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The Customer Service Emergency Drill

emergency_drillI recently read an interesting story about a technological glitch at Starbucks that made it impossible for the point of sale registers to work. What that meant was that they couldn’t take money for the coffee – or whatever else they were selling.

This didn’t happen in just one store. The internal glitch caused an outage in 7,400 stores in the US and another 1,000 in Canada. In my mind, this qualifies as an emergency. What should employees do in this situation?

After reading the various reports, it seems that Starbucks and their employees did a fine job of handling the crisis. The solution was simple. Just give away the coffee. That’s right. Give it away for free.

Some stores did close early, but in the process, they still gave away what product they had. If you think about it, it makes sense. You have coffee brewed and fresh food items. If you don’t move the merchandise, it goes bad. So, why not create a little goodwill and put your best foot forward with your customers and show them a little love?

A number of years ago I had the opportunity to work with a fast food/quick serve restaurant. I asked how they handled a customer who placed an order in the drive through lane, but didn’t have the money (for whatever reason) when they got to the payment window. The response was so customer service friendly. In short, they know that most people are honest and in most of these situations they simply misplaced their wallet or their purse. It happens. Rather than deny the customer the food, they give the customer the food and tell him or her that the next time they come back they can pay for it.

This is right on several levels. First, it takes the embarrassment out of the situation. Second, it shows the restaurant is more interested in taking care of the customer than the few dollars they might lose if the customer never came back. Third, it most likely creates amazing goodwill. With social media, the customer has a loud voice and may share that positive experience with their friends and colleagues. That’s some very inexpensive, or even free, word-of-mouth marketing.

Back to Starbucks, their customer-friendly decision paid off. I have no idea how much money it cost them to give away the product, but consider this. While their motive was to take care of their customer, the press raved about how well they handled the situation.

I’m not sure if Starbucks had this “procedure” in their play book. My quick serve restaurant actually trains their employees how to handle the situation where the customer doesn’t have the money. This leads me to a lesson, which comes out of these examples:

We have (or should have) fire drills in case there is ever a fire. We are trained on how to handle medical situations; what to do or who to call. So what do we do for the everyday emergencies that come up in business? What happens if your phone lines go down, your cash register stops working, your online payment system fails, or any other glitch in your system? Do you have a plan? Is it in your procedures manual? Do your employees know what to do? Have they been trained? Have they practiced or role-played out these situations?

I’m not being a pessimist here. On the contrary, I’m suggesting you plan ahead on not only how to handle these situations, but also how to take advantage of them. Starbucks didn’t plan for the outage, but their customer-focused culture played out perfectly with happy customers and good PR. Plan ahead for the worst. Learn from what you can’t predict. Consider what is in the best interest of the customer. And, when “life” happens, think about how you might turn the lemon into lemonade.

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Shep HykenShep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is a customer service expert, hall-of-fame speaker and New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. He works with organizations to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. He is also the creator of The Customer Focus, a customer service training program that helps organizations develop a customer service culture and loyalty mindset. For more information contact (314) 692-2200 or www.Hyken.com.

Copyright ©MMXV, Shep Hyken – www.Hyken.com

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