Excerpt from the “Stay” Chapter of Matthew Gosselin’s Upcoming book, ‘Stand Out, Stick and Stay.’
On a recent trip back from Vermont after a Christmas visit with my family, we checked in, went through security and my first stop was a small coffee kiosk. I bought my favorite Green Mountain Coffee for $2.06. I thanked the woman, dumped my 94 cents in the tip jar and was on my way. At first glance, this was an uneventful customer transaction, a success, a win-win for both customer and company. What happened next changed everything.
I went back to the gate where my wife and boys were waiting to board our flight and my wife suddenly realized that we didn’t have a spoon to feed our 9-month old his baby food. “No problem,” I said as I remembered the kiosk and knew that they would have a plastic spoon. I went back to the kiosk and asked the woman behind the counter if I could have a spoon.
“Yes, you can but I have to charge you ten cents for it.”
Let me stop here and tell you that normally when these situations arise I get excited and like to play the game. They always make for great stories during speeches, conversations and of course blogs. This morning, however, was a little on the rough side. We had woken up very early, woke our kids early (never wake a sleeping baby, right?), said a teary-eyed goodbye to our family, dragged our seemingly 500 pounds of luggage into the car and drove to the airport in the aftermath of the worst snowstorm Vermont had seen in 120 years (no exaggeration).
“You’re going to charge me ten cents for a spoon?” I asked in disbelief. She shook her head yes and gave me the line that only a mother would give to a family of five. “If everyone asks for a spoon it will cost us money,” she said as though she had crunched these numbers many times before. Clearly if I did not give her the dime then this coffee business might not make it. After all, this was the Burlington Vermont International Airport gates 10-18 and I imagined that this woman must be peppered with questions from passengers all of the time asking for spoons.
In normal circumstances there were many questions I would have asked like “You can resell spoons? If so, why does it say NOT FOR RESALE on the spoon? How many spoons have you been asked for this week? Am I getting a silver spoon or just a plastic one, do I have a choice? Can I return the spoon and get my money back if I don’t like it? What is the going rate for forks and knives? Should I feed my baby with my finger to save ten cents?” I had an arsenal of questions I could have asked but instead what I did next might surprise you.
“I would give you a dime but I just gave you all of my change for a tip. Maybe I should take a dime out of that.” I said. Then I said, “No, that wouldn’t be right. Here is one dollar, keep the change and give nine others spoons for free.” I walked away.
There is a big part of me that hoped that when I walked away from this woman she would realize that charging ten cents for a spoon from a paying customer is just silly. The realist in me tells me that she pocketed the money making her total ‘tip’ $1.96 for selling a coffee and a spoon. Of course she didn’t want to steal the dollar, she just had problems finding the button on the cash register that read “Spoons.”
Here is the real problem with this situation and why you as a real estate professional need to listen up. Originally I saw no issue with my coffee purchase. However, the spoon incident ticked me off so much that when I began telling my wife, I found myself remembering all of the other issues wrong with the customer service. I remembered first going to the kiosk, the woman looking up at me, not acknowledging me and going back to restocking some items. At that point I left, settled my family in at the gate and returned to the kiosk. The only words she spoke to me pertained to the amount due. Since it was a self-serve, I went to fill my coffee and there was no more left. “Do you have any more Lake & Lodge?” I asked. Without saying a word yet again she replaced the air pot. At the same time, the guy behind me told her that there was no more cream left. She replaced the cream, again with no words. I would have never noticed any of these things had the spoon incident not happened. A bad day? Very possible. Typical of her service? Quite possible.
Look, as real estate professionals, we are going to make customer service errors. Sometimes we are going to follow ‘policy’ more then common sense. We are going to have unhappy customers every now and then, occasionally at no fault of our own. It’s the communication that we deliver that makes the difference and often will serve as damage control for these issues. Remember though that if you do make a mistake and rub someone the wrong way, they are more likely to point out all other faults you have made during the transaction.