It was Saturday morning and I woke up with a craving. All I wanted was an egg soufflé from Panera Bread.
Panera only offers this savory treat until 11 a.m. on the weekends. But lately it seemed that every time I stopped by, which was always well before 11, they were sold out. It was 10, so I quickly searched the company’s website and discovered a new option to conveniently place orders online. Ha, I thought, this time I will not be denied! I ordered breakfast for my family, paid via credit card and received a confirmation email. The note said that our order would be ready at 10:26. My husband kindly offered to brave that location’s weekend tourist traffic and parking nightmare, and left to pick it up.
Forty minutes later, he called. “They don’t have anything you ordered,” he said. What? I thought. Surely there’s been a mistake. I had a confirmation. Did they need the number? “Nope,” my husband said. “They said the soufflés sell out fast and that we need to come earlier.”
The restaurant’s cavalier response left me indignant, then livid. Our morning was wasted and by the time my husband got back, it was almost noon. Most importantly, how could they send me a confirmation with a pickup time if they couldn’t fulfill my order? How could they then act as if it was our fault for not ordering early enough?
Well, hell hath no fury like a customer scorned. For the first time, I took to social media to air my grievance, writing a post titled “How to Alienate Your Customers and Drive Your Restaurant Business to the Ground” on Panera’s Facebook page. I vowed never to return.
But then I began thinking about the experience and realized there are lessons here for any business.
In response to the threat of online competition, many companies are looking for ways to save customers time and convenience. However, any such changes require rigorous quality control testing before going live. Panera launched a faulty ordering system and ultimately failed to deliver on its promises. Pool firms contemplating any change that could affect a customer’s experience should test, test and test again. Even out-of-the-box invoicing systems or POS software require careful attention.
Secondly, plan in advance. My rotten Panera experience could easily have been avoided had the restaurant noticed how often it was selling out of popular items, then adjusted for demand. Similarly, pool firms need to be alert to their customers’ needs — are certain products seeing a spike in demand? Is predicted bad weather going to create a need for repairs? Will local legislation cause an increase in safety products for pools? Make those adjustments as soon as you can and, if that’s not possible, acknowledge the problem with customers.