Part 2: 5 Business Lessons Learned From Bad Customer Service

In my last post, I described an example of a very bad customer service experience my wife and I experienced just over a week ago at the Hard Rock Cafe in Atlantic City. I'm happy to report that the assistant manager responded promptly to my complaint on the Hard Rock Facebook Wall and followed it up with a phone call. 

In today's world where most businesses tend to make excuses or ignore their customers,  I'm pleased to say at least one Hard Rock Cafe manager differentiated himself.  This incident offers many important customer service skill lessons for business.  Here are what I believe are the top 5 lessons learned.  What do you think?

1. It’s the experience, stupid.  Guests will tolerate even mediocre food if the experience is good.  We have many choices when we dine out but find ourselves choosing just a few.  What differentiates our favorites from the rest aren’t cheap food and drink. It’s the comfortable feeling we get when we’re greeting as “family” or “special guests” every time we visit.  Likewise, we’ve never returned to restaurants that had outstanding cuisine but lousy service. In this case, the manager ignored our experience and put her attitude and work operations ahead of visitor safety and comfort. 

2. Be proactive.  Employees should be on the lookout for dangers and risks for their guests.  Although my wife’s purse wasn’t in the open, it wasn’t secure either. Some might argue that it’s not the restaurant’s obligation to ensure that guests protect their personal belongings.  But it should be their responsibility to ensure our visit is uneventful, if not enjoyable.  We’ve been guests in other restaurants where the wait staff or host scanned the floor, then stopped by the table to recommend that we hide our personal belongings and remove the “easy target” sign from their backs.  It’s not a perfect system or a guarantee but we always appreciated that the restaurant was looking out for us and creating a safe environment  – even for just a few minutes. 

3. Seize the moment.  Don’t wait for a customer to complain.  For me this one’s a no-brainer.  What could have turned into a major inconvenience and ruined weekend worked out thanks to the observant guest at the next table.  For just a moment, he was a “hero.”  The Hard Rock Café staff blew one of those rare opportunities to recognize a guest for going above and beyond.  The good will and positive press generated by such a moment would have far exceeded any disruption to a manager’s busy schedule or loss of a few dollars by comping their meal.  Instead the “hero” walked out quietly, and we left angry and unhappy…with a negative story to tell.

4. Don’t underestimate the power of social media.  To paraphrase, "Hell hath no fury like an upset customer scorned." In the past, it was said that a person would tell 3 other people about a good customer service experience…and 13 about a bad one. Today, you can add a few zero’s to the bad story scenario.  In the past, I might have written a letter to the General Manager or CEO of Hard Rock Café.  Today, all I needed to do was post my complaint to a social networking site like Facebook and user-review site like Yelp. Instead of 13 people hearing about the bad experience, my potential audience reached hundreds of millions with a few keystrokes. What’s worse is that what happens on the Internet, stays on the Internet.  A bad experience posted on the Internet doesn’t go away after it’s resolved, but lingers on the Internet ad infinitum. Don't ignore this new reality.  Thanks to social media, the company no longer controls the brand; customers do.

5. To err is human, to recover divine.  An apology is a good way to have the last word (Author Unknown).  One of the most frequent questions I get when speaking to business people about social media is “what should we do about negative comments posted on our blog or social networking site.” My response: thank them!  A study of why customers switch companies revealed that only 4 percent of dissatisfied customers complain. For every complaint, 26 more customers were unhappy.  Worse than that, from 65 to 90 percent of the unhappy but non-complaining customers would never buy from the company again. Social media can be a very valuable customer service recovery strategy.  A study for Travelers Insurance a few years ago showed that persuading people to complain could be the best business move a company could make.  While only 9 percent of the non-complainers would buy from that company again, 82 percent would buy again if they complained AND the company resolved the problem.  Even for customers who did complain but whose problem wasn’t resolved, more than 50 percent were willing to give the company a second chance.

Good customer service starts with attitude. All the training in the world won’t save an employee with a bad attitude.  And a positive service attitude can’t be trained.  But a good customer service strategy can turn a good employee with a positive attitude into a great one and maybe – just maybe – help a company successfully recover and retain a customer from a bad service experience.


Ira S Wolfe


  1. Outsource Call Center December 6, 2010 at 10:03 pm -

    Interesting post! I still believe that treating the customer so good and politely makes them so comfortable with your services. Anyway, thanks for guiding me through this. Keep posting.