The Entrepreneur’s “Reasonableness” Test

Some time ago while vacationing, my wife and I had the occasion to dine at several restaurants that we have enjoyed over the years. Something happened at two of them that was somewhat of a surprise. Here’s what occurred. At the first restaurant we had been told by a nearby merchant that a particular dish was extremely good. Naturally we wanted to partake, only to be told by the waiter that this item was only available on the bar menu. I told him that we were willing to pay an upcharge, if necessary, to enjoy this seemingly delectable delight. No dice was his reply. He went on to spin a tale about how the kitchen was too small to serve both the bar and the dining room. The explanation was not remotely plausible.

We had enjoyed a scrumptious dinner at the second restaurant and were attended to by a very outgoing server. The entrée I selected had a side dish that I didn’t prefer, and I asked if some sliced tomatoes could be substituted. This was done without issue and the service was impeccable. Roll the tape forward a week with a different server but the same entrée. Again, I asked for sliced tomatoes and was very abruptly informed that the chef was not going to accommodate my request. This server (a bit on the snippy side to begin with) said that there had been quite a conversation with the chef about such a substitution and he wasn’t going to slice any tomatoes.

In both situations, the desires of the customer were secondary to the desires of the restaurants. In both cases, I wrote social media reviews pointing out that the operational efficiencies of the eateries were apparently more important than offering a memorable customer experience. And as I thought about it more, I realized how often this approach is taken by many businesses. But why?

We’re in the day and age of creating customer experiences. No longer is it just about selling a product or service. I’ve advocated for years that we should avoid “selling to” customers (product-centric) and help customers “buy from” (customer-centric). Helping people buy something provides us with an opportunity to create a more tailored and pleasant experience – something they might mention in a positive manner when speaking with friends and family . . . or posting on social media. Both restaurants failed the test. The food was so-so at the first establishment but truly amazing at the second. Yet, the wonderful cuisine was overshadowed by the negative experience of a chef who apparently was throwing a hissy fit for unknown reasons. I would have certainly understood if the tomatoes were of poor quality and that had been explained to me. And while the chef may have had a limited supply of tomatoes to be reserved for other dishes that included tomatoes, there is a fabulous modern-day invention called a “grocery store.”

I eat breakfast regularly at a restaurant where the proprietor often makes a run to the nearby grocery store when she runs low on a particular food item. The last thing she wants to tell a customer is that she is out of something and can’t accommodate a request. The upshot of all of this is to pause for a moment and look at our own operations. Are there things we can do to make sure we are creating a positive customer experience? Do we have systems and processes that are designed to make our operations more efficient and profitable, but could potentially stand in the way of putting a smile on the customer’s face? Are we a slave to rigidity and adherence to a very precise “recipe?” Perhaps we should consider applying the “reasonableness test.” In other words, is the request of a customer reasonable or not? If it is, we should accommodate it to create the desired experience. If I had asked for Baked Alaska, that probably wouldn’t have passed the “reasonableness test.” But sliced tomatoes?

Entrepreneurs can differentiate themselves by working to create a memorable customer experience. This can be accomplished by developing a reasonableness test when it comes to customer requests.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Case of the Dirty Diaper Over the Cliff

Let me set the scene. We get a call from a customer and boy is he mad. He rants and raves about how he’s been wronged by one of our team members. “She was so incredibly rude to me!” he exclaims. “And she even laughed at me when I explained my issue.” Honestly, what is our first thought? It may be that we can’t believe our team member would act in this manner. We may also prepare ourselves to have a serious conversation with this team member and really lay down the law. Perhaps we are even ready to put a note in the personnel file about the incident. What happens next? We’re plenty steamed, so we track down our team member and lay out the situation in a somewhat accusatory fashion offering plenty of righteous indignation in the process. Except . . . it turns out that the customer was all wrong. What happened here? I call it the “The Case of the Dirty Diaper Tossed Over the Cliff.”

In this situation, we heard a complaint (the Dirty Diaper) and immediately jumped to a conclusion (the Cliff). We failed to gather solid evidence in a calm and reasonable fashion and instead rushed into an unpleasant encounter with our team member half-cocked. In this specific scenario, had we conducted a proper investigation we would have discovered that there was a witness – another customer – who observed the whole thing. And after talking to this customer, we learned that the accuser had an axe to grind with our team member and called her names and said ugly things to her. Not the other way around. Unfortunately we failed to give her the benefit of the doubt when we launched into our accusation which of course caused unnecessary tension.

In the “heat of battle” aka/confrontational situations – it’s easy to sympathize with the party that is upset. Perhaps our team has had the type of issues in the past that are being presented in the current situation. We instinctively may have a tendency to jump to erroneous conclusions and even worse, act upon them. The fallout from this approach can be devastating. Our team member felt that we weren’t supporting her and the feelings of trust she had for us were broken. Other team members learned of the incident and the trust with them was damaged as well. Ultimately the team member involved quit – all because this matter was so incredibly mishandled.

Maybe this has never happened to you. I truly hope that is the case. I’ve seen it occur in my own organization and I’ve even been the “accuser” in a bit of a milder way, but nonetheless I didn’t do my homework first. I’ve resolved to listen carefully to information that is being provided by the complainant and ask questions sufficient to fully understand this person’s point of view. I also try to glean as many facts as possible. Often there’s a lot of emotion involved and the “diaper” gets really dirty very fast. It’s critical to be adequately sympathetic without taking sides and try to focus on the facts. Then, rather than taking the “dirty diaper” and “throwing it off the cliff,” I try to factually determine the other side of the situation without accusation or condemnation.

There will be times when the facts presented by the two parties are vastly different. Let’s assume for a moment that there are no witnesses and there’s just no way to corroborate either version of the encounter. We have to be very careful passing judgment in such situations and determining that one party is right and the other is wrong. Instead, we offer our counsel with the intent to coach our team member, and we do what we can to placate the party who is aggrieved. In a sense, we need to operate as would a judge or jury. If the evidence is insufficient, it’s pretty hard to render a clear decision. Should a pattern develop with our team member where we learn of similar issues occurring on an ongoing basis, we may need to take stronger action based upon such a pattern.

Strong teams are built on trust. We must protect this trust by handling contentious issues in a calm and measured fashion; gathering evidence, and resisting the inclination to jump to conclusions.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Father Changing Baby's Diaper --- Image by © Paul Barton/Corbis

Father Changing Baby’s Diaper — Image by © Paul Barton/Corbis