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Nov 24, 2006 05:04 PM

A simple "I'm sorry" would go a long way

After researching turkey variations for about two weeks, I placed an online order with a local butcher for a 10 pound Diestel. Within half an hour of ordering, I received a call that they were out of this size and brand.

My two options were a 12-14 pound bird or a 6-9 pound organic. With only four people to feed, I selected the 6-9 pound variety. This was a little over a week before Thanksgiving. The Monday before, I was feeling uneasy about the order--not sure why, but I called to confirm. The butcher said that they were too busy to confirm specific orders.

Fast forward to the morning before Thanksgiving. I take an hour and ten minute bus/streetcar ride out to the butcher, only to find that they're opening half an hour late, unannounced. I wait another hour to discover that they've reserved a 14 pound bird for me and no other birds are available.

I explained the situation to the butcher, who tells me that there must have been a "communication breakdown." He offers me the large bird (with no discount) or I can wait until close of business to see if a smaller bird goes unclaimed. Not wanting to waste the animal, I decide to wait, and spend much of the day visiting other stores to discover their smaller birds are sold out, too.

I return at 7:30 p.m. and walk up to the butcher. He can't remember me from our extended conversation that morning, and asks what I want. I tell him that there had been a mistake in my order and I'm back to see if a smaller bird is available. At this point, he goes on a mini-rant about how there was a "communication breakdown," not a mistake. I finally walk out with a 9.5 pound organic bird.

The moral of this story, to me, is that I'm sorry would have gone a long way. Of course butchers are busy during the holiday season, and I understand that sometimes mistakes are made. Had the butcher simply apologized, I would have written this off as bad luck and probably returned at some point, because this shop does have a quality product. However, I will not return and when I get back in the office on Monday and do the rounds of Thanksgiving stories with my co-workers, they'll also hear about this. So the butcher loses one customer and several potential customers. Would a simple "I'm sorry" have been too much?

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  1. "Communication breakdown" is the new term for "I messed up but im going to blame you for it instead". How you must love unaccountability! :)

    Crappy experience for sure - however, the question is do you have other quality alternatives? I've had to bite the bullet a couple times just because they were the only game in town. Sometimes the quality outweighs the rudeness... sometimes, it's just not worth it.

    2 Replies
    1. re: yen

      Luckily, I live in San Francisco, so I have many quality alternatives. As for the "special service" comment, all I expected was to receive the item I ordered.

      Yes, the butcher shop was busy, but the mistake was still the butcher's fault. By repeatedly saying that it was a "communication breakdown," I felt as if he was asking me to share the blame for his mistake. I appreciate that it was a busy day, but simply saying "I'm sorry, we'll figure out what we can do for you" would have made me a repeat customer. Mistakes happen, but the bad attitude made more of an impression here than the error itself.

      1. re: pane

        It seems as if he was asking you to share the blame. The only thing I might have done differently was to have asked his name when I spoke w/ him originally and then repeated my own to him. That seems to help some people have that "spark" of recognition that is often missing when they're under stress.

        I once had the same thing happen to me regarding some baby lamb chops. No order was recieved, I was told. I then pulled out my trusty moleskin and gave the date, time and the name of the person I spoke to. Things were fixed PDQ and I went home w/ free lamb chops. I still shop there and have never had another problem.

    2. You were a one-time customer at a quality poultry market on what is probably the busiest day of the year and you expected special service?
      He probably hadn't had time for lunch, maybe not a bathroom break.

      The line at our poultry market is out the door for picking up Thanksgiving orders. Most of us are regulars; we shop there week-in, week-out, know the vendors' names and they know us. We ask after each others' families. Gee, I even know the guys behind the meat and seafood counters at the Safeway and in the produce and deli departments, so when I need something, they'll go the extra mile. I make a point of patronizing small shops and famers' markets in my own community as much as I can.

      Find good purveyors in your own neighborhood, shop there all the time, establish relationships and value them. When you need them, they'll be there. When things break down, they will more than make it up to you.

      7 Replies
      1. re: MakingSense

        I think a one time customer deserves good service. The OP might have become a regular. OP didn't ask for special service, just wanted what was ordered.

        1. re: Janet

          I think that every customer deserves a reasonable level of service and it's reasonable to reserve special service for good customers. Fulfilling the customer order you accepted is not special service or even good service, it is the absolute minimum level of service and should be expected by every customer.

          1. re: Kater

            I agree with Janet, If you are the customer, the onus is NOT on you too anything except expect what you ordered. If, for some unforseen reason, they are unable to provide what you have taken the time to "PRE" order(read- tell them you want AHEAD of time) then they should be the ones to apologizing. "I'm sorry" doesn't cost anything and may have been all that was needed. (Even if it wasn't the store owner's fault- the customer should always be right-until you can prove otherwise)

        2. re: MakingSense

          As someone in the retail business, I'm more concerned about my customer's next nineteen visits and not so much the one in front of me. You make or break your business on repeat patronage even when you are busy. In fact great service at the busiest times speaks very well of an operation as a whole.

