March 18, 2014

Twelve sausage biscuits add up to one big customer-service lesson

     The last thing to raise the hair on the back of Jimmy Yancey’s neck would be stage fright.  The
Columbus banker is as comfortable standing before a crowd as he is pulling a five iron out of his golf bag. But since his career with the bank goes back to 1959, he was wondering what he would say—something new—one particular morning on his favorite subject: customer service. On his drive into the small-group meeting, he was handed the answer in a paper sack.
     “It’s early,” he said.  “I believe the folks would enjoy a sausage biscuit.”  Pulling into a fast-food establishment, he drove over the rubber-snake gizmo that rings a bell inside.  Propping his arm on the car’s open window, he waited, staring at the speaker on the pole.  And he waited.  And he waited.  “Hmmm,” he thought, “maybe the bell didn’t ring.”  So he backed up and ran over the rubber snake—again.
     Eventually, a voice blared, “Can I help you?”
     No good morning, just “Can I help you?”
     “Yes, ma’am, I’d like 12 sausage biscuits.”
     “That’s going to take a long time.”
     “How long do your think?”
     “About 12 minutes.  You should really call ahead with big orders.”
     “OK, I didn’t know I was going to buy biscuits until I saw your restaurant.  I’ll come inside and have some coffee while I wait.”

     There was no thank you, just silence.  So Jimmy drove around.
     When Jimmy walked in, there was one other customer and three ladies working.  “They looked at me as if I had come to rob the place,” he said.
     Jimmy watched the slamming around on the preparation table and thought: “Goodness, there’s a lot of hostility in here.”
     The counter lady admonished him, again, “You need to call in the next time you want 12 biscuits.”
     “But I didn’t know I wanted 12 biscuits until I saw your sign.”
     Jimmy waited about 12 minutes, and the lady handed him the sack of biscuits. Then she reached over, tapped his hand and scolded, “You should call ahead with big orders.  You know, we aren’t very busy in the morning.”
     Instinctively, Jimmy reached over, tapped her hand and asked, “Do you ever wonder why?”
     When he got to his car, Jimmy reflected on what just happened.  He went back inside and gave the ladies a tip.  Why?  They had just presented him the storyline for his morning sermonette.
     Within 30 days, the restaurant stopped selling breakfast.   Three months later, the place was shuttered.  “It’s funny, but sad,” says Jimmy.  It’s sad because not only did the three ladies lose their pay checks, the whole staff did.  But he doesn’t blame them.  He sees the culprit as the corporate culture that allowed those ladies to operate without proper customer-service training.
     In his half-century career, Jimmy has banked thousands of businesses, including dozens of restaurants.  The key to any operation’s success is for everyone on the payroll—from biscuit-makers to biscuit-sellers—to understand what Jimmy calls “the object of the exercise.”  Jimmy believes the object should be attracting, acquiring and retaining customers, while controlling food and labor costs.  You must have customers and profits to keep the doors open.
     Somewhere up the biscuit chain of command, someone drilled home the cost controls.  But apparently, the boss failed to train these ladies on how to balance expenses with the need for appealing customer service.  Why is that important?  Jimmy can tell you.

     A person might pull up to the squawk box and say, “Twelve sausage biscuits, please.”