The bar is set pretty low

Ummm, YummImage by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

In marketing, we talk a lot about being remarkable.  We want to delight our customers.  We want to create moments that they can't help talking about.  In short — we want to stand above our competition in a way that we become the brand of choice.

I'm here to tell you — we don't have to be on all too high a step stool do just that.

Earlier this week I was in Mt. Kisko, New York conducting a social media workshop for an advertising agency.  After we were done, the agency owner and I decided we needed some caffeine, so we swung through the local Dunkin' Donuts.

What I witnessed in those next 15 minutes could be a half day case course on customer care and employee relations.  I'll try to sum it up.

It's around 5:00 in the afternoon, so most of the people in line (and there was a significant line) were just buying some form of coffee.  There were two guys behind the counter and a manager who flies in with supplies (milk, syrups etc) and then flies out.

It's taking them forever to fill anyone's order or advance the line.  People seem pretty frustrated with the two clerks — neither of whom seem to actually know how to make many of the coffee drinks.  Worse…as they are getting it wrong, they're sort of giggling about it — clearly uncomfortable.  But they're not asking the manager for help, which I observe and think is a bit odd.

Finally, it's my turn to order.  I order the two coffees and the guy has to ask me 3 times what I ordered.  Meanwhile, the other clerk is taking an order from an old man who is clearly agitated.  The manager walks by (carrying more milk) and the old man says to him in a very loud voice, "this is the worst Dunkin' Donuts I have ever been in!"  (Now before you keep reading…stop and ask yourself if a customer said that to you in front of a room full of customers…how would you react?)

The manager looks at the old man and in a very sarcastic voice replies, "thanks for the compliment."  The old man shakes his head and then commences to shout at the clerk because he's making the wrong coffee.  I'm thinking to myself two things:  First…blog post heaven and second, this can't get any worse. 

I was wrong.

After the old man leaves, muttering under his breath, the manager says to the two clerks — "if that old guy ever comes in here again — you tell him to go someplace else."  In the next breath, he adds, "and if you two would stop talking to each other and listen (and then he shouts for some emphasis) LISTEN to the customers — you wouldn't be getting all of these orders wrong."  He continues to berate his clerks for a couple more minutes and then storms into the back of the store. 

As you might imagine, the two clerks gave him a look that pretty much substituted for the finger and get back to trying to fill the order.  Now I get why they didn't ask him for help.

Meanwhile, I am holding up a $10 bill because we got our coffees (mine was wrong but it wasn't worth the drama of saying so) but no one has taken my money.  Both clerks nod at the other guy when I ask who I should pay.  I practically have to insist that someone take my money. Finally, the kid who filled our order starts to ring us up.  I remind him of what we ordered.  My coffee alone should have been $3.95 but somehow he ends up charging me $4.20.

The point of this incredibly long tale?  Here are some of my takeaways:

  • Without training and setting a good example — no employee can be successful
  • Secret shopping is a vital investment if you own a retail establishment
  • The manager/leader of an organization sets the tone for everything that happens
  • As customers, our standards and expectations are incredibly low (which means it should be easy to exceed them.)
  • Some people just should not have "front of the house" jobs
  • It only takes one bad experience can taint the consumer's impression about the entire brand (I see and think about Dunkin' Donuts in a totally different way now)

The whole experience was a train wreck.  Are you so sure that your management team and front line employees would fare better?  Are you really sure?

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7 comments on “The bar is set pretty low

  1. Stephanie Grangaard says:

    Dunkin Donuts lives two blocks from my sister’s house in Chicago, an easy walk. I had an awful experience the first time I bought coffee at Dunkin. I gave them three more chances and each time it was like I was inconveniencing them. Now I bear the traffic for the 5 minute drive to a pleasant Starbucks.

    I guess Dunkin Donuts is even worse in New York than it is in Chicago.

  2. Drew, you just spelled out the power of the Manager in one simple experience.

    A lousy manager makes for a lousy store. A great manager would have trained those two boys properly, given them positive support, and generally cared about the customers and the experiences.

    You can have the best product, best price, or most convenient store, but without a great manager to oversee the day-to-day operations, you’ll still fail.

    Don’t ever underestimate the power of the manager. And don’t ever take that manager position for granted. If you are hiring that person for your company, take the time to do it right. It will pay off handsomely in the long run.

  3. Andy says:

    That sounds horrific.

    It’s like a “how to shoot yourself in the foot in business” sketch. Glad you found some post-quality material in it, and I hope your coffee wasn’t as bad as I’d expect it to be from there!

  4. Susan Schaffer says:

    Funny that so many (seem to) understand social marketing via twitter & facebook … but fail to manage our real social interactions with customers. That last 3′ across the retail counter is still the most precious real estate we have!

  5. Sam says:

    I had a similar experience recently too – but not with Dunkin Donuts. I was at a local cafe with my partner, we were only 2 of 4 customers. The waitress did an amazing job looking after us, clearly she was new to the business and was trying hard to get it all right – but trying hard at least. When we went to the cash register to pay, the manager came up to her side and started yelling at her – we were only there 2 seconds but apparently it was taking too long! The young girl was so frazzled that I would be surprised if she didn’t resign that day. The manager continued her rant – “it’s no wonder I am on the verge of a break down”. Clearly she needs to look elsewhere to blame for that – perhaps in the mirror. I won’t eat there again.

  6. The real problem is not with Dunkin Donuts, or the manager or the giggling employees. The thing is that it is a big company. And employees do not feel any enthusiasm for doing better job even if there is a good manager to give them an example.

    If it was a small local coffee shop, and the owners were serving behind the counter, things would be different.

    My point is that it is a systematic problem of big companies: nobody can cultivate enthusiasm in a person that hates his job and that gets too low salary for it.

    Surely you can make an employee do what you want by introducing scripts, instructions and penalties, but this is a halfhearted measure.

  7. Kirill —

    So are you saying that ALL large companies suffer from this? Are the employees at Apple as apathetic as the experience I had at Dunkin?


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