Lessons in engagement, service and sausage | Contributor

By Mike Cook
Courtesy to The Bellingham Business Journal

If you are someone like me who writes a blog and works hard to keep the material fresh and frequent, one thought that creeps in from time to time is this: “Eventually I am going to run out of things to write about.”

Fortunately, for me, people always provide the next topic. All I need to do is pay attention.

My area of interest is employee engagement. If you read my pieces with any regularity, you’d recognize that my focus shifts back and forth from what I consider to be an employer’s responsibility when it comes to engagement to what I think employees need to bring to the working relationship.

I see the end product, engagement, as a condition that results from a properly designed working relationship between employer and employee—a dynamic collaboration where mutual self interest is the guiding principle.

Last month I was in Portland to deliver a talk to a professional association. I was taking advantage of the location and having breakfast with a colleague I had not seen in some time.

At his suggestion, we met at a small diner in one of the many great neighborhoods the city has to offer. The place reminded me of many of those I enjoy in Bellingham, and I was looking forward to something that had a home cooked feel and taste to it.

Shortly after we ordered, our food was placed in front of us. I had ordered a quiche with fried potatoes. My colleague and I were well into our conversation when the food arrived, so without slowing down we just began to eat and continued to talk, not paying a great deal of attention to the dishes that had arrived. A couple of bites into my breakfast I noticed the absence of the flavor of sausage, the taste I specifically ordered my selection to enjoy.

I stopped mid conversation and began to probe my food. Dig, dig, no sausage; dig, dig, dig, no sausage.

I summoned our server from the other end of the restaurant with a wave of my hand. (I am sure you have either seen or used that universal “diner in distress” signal.)

She arrived, and I informed her that the quiche in front of me was not the one I had ordered and asked her to check her notes. She took out her order pad, looked at her notes and then back at me and replied: “The owner is preparing the food, she must have given you the wrong one.”

And so begins the lesson for today.

It is likely that upon hearing her response, you will place yourself immediately into my position and perhaps empathize, as no doubt we have all been there.

I’d rather that you think as the owner of the business.

Unbeknownst to you, and no doubt without being trained to do so, the server had just “thrown” her employer under the mythical bus that seems to travel far and wide. “I’ll be right back,” was the servers next comment. I did not expect to see her again until she had the correct order to serve up.

To my surprise she was back in a moment with this information: “I checked and the owner did give you the wrong quiche, I have your order up in a moment.” And still I longed for sausage!

Shortly she returned with what I hoped was the quiche I now craved and added at no extra charge: “The owner checked and says that they labeled the boxes wrong.”

OK, now think as an owner.

You’ve been thrown under the bus not once, but three times in ten minutes by the same employee, and the disappointed customer has yet to receive an apology and there is none in sight. Shame on you! I am not letting the server off the hook either, so shame on her for that matter.

Here’s the bottom line: As a business owner, you must have employees that will be accountable for the promises set by the business. You must train them that way, inspect their work and make sure you can count on them most when things go wrong. That’s when you need them to be at their very best.

For the employee, know this: A story about what happened, whether true or not is just that, a story. It isn’t what the customer ordered, ever.

In the face of a disappointed customer, the appropriate response is always an apology and a promise to make the correction, period. The next interaction with that customer should either meet their expectations, or let them know when, and in what form, they can expect the expectation to be met.

If you don’t know the difference between a quiche and a story, we may have to start over.

Mike Cook is a management developer who lives in Anacortes, Wash. He publishes a weekly blog at www.heartofengagement.com.

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