Would you like fries with that apology?

Isn’t it funny? We teach our children to importance of two important words.  As young as 4 years old, a little boy or girl learns the importance of saying “I’m sorry” when they hurt someone on the playground.

It’s interesting is that on the adult playground of the workplace, those two words still ring true.

Have you followed the Taco Bell beef lawsuit story? According to the January suit filed by the Alabama law firm Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, the YUM-brands owned chain is using a meat mixture that contains binders and extenders, and does not meet the minimum requirements set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be labeled as “beef.”

The suit was filed on behalf of Taco Bell customer and California resident who is not seeking monetary damages, but instead wants a court to order Taco Bell to be honest in its advertising.

While the suit was later dismissed in April; the story has continued.  While Taco Bell is thrilled the lawsuit was dismissed, the negative media and potential lost business does not automatically stop.

In return, Taco Bell launched its own media campaign requesting, you guessed it, an apology from the law firm.  The company wants to hear those two magic words, “I’m sorry” from the law firm.

Interesting.  At a corporate level, the importance of those words potentially have the same level as when a five year old boy cuts in front of his classmates on the playground.

So what can we learn from this? For everyone in the service field (and by the way, that’s every business, regardless of your product or customer), consider these three truths:

#1  All service is made up of two dimensions:  the service and the relationship.
If you are in business, you are actually in two.  Your business provides some type of product or service – the “what” of your organization.  You also provide that service or product in a particular way – the “how” or way in which your employees provide those goods and services.  Both are required for success.   The real question is: how much time are you focused on each?

#2 To the customer, making it right isn’t always enough.
This truth builds upon the relationship principle.  In a busy environment, it is easy to get caught up in the tactical elements of the job and perhaps forget about that crucial relationship component with the customer. We can “fix” a problem for the customer.  But if they don’t feel you care about fixing that problem, it leaves them with an empty feeling.  They perceive that you don’t really care about their service.  Yes, they need to hear the words, I’m sorry. This is one instance where words can indeed speak much louder than actions.

#3 There is always an aftermath to an interaction with customers.
This third truth is the real story. Even when we are successful in fixing service or product problems, the story isn’t over.  Customers have a long and selective memory when it comes to their interactions with us.  Those instances where we take care of both the product and relationship create a mental and emotional tie to us. Sadly, when we fail at either of these, the customer may sometimes remember an exaggerated negative experience.  And that is the memory that drives their next buying decision.

So, how it will it end with the Taco Bell/ law firm story? Who knows.  But you can bet, “I’m sorry” are two words Taco Bell is ensuring its employees know how to say with its customers today. After all, they know what it feels like when you don’t hear them.

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