No fried chicken tonight.
When I was about 8 which was a very long time ago we were on a road trip. We were always on a road trip – I went to four high schools – so that wasn’t unusual.
Fast food really wasn’t a big thing yet and kids did not go to restaurants with their parents, at least not in my family, at least not then, so that meant lots of sandwiches as we crisscrossed the highways and byways of a different America.
Life was no picnic.
Imagine my excitement then when one night in some podunk town long forgotten my dad stopped the traveling circus for fried chicken. Hot food! We knew it was fried chicken because there was a bucket on the roof of the small building with a chicken in it: we figured it out.
Even happier was I when my dad hauled me out of the car to “help him” (I was prone to motion sickness and my dad would use any excuse he could to get me out of the car so I could get my sea legs back…)
We went into the chicken joint and the girl behind the counter (who was probably 15 but seemed very grown up to me!) started to take our order. My dad, never known for wasting time or being indecisive, said something like, I’ll have some of this and some of that… I’m sorry, the girl interrupted him, if you want potatoes (or something – it was a long time ago so verbatim recollection is out of the question) you gotta get this.
This exchange – I want this, No, you gotta get that – went on for three revolutions which, considering my dad’s short fuse, was exceptionally long. Back and forth they went until my dad, his little patience exhausted and stymied at every request, finally said (and this part I do remember verbatim) I don’t have to do a goddam thing. At which point he wheeled and left.
Heartbroken and hungry and realizing he wasn’t coming back, I ultimately left too.
As he marched and I trudged back to the car, my brothers’ faces were pressed against the windows in anticipation of the soon-to-be-consumed feast. Noting my empty arms they yelled, what happened?!
We aint getting no chicken tonight, I sniveled.
And that was that.
Of course we ate sandwiches again: my dad had a temper but we never skipped a meal.
I’m reminded of this experience every time I interact with a customer service person either on line or in a brick and mortar store and they start telling me what I can and can’t do. Having slightly more patience than my father I’ve never lost it with someone being resistant to me.
But on more than one occasion I’ve had to explain very clearly to an agent, phone rep or even a cashier that there are options, and options are good, and absolutes are not part of the option. I understand there are times you simply cannot do what the customer asks. I get it.
But looking for solutions – staying solutions-focused, as my friend Karlee says – is all about keeping options open and customers engaged.
So unless you’re interested in driving your customers elsewhere – and potentially crushing an 8-year old’s dinner dream – don’t tell your customer they “gotta” do anything: ask them how you can help them.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I’ve gotten hungry.