A few months ago I went to the local Stop & Shop supermarket to order a cake for my daughter’s birthday. The order was placed in advance so there would be plenty of time for the bakery to have it ready for my Saturday pickup. When I arrived on Saturday to retrieve the cake, it was NOT ready. Apparently, the original order had been lost altogether. Not good.
There was a gentleman near the bakery department who was stacking pallets. It did not seem to me that the bakery was his normal department, but nevertheless, he tried to be helpful. In the freezer, he located a cake that was similar to mine and did his best to write my happy birthday message on it. Since the party was starting soon, I thanked him and took the cake straight to the check-out register. As I waited in line, I took a better look at the cake. I was not thrilled by what I saw. The lettering was poorly done. The frozen cake had little chunks of ice on top. The lettering had gone over the ice, and the melting ice was causing the already less than legible letters to distort even further. I was starting to feel sad. This was not a cake worthy of my daughter on her special day.
Just as I was realizing my disappointment, it was my turn to pay. As the cashier scanned my cake, I said to her in a quiet and conversational tone, “What do you think of this cake?” She replied, “Why? Is there something wrong?” I told her that my order was not ready when I arrived, the cake was frozen, and the lettering was poorly done and getting worse. Then I added, “This is for my little girl.”
I was not complaining, just commiserating. I was simply being human and expressing my thoughts person to person. I had resigned myself to the idea that there was no time, no way for me to get a better cake. This was it. The last one. I expected no action and demanded no remedy.
What happened next surprised me.
The woman said, “Please wait here.” Then she took the cake and zipped straight into the manager’s office. Not 30 seconds later, the manager emerged from her office with my cake in hand and apologized. She asked me if I could wait, “Just a few minutes,” and I said, “Yes.” Then she disappeared. Ten minutes later she returned with a beautiful non-frozen cake with much nicer lettering on top. She handed me the new, improved cake with her apologies. She also handed me a store gift card equal in value to what I had paid for the cake. I was amazed.
As a professional customer service supervisor and service aficionado, I took careful note of what transpired from the moment when I voiced my displeasure. Here is what I noticed:
First: The cashier had incredible empathy. She noticed that I was not happy. This was possible only because she was actually paying attention to me as a person. She was so good, she responded to a complaint so subtle that I did not fully realize that I had spoken it. If she had replied to my comments with only a shrug, I would have walked out with the cake and that would have been the end of the matter, at least as far as she was concerned.
Second: The cashier had been empowered. Perhaps her store culture or manager empowered her. Maybe she was the sort of person who has the character and awareness to empower herself. Either way, she took action. Many in her shoes would not have realized that they had the ability to act in this situation. Many others would have lacked the will or the training to act.
Third: The manager showed extraordinary responsiveness. Whatever she had been working on in her office came to a sudden halt when she received the report from the cashier. She went straight to work righting the wrong.
Fourth: The manager went above and beyond with generosity. Not only did she promptly fix the cake and then apologize, she also gave me a refund in the form of a gift card. I would have been satisfied with a better cake. Remember, I never actually lodged a formal complaint, nor did I ask anyone for anything! The refund was not expected, and it knocked my socks off.
This is a team that really gets customer service. Empathetic. Empowered. Responsive. Generous. And really, really smart.
What do birthday parties for small children usually have? Big crowds of people. People who talk. And what do they all gather around ? The cake. A good cake gets compliments and raves – “Ooh, so pretty, where did you get it?” A bad cake does not. My original cake probably would have been served with an apology and a story about how Stop & Shop dropped the ball. Instead, my new improved cake was served with a story about how Stop & Shop has mind blowing customer service.
I told people at the party. I told people at work. I told neighbors. Who knows, it might even end up on my blog. Smart.
Now, who wants some cake?