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The ‘Cure’ for lousy customer service


I know it’s foolish to walk into one of Rochester’s most popular restaurants without a reservation on a Saturday night. But, we did it anyway; and, in addition to enjoying a great meal, it turned out to be a great lesson in how to cure the customer service ills that infect many companies.

I’ve been on a rant about lousy service lately. First, there was my experience with American Airlines (F-Bombs over Charlotte), followed by my open letter to the CEO of Delta. I got lots of responses to these posts, many of which brought to mind that it isn’t just major airlines that are afflicted with this disease.

Throughout, I have espoused a model of empowering employees first outlined for me by my good friend Cara Holland (Great Thinkers Who Are Also Great Leaders). It goes like this: in order to be empowered, one must 1) know how to, 2) be allowed to, and 3) want to. Training… delegation… motivation! Got it?

So, let me get back to my restaurant experience. My wife and I waltzed into Cure, which “features seasonal, locally-sourced interpretations of French Farm cuisine”, at about 6:30 p.m. clueless of its popularity. With no place to put us, the hostess apologetically offered seats opposite the bar on a half counter facing the wall. Curious and too hungry to say no, we perched on the stools hoping that better seating would magically appear.

It did!

One of the bartenders noticed our discomfort and offered to set up a “chef’s table” in the hall connecting the bar and the kitchen. My wife — a foodie — didn’t wait to gauge my reaction. She jumped at the chance.

The food was fresh, well prepared, and wonderfully presented. The service? Well, the service was so attentive to our needs that we jokingly asked the young waitress for her mother’s address so we could write a note, thanking her for raising such a good daughter.

Following a few seconds of fun banter, the young woman crouched down so she could speak to us at eye-level. She told us she had moved away from Rochester but returned when she learned that Chuck Cerankosky (who also owns the Good Luck restaurant) was opening a new place.

Why? Because Chuck’s encourages his employees to do whatever they can to ensure their customers have a good experience.   This, of course, is a perfect example of my friend’s empowerment model. And, it works because Mr. Cerankosky apparently trusts his employees to do what’s right.

It’s challenging for larger organizations to delegate such trust. Often, the brand promise is, in part, consistency of customer experience. So, large corporations – like airlines, your Cable Company, and Wal-Mart – limit the discretion of their employees. You won’t have the ‘Cure’ experience when dealing with one of them. Their competitive advantage derives from their vast pool of capital to advertise and to deploy technology.

So, this brief anecdote about Cure should serve as a model for small businesses endeavoring to compete in a global economy. And the best way to beat the competition is to empower the front line to do what’s right.

Bon Appétit!

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