"Fine Print vs. Fine Line.” “Is the customer always right?”

- It takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience – “Understanding Customers” by Randy Newell Legner

News of bad customer service reaches more than twice as many ears as praise for a good service experience – White House Office of Consumer Affairs
3 in 5 Americans (59%) would try a new brand or company for a better service experience – American Express Survey (2011)


As a retail consultant, one of the areas that I’ve focused on lately is the area of customer experience.  Actually, I’ve been more intent on the technological advances that are creating meaningful and brand building experiences in store and online.  However, I experienced a situation recently at a local restaurant that reminded me how important the seemingly day to day decisions are relative to building or maintaining brand loyalty. 

The situation - I was using a $15 free coupon that I received during a Holiday promotion for purchasing a gift card.  I really didn’t think about the coupon until recently and thought I would use it as I was having dinner at a local sports bar in our area while my wife was out of town on business. 

Just me, a cold beverage and a decent meal while watching baseball on the patio.  The weather was nice this evening and the experience was pretty positive.  So as I went to pay, I pulled out my coupon and passed it along with my card.  Didn’t take much time before the server was back to tell me that the card had expired and the manager wasn’t going to honor it.  I hadn’t read the back and sure enough in big print was a January expiration date.  So, in fact the coupon had a really short shelf life from the beginning but technically the operator was correct and I was in the wrong. 

But human nature kicked in.  The positive experience had suddenly left the building.  I thought about the decision the manager had made.  Did he even consider what my experience would be in turning down the request?  I also thought about how my wife and I schedule watch parties for parents of a social media group of the University of Texas football games.  At this restaurant, we had scheduled 2 or 3 such parties in the fall.  The last party included about 25 couples who spent in the neighbor of $50 a ticket.  I’ll go the conservative route and say the overall bill was about $1000. 

I have to say that this experience will probably cause us to choose another venue.  Is this fair on my part?  Debatable, but again, I’m more curious as to whether the manager deliberated on this in his mind or simply made a black and white decision.  There are no simple decisions with retail or hospitality today. 

Expectations on service are continuing to rise and service continues to be where winners and losers are decided in the marketplace. In a world filled with social media options to voice unhappy experiences, this establishment is lucky that I keep them anonymous.   The following quote from Jerry Gregoire, owner of Redbird Flight Simulations sums up my thoughts.  “The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.”

What do you think?  Am I being unfair?  Let’s have a dialogue on how customer service plays out in the trenches.

Glen Bradley is a managing partner with The Retail Think Tank.  Check out more of their blogs at www.theretailthinktank.com