Shep Hyken's Customer Service Blog

Complimentary Should Mean Free

My buddy went to dinner with his wife to celebrate their anniversary. The server overheard them talking about how many years they had been married and was flattered they chose to spend their special night at the restaurant. So, he brought them over complimentary champagne. They were surprised and most appreciative. That is, until the bill came.

As my friend looked over the bill he noticed there were two complimentary glasses of champagne on the bill had a charge of two dollars per glass. Since it was only four dollars, and rather than have a confrontation with the server, he just paid the bill. A perfect evening derailed when the surprise champagne turned out to be a bigger surprise than he expected.

That four dollars nagged at him all night. The next day he decided to let the owner know that charging four dollars for two glasses of complimentary champagne was wrong. And, when he called the owner, the owner was mortified. He couldn’t believe it and apologized profusely. There was a good explanation. It turns out that there should have been no charge for the drinks, but for the purposes of book keeping, the bartender had to charge something for the drinks. The next step would have been to reverse the charge. That’s something the bartender forgot to do.

So, there was a legitimate explanation. My friend will go back, and I’m sure the owner of the restaurant will go overboard to take care of him. However, that is not what this lesson is about.

What would have happened if my friend chose not to call the owner? I found out, because I asked him. He told me that he would never go back to the restaurant. Ever! And, he would tell his friends about how they “nickel and dimed” him. He isn’t sure why he called the owner that day. He said, “I was just so surprised I had to let him know how unhappy I was about it.”

We all know the stats. Depending on the ones you read, up to 96% of customers who have a complaint, don’t make the complaint. They just don’t come back. But we thought they were happy.

In this case, my friend had a legitimate complaint. What caused it was a breakdown in the system. The good intentions of the server and the restaurant were ruined because a bartender accidentally didn’t properly put in the order.

So, what’s the lesson here? Fix the system. What other process can be created to ensure this mistake never happens again? To me, it’s simple. I’m not a restaurateur, but I asked my friend who is and he said, “Assign a dollar value of zero to complimentary drinks. Then it won’t show up as a charge that has to be reversed.”

How many processes in your business can, because of human error, cause a Moment of Misery? What complaints can be avoided by making a common-sense change? Are you losing business but gaining negative word-of-mouth advertising that you may be unaware of because of a breakdown in these processes? Think about these questions and come up with some answers.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information contact or www.hyken.com. For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to www.thecustomerfocus.com. Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

(Copyright © MMXVII, Shep Hyken)

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  1. Nancy Aucoin says:

    I had a fail at work last week. A customer sent a used product in for a minor repair (repair done free). Typical time is 3 weeks to his door. He asked me to speed it up for his vacation. I requested from the proper person for THEM to request a quick turnaround. (FIRST FAIL) – they got to me 2 days late, although I religiously checked every day for them. Since they were late, I upgraded shipping to next day, still should have gotten to him 2 days before he left. I check tracking the next morning, and it showed no movement. I checked it again .. no movement. SECOND FAIL. I had our shipping manager call UPS. Sure enough, my package was on that persons desk, they messed up! So they promised us Saturday delivery. Guess what – they were delivered Monday after he was gone. THIRD FAIL Needless to say, I received a ‘cross’ email from him telling that he was sure I’d blame everyone else, but it was ultimately my fault. (a little more to it than that of course). Moral of the story, it WAS my fault for not having more control over the process and having to depend on others. I don’t know how the process can be fixed, but it is something I’m going to address. I take my job and my customers VERY seriously, and hate to fail, always go beyond the norm, so something like this just upsets me (it’s 6 days later and I’m still upset ha ha). I need to find a way to make this customer know this was not ordinary, and to recover his good faith in us.

    • Thanks for sharing your story. First, I absolve you of all guilt. You tried your hardest. In talking to the customer it’s important to acknowledge the problem and apologize for it. As you stated in the story, don’t assign blame. Explain what happened and accept responsibility on behalf of the company. It’s obviously too late to do anything about the late package. You can offer some type of incentive for the customer to continue to work with you. It may be as simple as giving him your number to reach out to you directly so he has a “friend” in the company. You demonstrated great effort, even if it didn’t work out. Hopefully, he will see that. I hate offering discounts because of a problem, but if he comes back and you can give him a little something, it might be an incentive to try working with again. Hope this is helpful. Keep the effort up. That’s what amazing people do!

    • Nancy- I understand your frustration. His “cross” e-mail expecting you to blame everyone else certainly comes from the “not my fault” attitude so many CSR’s have given. For that matter, the same attitude is prevalent in our whole culture. However, don’t beat yourself up over it- too many good people have burned themselves out by doing that too many times. You are doing right in assuming responsibility on behalf of the company, without pointing fingers. You are also doing right in making waves within the company to shore up the flaw in the system. What you can do to improve things with this customer is to be sure to call him when you get some answers as to what is being done to fix the system. He may not care about the details, but he will likely be impressed that you cared enough about the situation to contact him about it instead of blowing him off, even if it’s weeks later. You’ll probably win him back as a loyal customer.

  2. This story reminds me of a local restaurant where they told me that in order to add lettuce, tomato, and pickle to a hamburger, they would have to charge extra because the hamburger was the daily special. The rest of the meal, my family joked about them charging for mustard and salt and pepper too. While we weren’t promised anything as complimentary. Charging for this minute “extra” when most other restaurants do not has caused us never to return to that restaurant. Was it worth it for them?

  3. This story reminds me of a local restaurant where they told me that in order to add lettuce, tomato, and pickle to a hamburger, they would have to charge extra because the hamburger was the daily special. The rest of the meal, my family joked about them charging for mustard and salt and pepper too. While we weren’t promised anything as complimentary, charging for this minute “extra” when most other restaurants do not has caused us never to return to that restaurant. Was it worth it for them?

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