Posted by: joannabrandi | December 11, 2007


I meandered into Panera’s on Sunday morning for a cup of coffee and a bagel. Real coffee and some form of breakfast goodie is part of my Sunday ritual (breakfast on the beach with the NY Times) and I usually stop at any one of three local places depending on what I’m in the mood for.

Before I could order my scooped out toasted whole grain bagel I overheard another customer ask the counter person where her bagel was, apparently she’d been waiting for it a while. He pointed to a small white two slice toaster that was behind the counter and said, “It’s in there, it didn’t toast enough so I had to put it back in, that toaster really only warms them.”

The customer asked why a big bread store would be using a single toaster to toast bagels (on the weekend, ina tourist town, in season) and the young gentleman replied, “The regular one is broken.”

Now he turns to me for my order and I tell him what I want and casually say, “That broken toaster must be real pain, you probably sell a lot of bagels here, how long has it been broken?” “A few days,” came the reply.

“A few days??? You’ve been keeping customers waiting for breakfast, lunch and dinner while their bread toasts in that single toaster for days?” “Yes ma’am”

I suggested that they drive down the street and purchase several inexpensive toasters at Target so the lines would move quicker and then give the toasters away to the employees when they were no longer needed. The young man looked at me with tired eyes. “You are not the first customer to suggest that. And, we could also give the toasters to charity when we are done with them” I agreed that that idea was great and then asked why it hadn’t been done.

“Look ma’am ( I hate when they call me that) I’m not the manager here.” The look on his face and tone of his voice said it all. I smiled and said, “I understand” because I did.

I waited patiently while my bagel got toasted and took it up to the beach where I ran into some friends, who noticed how yummy my whole grain bagel looked and seem shocked to find out where I had bought it. It seems they don’t like to stop at the store – they don’t like the service. Of course I had to tell them what was going on there today, and as we were talking another friend came by and added his two cents to the conversation. And you guessed it – negative word of mouth took a life of its own as everyone agreed that if they were the manager of that store they would have, when they realized the commercial toaster was not going to be fixed by the weekend, gone straight to Target and get some toasters. And then expense it afterwards (ask for forgiveness, not permission.)

So as far as moments of truth go, I left the interaction with a negative feeling. I felt bad for the employee who knew the decision that had been made to survive with a single two slice toaster was a stupid one because it made the customers wait too long, and I felt bad for all the customers who had to wait longer than they expected to, and I felt for the company who lost mindshare if not marketshare because someone (who could have been afraid of the ire of the person above him or her) didn’t make a choice that would make the customer’s experience better.

Next Sunday, I’ll go a quarter a mile in the other direction and get my breakfast, and I’m likely to do that for many more Sundays to come. At some level, where the customer (me) calibrates the caring of an organization, Panera’s lost points for their shortsightedness. It impacted the employees (imagine being asked the same question over and over about the toaster) and the customer. Okay. Toasted.

Can’t say I’ll never buy a nother cup of coffee there, since it’s on a convenient corner. I can say I’ll spend less there than I used to, and find other alternatives all within a half mile radius. Lots of choices. No reason to spend my money there. Snooze, you lose.

Lest you forget the maxim click here for your mini poster – post it, send it, share it. Remember it.



  1. As you always say…”Common sense isn’t common anymore!”

  2. Here’s my customer “experience”:)

    The other day, a human being pretending to be “working” in a customer service capacity told me to have a nice day. Well, actually, it was more of a grunt. And because he didn’t bother looking at me when he grunted it, and was in fact walking away as he finished the grunt, I’m kind of connecting the dots here. But I am pretty confident that on some guttural, primordial level, I was told by this individual to have a nice day.

    So. Do you think he really meant it?!

    Let’s understand each other. It’s not that I really need customer service people to tell me to “have a nice day.” I’m as aware as anyone else that this is a cliché and, just like the “how are you,” is not really full of deep, rich, interpersonal meaning anymore.


    When even the basic *building blocks* of communication aren’t in place, I get irritated. And then I think: this company sucks.

    Is that harsh? I don’t think so. This particular company actually has many layers of customer service; they even have a dedicated toll-free customer service line that, to my knowledge, is staffed by people and not voicemail. And this company also spends a great deal of money and time to promote its customer service systems and policies. I even think they have one of those c-level “Customer Experience Officer” positions.

    Yet despite all of this, they can’t seem to “get it” at the most basic level. And if you can’t get it at the basic level, you can’t get it at any other level, since basic is basic.

    Here’s what I’d like you to think about, please. As my little experience (hey, no height jokes!) illustrates, customer service really isn’t some giant “conceptual thing” that is about how many reps you have or how much money you spend on promoting customer service commitments.

    It’s about the basics. It’s the little things. It’s about telling people to “have a nice day,” and actually meaning it; or at the very least, looking at them in the eye and smiling (or, at least not frowning).

    It’s time for customer service to learn a very valuable lesson from quality assurance; notably, the Japanese concept of incremental quality improvements (”kaizen”). Don’t wait for some big booming voice from the sky to tell you that you’ve “achieved customer service” — and don’t be lulled into thinking that just because you talk about it, and have posters that promote it, and include it in your training, that it’s actually HAPPENING.

    Build and integrate customer service in very small, ordinary ways.

    Including when your reps tell people to “have a nice day.” If they can’t do something that simple, that ordinary, and that ACCESSIBLE, then all of the planning and training and Customer Experience Officers in the world aren’t going to do much.

    Have a nice day.

  3. Adrian,

    I love you! True to form you are always telling the Blatant Truth!

    I’ve got to agree – sometimes it’s the little things that mean so very much.

    I was just terribly mishandled by the folks in the call center at Barnes and Noble. Not only did they mess up my holiday order – their “system” can’t do what I need them to do now and is sending the book that still hasn’t arrived up to NY (where I was for Christmas). If I want it directed to me here in FL (I don’t want the damn thing at all any more but they can’t cancel the order, they can only replace the book – puhleeze) I have to intercept it with UPS.

    They were kind enough to give me the UPS phone number.

    The rep didn’t know a thing about dealing with an upset customer. Not a thing.

    Amazon here I come….

    Oh yeah .. that was my second call to them. On the first call I could hear another customer carrying on about how they “screwed up his entire order.”
    When I mentioned that fact to the second rep – she said “Oh Yeah, sometimes our phone system does some crazy things.” Oh brother!

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