          Of course, just getting the order right wouldn't have been 'special', just expected.

          1. re: MakingSense

            If you can't handle the rush by yourself to the point where you can't take a leak once a day or whatever, then you have three choices: 1) reduce the number of orders you take, 2) increase the number of people working, or 3) do nothing and lose customers.

            "Special service" would have been calling the OP beforehand to let them know of the issue; "special service" would have been finding the correct order and having it delivered. Handing over an unacceptable substitute and not apologising doesn't even rise to the level of "minimum required service".

            This business of "I'm doing you a favour by allowing you to patronise my business" probably kills more small businesses than almost any other reason other than financial mismanagement. While I hate the phrase, "the customer is always right", it wouldn't have taken much to say "I'm sorry for the mix-up."

            I have to admit, I'd have been tempted to say, "Yes, there was a communication mixup, and it was on your side, now what are you going to do to help clear it up?"

            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              Tf that business operates like that all the time it deserves to lose Pane's business and a lot more. But there are indications from the descriptions that there may have been a crisis and we don't know the purveyor's side of this - which still doesn't excuse his not explaining and apologizing.

              The market is a customer too - of the wholesale supplier of the poultry.
              Maybe the shop opened late because the delivery truck was late. Maybe the order was short. Then the owner had to pull staff off the counter to figure out how to rearrange all the orders - how do you fill confirmed orders for 75 turkeys of a certain size when you only have 50 and no way of getting more? You can't "reduce the number of orders" or "increase the number of people working." You can't reach people by phone even if you had the staff to do it. There's no way to "find the correct order and deliver it."
              There are a lot of unhappy people, many of them your regular, loyal customers and some of them potential new customers. You get pretty tired of crisis management, trying to do the best you can under circumstances that are not your fault.
              And let's face it. Some of the people in that crowd are not polite. Sure they're disappointed, inconvenienced and angry. But it's not going to make turkey fall from the heavens. And it's still no reason for them to verbally abuse your staff.
              But after a few hours of this, tempers get short and people aren't at their best. I think it's reasonable to cut people some slack when things have obviously gone very wrong at a place that doesn't have a reputation for poor service.

              I'm not saying that the OP did this at all so please don't infer that. There was probably every attempt to be reasonable and she finally did get exactly what she wanted after a long, frustrating day. I'm sorry there was so much trouble and no apology from the shopkeeper.
              My original post was driven by my devotion to small shops and the need to patronize the ones in our communities that know who we are and take care of us and are being threatened by chains and megastores.

            2. re: MakingSense

              The OP was not asking for anything beyond what he originally ordered.

              If you accept orders via website you are no longer just a "local" butcher shop. Those orders need to be fulfilled the same way a phone order does or for the order of a "regular" who stops in weekly. You are doing that because you've consciously chosen to expand your business. You must be prepared for the consequences of those actions.

            3. I hardly think Pane expecting the order to be filled correctly is expecting special service. It amazes me how time and time again on this board that when a store or restaurant makes a mistake, so many people jump on trying to blame the customer. I think the right thing to do would have been to sell the 14 lb. bird at the 9 pound bird price and have a happy customer. The wrong thing to do was to tell the customer to come back in the evening to see if anything's left over! All of those long time customers were a first time customer at one point.

              1 Reply
              1. I think a simple apology would have gone a long way to soothing your feelings. I know that Thanksgiving is a very busy time for many merchants, but they should remember that it's better to be busy than not.

                One year DH was picking up a takeout order for his Superbowl get-together with the boys. The place was swamped, everyone was kept waiting for 30 - 45 minutes and the takeout food suffered in the rush. We received a gift certificate from them by way of apology later. We forgot the Superbowl irritants completely and would not hesitate to order from them again.

                1. I grew up in the retail business and get really annoyed with the lack of customer service these days. It really does not take a lot of effort to be nice to people, and no, placing an order and expecting it to be fulfilled does not constitute anything "special". An "I'm sorry" is minimal. It doesn't matter whether that customer is a regular, or a new customer. Every customer that walks in your store is a potential regular or a potential "i'll never walk in this place again" person. Everyone messes up now and again, and in my experience, the best thing to do if you work in retail is start out by saying basically "my bad - I'm really sorry, how can I fix this for you?" If you have unreasonable customers, you deal with them one on one, but you don't start out assuming all your customers are unreasonable, and you do what you can to make people happy. And that includes a little of "the buck stops here".