The good news is that service seems to be getting a little better. Companies are starting to pay attention to their customers more, and I am seeing more smiles now than a year ago. Or five years ago, for that matter. The bad news is that too few companies are catching on.
The Good - Ruby Tuesday.
I never thought I would say anything nice about a chain that I always kind of considered to be an "also in" casual eatery/bar, but I guess hell does occasionally freeze over, and thanks to genetic research, yes, pigs can fly.
So here I am, about to sing the praises of Ruby Tuesday, because to be quite frank, they surprised me big time last weekend.
To set this up, I have to once again bring up the fact that I am not a fan of the Ruby T or of TGIF or Appleby's or Chili's. It isn't so much that I dislike them. It's more that they don't do much for me. Sure, the food's good and the service is adequate, but... it's just kind of Blah. O'Charley's. Bennigan's. The dozens of other chains just like them. You can change the tag line all you want, you paint the walls a different color, you can feature new stuff on your menu, but it's still just different versions of the same thing.
At least to me.
But that changed this weekend when my wife, a gift certificate in hand, dragged me and the kids to the local Ruby T.
First of all, the manager's name was stensiled on the front door. Now... I don't know why that struck me as cool or relevant. I don't even know why I even noticed it. But the fact of the matter is that it made me feel pretty safe about the fact that this restaurant had the confidence to semi-permanently announce to the world that so-and-so was the manager. It's a small thing, but I noticed.
Second, we were greeted by three separate people, and all seemed very happy to see us. (No the restaurant wasn't empty.) We aren't talking about polite smiles here. These people actually seemed happy. It was a nice change from the norm.
Third, I noticed that our kids' activity books were different. One was geared for kids under 10 and the other was a little more relevant to a 10-14 year old. That's pretty cool. Most places just have one kids' menu, but somebody at corporate realized that 10-year-olds don't necessarily want to color bunnies and trace dinosaurs. I thought that it was a nice touch for them to have two separate menus/activity booklets. Ruby T might not be the only restaurant to do this, but it's the first one that I've been to. That's the kind of attention to detail that gets my attention.
Fourth, they changed their menu concept and took a chance: Instead of being all things to all people by introducing yet another skillet dish or quesadilla this or cajun that, Ruby T decided to go on the offensive as THE burger specialist. Their menu still has all of the usual stuff, but it now also sports 36 different burgers on a huge double-page thing that squarely placed them (at least in my mind) at the top of the burger market heap.
Sorry Fuddruckers and your like, but Ruby Tuesday (of all people) has taken the lead.
36 burgers? Big, juicy, perfectly cooked burgers?
And while I like Fuddruckers and their concept of letting us (their customers) decide what to put on our burgers, they're falling short on the delivery: Sure, letting us build our own burgers is cool, but you're basically only giving us tomatoes, lettuce, onions and pickles... eh. That's not a lot of choice, is it?
Now compare that with 36 different burgers, and you can see where I am going with this: If you're going to be in the foodservice business, be relevant. If you want to be relevant, stand out. Stand out by... well, overdoing it: 36 different burgers is completely ridiculous, but that's exactly what's so brilliant about it.
Ruby T gets MAJOR kudos from me on the guts it took to just say "Hey, you know what? Why don't we just go all the way with this? And while we're at it, let's stab a big steak knife right down the middle of them to make a point?"
Fifth, the waiters and greeters all wished us a nice afternoon on our way out and were super friendly and upbeat. That's always nice.
So while I still won't put ruby Tuesday on my Top 10 favorite restaurant places, at least it's on my rotation now, which, actually, is saying a lot.
Now for the bad: Lowes.
My wife and I went straight to Lowes after our Ruby Tuesday burger lunch and got to experience a company that absolutely doesn't get it.
I know it's a "warehouse". I get it. But when I ask someone who works there where something is, I expect them to kind of have an idea... and maybe even have some sense that... you know, a smile doesn't hurt. Anyway, this weekend, the item was a hand truck. Here's basically what happened:
"Hi, can you tell me where the hand trucks are?"
"Excuse me. Do you know where the hand trucks are?"
"Um... yeah. Aisle 21."
"Hi. I'm looking for the hand carts."
"Yep. Go that way and turn right on aisle 52."
14:19 - Customer Service Counter
"Hi. Can you tell me where the hand trucks are?"
"Sure, let me check." *Looking through a reference binder* "Aisle 54."
"Nope. I've already been there. They're not there."
"Oh. Let me call someone."
(I'll spare you the intercom thing and the subsequent radio chatter.)
"They're on aisle 41, sir."
"Excuse me. Hand trucks. Where?"
"They're in aisle 23."
"Can you help me? I'm looking for hand trucks."
"Sure! They're with the ladders and step ladders. right over there and on your left."
I finally give up and find my wife still waiting by the dish washers for someone to notice her. Just as I arrive, someone finally asks us "have you guys been helped yet?"
Um... "Yeah, we'd like to buy this model. But while you're here, do you know where the hand trucks are, by any chance?"
"They're right on the other side of this aisle, sir."
Having to spend close to 45 minutes looking for an item in a store is completely ridiculous.
To have to wait thirty minutes to be waited on is completely ridiculous.
To have the loader guy who tossed our new dishwasher into the back of our van turn around and walk off without as much as a smile or a "have a nice day" or a "thanks for shopping at Lowes" just sucks. He just turned around and walked off. It was rude.
And the Lowes site seems to be down this morning, so I can't rip a logo to add to this post. Way to go.
Some businesses actually try to stand out and make their customers want to come back. Others obviously couldn't care less.
The good news is that more and more businesses are starting to focus on their customers' experiences again rather than just crunching numbers. The bad news is that they are still the exception rather than the rule. When even a company like Lowes doesn't get it, you know you still have a long way to go.
One last thing: If your company is going to advertise friendly service, deliver on your promises.
If you don't, someone else will.