Today I was treated to lunch at a mid-priced restaurant on Kansas City's Plaza. The restaurant has been known for outstanding service for at least 25 years, and today was no exception. Don't you love when the server is friendly and professional, the server knows precisely when to interrupt and when to back off, the food is delivered as order to the right person, and the bill is accurate and easy to process? The restaurant enhanced the experience with a colleague.
It was almost perfect.
The only mistake was one of miscommunication. (Aren't they all?)
This one was about Diet Coke. When the server took beverage orders, the requests were for water and Diet Coke. She returned with water and Coke Light. Coke Light is not Diet Coke. For the uninitiated, they might seem like the same thing. For Diet Coke aficionados, the difference would have been like serving lite beer to someone who ordered Guinness or Guinness to someone who ordered Diet Coke.
The restaurant is ultra service oriented. They care about the dining experience. People often chalk miscues like this up to disinterest, lack of caring, or laziness. None of those apply here. I also would not presume they get Coke Light for less than they could get Diet Coke, so I doubt it is financially based either.
This misunderstanding of their customer is based on good intentions, and fixing this could improve the dining experience of their customers who order Diet Coke. As a Diet Coke fan, I was surprised a different beverage was delivered then was disappointed when it was not tasteful to me.
When customers tell you what they expect (e.g. Diet Coke) and you deliver something close enough (e.g. Coke Light), what message are you sending them?
The restaurant on the Plaza does many other things right, so the beverage did not ruin my experience today. It will not prevent me from going there in the future. But, I would not bet the same in all circumstances.
I would bet the message to customers at most organizations is, "We deliver close enough."
If your motto is not "close enough", listen to your customers. Talk, ask, listen, hear. Pay attention and listen some more. If you have not asked your customers about their experiences in a real way to enable them to share honestly and to enable you to hear them, your motto might be "close enough" whether you like it or not.