Customer experience, the true cost of one very hot chocolate

This weeks blog on customer experience is one of those rare occassions where i can retell a story that involved my family last year.  It highlights how one poor customer experience led to significant losses in sales revenue and did untold reputational damage to one of Brightons most well-known independent coffee shops.

The story

Jack like many teenagers (14) has a sweet tooth and loves hot chocolate, especially the thick, really chocolaty type, which our local coffee house is renowned for. Having purchased his hot chocolate, he unfortunately spilt it over his hand and floor, as he attempted to put the lid on. Unsure what to do, he blew on his hand, while the employee looked on, even suggesting he might want a cloth to wipe up the spillage. With the employee appearing disinterested and showing little care towards the wellbeing of the customer, Jack took himself off to the toilet to run his had under a cold tap before heading home somewhat upset and distressed.

As you can imagine his mum and I were shocked at the state of the burn (the doctor put him on antibiotics as it was so nasty and had become infected) and the apparent lack of care and concern shown by the coffee shop employee, and their failure to offer any kind of help or first aid, that we decided to call the coffee shop and share this experience with the manager, registering our disappointment about how Jack had been treated, as well as seeking an explanation as to why there appeared to be no process for an accident like this and why his employees had failed to provide any kind of first aid.

The response

The manager, who was unavailable at the time, did call back two days later. While offering an initial apology he then went on to explain that it couldn’t have been his hot chocolate as the machine will only make it to a certain temperature and therefore couldn’t be responsible for the burn and thereby absolving his coffee shop of any responsibility. This of course compounded the situation and ironically demonstrated the same lack of empathy that his employees had shown to our son and their customer.

My partner then decided to email the manager with pictures of the burnt hand, while reiterating her unhappiness at the lack of care offered by his employees, and his failure to acknowledge the seriousness of the matter and listen to her concerns. Just over a day later the manager replied acknowledging the burn did look bad but again reiterating that his chocolate cannot burn like that, while also enquiring whether Jack had sensitive skin? He did ask if we could confirm the time and date of Jack’s visit so he could speak to the employee involved, while informing my partner that as he had known her several years he did trust her account. Strangely this seemed to have the opposite affect and left us feeling like he didn’t trust our account, not the message I imagine he intended to send out.

Resolution or not?

After a further exchange of emails the manager came back to say that he couldn’t find an employee who could recall the incident, before wishing Jack a speedy recovery, and that as far as he was concerned was the issue resolved. From our perspective we felt utterly dissatisfied by his response and abject failure to recognise his responsibility and duty of care towards Jack. I do not know whether he thought we were looking for compensation or were even trying it on, although what I do know is that from the outset he was defensive, and determined to avoid any culpability while failing spectacularly to understand our feelings on this matter.

Like many organisations and their managers, this manager failed to recognise the importance of managing the customers’ feelings instead relying upon information and process in an attempt to resolve our complaint.

It was evident, that the manager felt he had done all he could and he simply didn’t recognise the importance of listening to how we were feeling, and understanding how this experience and his subsequent response had left us the customer, with feelings of frustration, upset, disappointment, distress and annoyance. So for the coffee shop the issue has been resolved, for us too it has been resolved just not in the way the coffee shop perhaps envisaged.

Could our custom have been retained?

The simple answer is yes. Had he have taken the time to listen to and understand our concerns he would have realised that all we ever wanted from him was an acknowledgement that they could have shown a greater duty of care towards the customer (a minor) and some explanation into their accident/first aid process, and then a genuine apology for the distress this caused Jack.

Instead the coffee shop

• Has lost our custom to the tune of £1200 so far

• Has lost the future custom of our friends and family

• Has failed to gain valuable customer insight and feedback

• Has failed to recognise a possible learning opportunity

• Has failed to provide any form of sincere apology to this day

• Has suffered reputational damage and loss of good will

Final thought

In the days following the incident Jack told his friends, and shared his story on Facebook, I told my friends and also tweeted the story to my followers, while his Mum told her friends and family who have all now decided to frequent another local coffee shop. Who knows how many people they will tell? One thing is for sure though, the manager and his coffee shop have lost considerable trade and good will and they don’t even realise it.

With £1,200 in lost sales already that is turning out to be one very expensive hot chocolate.

Tony Dain, MD Future Vision

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