“Good sir, these three burritos were ordered to be beef and cheese only. No lettuce, no tomato. They came to me with lettuce and tomato, so I brought them back. They were returned to me wrong again. Now, I understand mistakes are made. I believe when I get to the theatre later, I will find a drunk hobo has peed all over the set. However, while I have been pleasant and patient all the way through, your employee has been rude, disrespectful, and the opposite of customer friendly from the moment we gave her the order.”
Here’s the manager’s reply … wait for it …
I was dumbfounded. “What do you mean, so?” I asked.
He smirked and said, “Whatchoo want me to do about it?”
I had come to the end of my euphoria. Now, the stressed, late, irritable director of a show was about to rear his ugly head. A show, by the way, that would no doubt meet me at the door with news that a pack of rabid possums had taken residence in the sound booth.
What did I want him to do about it?
I looked at the burrito I had taken out of the bag to show them, then I looked back at the smirking manager.
I looked back at the burrito in my hand, then back at him.
Then I decided what I wanted him to do.
This is a true story.
I told him he could eat them, shoved the bag on the counter, and threw the burrito, like a major league pitcher, hitting him dead center of the chest.
It takes a lot to make me angry enough to do something like that, but I’m not stupid. He was a large man, so I decided not to ask for a refund. Instead, I turned heel and made my way to the car in the quickest fashion I could manage without looking like a scaredy-cat.
“GO GO GO GO GO!!! I’ll tell you in a minute, just GO!” I screamed when I got in the car and slammed the door behind me.
I don’t remember if we had time to stop anywhere else for food, or if we ran into anything like zombies taking over the stage and doing their own performance of Our Town when we got to the theatre, but the show went over well, all told.
I’m not proud of myself. I should have reacted differently. As a matter of fact, I hold to the thought that, when dealing with any situation, the outcome is far better if you respond instead of react.
My mom and step-dad responded to a similar situation recently, where the drive-thru attendant definitely made it clear it was not her pleasure to serve them. Believe it or not, the restaurant in question belonged to the same chain. It was a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, and they decided that instead of the usual after church tradition of fried chicken, they would stop for Mexican fare. My daughter was with them, and probably had some influence in that decision.
The details are fuzzier here, because I got the story from three separate sources, so I’ll only report the commonalities.
They drove up to the intercom at the drive-thru and the attendant asked for their order. There were several people in the car, so the order was large and somewhere in all of the details, the attendant must have gotten frustrated. She became extremely rude, and my step-dad tried to help her out. She must have taken it as aggressive, because what was the attendant's reply? Wait for it ….
She said, “Watch yourself!”
Watch yourself. Let that sink in. An employee in the service industry, regardless of how rude the customer is being, and especially when you can’t be sure one way or the other like this moment with my step-dad, should never, under any circumstances, say, Watch yourself. If I had been the owner of the place and that happened, she'd be gone. Period.
After driving away, my step-dad decided the manager should be spoken to, so he found the number to that franchise and called them.
Who answered? Rudely McRuderson, that’s who.
My step-dad asked to speak to the manager, and she told him he was speaking to her. Then he asked if she was the one who was so rude to him just now, and she told him “yes,” with apparently zero remorse.
This same company, at yet a third different location, this one in my hometown, recently had reports of employees at the window, asking customers if they could keep the change as a tip, and getting verbally abusive with the customers that said “no.”
My point is, there’s a resounding difference between Chic-fil-a and almost all of the other fast food brands I’ve encountered. And this is not a Chick-fil-a endorsement piece at all. I can hear some of you now … Sure it’s not an endorsement. Michael’s a Christian and everyone knows Christians think there will be a Chick-fil-a in Heaven.
That’s not the case at all. I don’t even care that much for the food at Chick-fil-a, but they still get my business. Why? It’s not because of anything spiritual, or political. It’s because they make me feel like when they saw me coming, everyone’s day got brighter just knowing I chose them. I don’t require anyone in the service industry to treat me like a God. There’s only one God, and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like I do. (I stole that line. Ask a nerd to explain it if you need to.)
What I do require is human decency. That’s all. I understand that there are days when people feel bad, but give me a smile anyway. Or at least, fix your mistakes with courtesy so that I don’t have to throw my food at you, and then run away like a frightened chinchilla.
And business owners, adopt the Chick-fil-a model. You don’t even have to say My pleasure. You could say, …
The pleasure is all mine, or
We’re happy to be of service, or
Nut’n but love fo ya!, or
OH MY GOSH, YOU ACTUALLY CAME TO SEE US! THIS IS AMAZING!
Be creative. And be nice.
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