Customer Service Doesn’t Have an Expiration Date

I find myself in Panera Bread Company® a good bit.  In the age of coffee shop meetings, many of my business meetings occur here.

I had an interesting experience in one of its locations occurred last week I have to share.

I was meeting with a new colleague so before our conversation began, we waited in line to order our beverages.  I ordered my standard hazelnut coffee and he ordered a hot chocolate.  Sandra, our Panera employee, explained that the drink machine was broken so hot chocolate and any other latte, etc. was not an option for us.  The problem had been reported but she had no way of knowing when it would be fixed.  She quickly offered other beverage choices so my colleague obliged an ordered another drink.

We sat and began our meeting.  After an hour, we were still talking and then this happened that really took us by surprise.

Sandra appeared at our table holding a hot chocolate in her hand.  She offered it to my colleague and said they were able to get the machine fixed so she searched for us, hoping we were still there and made one on the house.

Honestly, we were both taken aback.  My colleague enjoyed his beverage (with whipped topping mind you) and we spent the remainder of our time together reacting to what just happened.

We were the recipient of great customer service but what’s interesting, the experience occurred long after we expected it.

We finished our meeting (and he finished his hot chocolate) but I couldn’t get Sandra’s actions out of my mind.

Every company today proudly advertises their customer service.  In fact, it’s usually one of the first things a company exec will say when asked what makes his or her company different.  But how do you know your company really offers that service we often brag about?

Here are a few takeaways from our experience with Sandra that I would challenge any company who is striving for a reputation of real customer service.

Service always occurs at the transactional level.
Service is only really “believed” when the customer experiences it.  It doesn’t really matter what your signs, handbooks or wall hangings say about your business.  The real proof is how your employees interact directly with your customers (by the way, that’s internal and external customers).  It’s the moment when you see or hear the customer smile and thank you.

Service occurs when employees are empowered to take care of the needs when they see them.
In today’s marketplace, taking care of the customer is not a checklist of items to complete.  The consumer’s dollar is so limited today and everyone wants it.  Companies that stand out – and incidentally get the dollar – are those who place few “rules” on employees when it comes to taking care of them.  You see a need and meet it…period.  I strongly doubt our Panera employee asked permission to bring us a hot chocolate.  She simply saw the need and took care of it.

Service requires an environment where the “talk” is “walked”.
That old adage, “do as I say not as I do” may work sometimes with a 3-year old but it won’t make it in today’s service industry.  For employees to really believe their company is about service, they have to see it modeled from the top.  Yes, it’s important to train employees on the ins and outs of the business and clearly paint a picture of how you want customers served.  But after that, they have to see (and believe) they are being taken care of too.  At the end of the day leaders, your employees are your customers.

I’m a fan of Panera® and know they are not perfect (no business is) but it sure is refreshing to see service in action and be moved to the point you just have to tell someone else about it.

8 thoughts on “Customer Service Doesn’t Have an Expiration Date

  1. Kayla,

    Great job of lifting this girl up and making a positive example of her. She definitely did it right that day!

    1. Thanks for the comment Kevin. Yes she did do it right that day. I hope I did your service experience justice through the article.

  2. Somehow this came up on my feed. I know it’s old but I love this story. My girlfriends and I meet for coffee most Saturday mornings at Panerra. They are lovely and always fabulous.

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