Some time ago my wife and I went through the drive through at the local Taco Bell. I don’t know if the person making the food was new, mischievous, or just inept but what we ended up getting hardly resembled the burrito we ordered. If I’m member correctly they were pretty rude in giving us the food as well. So I called the 800 number that was printed next to the drive-through window and explain the situation.
They apologized, took our name and address, and send us a free five dollar coupon in the mail. I consider this a nice gesture but when I later tried to use the coupon I discovered it was only good at corporately own taco bells. But the Taco Bell where I had the problem wasn’t corporately owned, so I couldn’t use it locally. We were traveling a lot at the time so I figured it would be easy to use the coupon somewhere else. It turns out that virtually none of the taco bells we encountered while traveling were corporately owned businesses. We eventually gave the coupon to someone else and wished them luck trying to use it.
From a business standpoint, giving us a five dollar coupon was probably more detrimental than simply giving us an apology. Every time I would use the coupon and was denied it reminded me of the original negative experience.
The thing that made this stand out so much in my mind was how much it contrasted with another experience I have had. Several years before we were waiting to be seated at a Max and Erma’s in Michigan. Half of the restaurant had empty clean tables, but we were still kept standing for 20 minutes. I wrote them a letter explaining that this was frustrating as a consumer.
They sent me an apology and a $10 gift certificate to Max and Erma’s. I set the gift certificate aside and did not use it right away. About a month later I got another letter from them further apologizing with another $10 gift certificate. Evidently they were tracking to get certificates to make sure I visited the store again. When I didn’t come in after the first one they sent me another one to try to get me back.
I was impressed with the amount of effort they put into making sure I returned to the customer. If the first experience had upset me so badly that a $10 gift certificate wasn’t sufficient to make me return, they sent out another one in order to get me back.
While there is obviously a limit to how much effort businesses can expend on dealing with unhappy customers. Max and Erma’s business seems to have a very good, low effort system that makes worlds of difference for the consumer.