More than 'Just Salad'

The web is littered with stories about brands/organizations who have fallen short of customer expectations (I write about some of these in my new book, Shift & Reset).  Often the complaints are isolated to a single cockroach in a hotel room that went unaddressed or a one-star take down of a cheaply made product.  The complaint is available to anyone who goes looking on Yelp or Amazon but ultimately has little impact on how people perceive a brand, and even less influence on how an organization behaves.  Other times, when a company fails to respond to a complaint or follows an ill-advised communications policy that suggests a lack of respect for its audience, the situation goes viral - and the brand/organization is taken to task, publicly, for all to witness. 

What happens next?  Money is spent on PR. More money is spent on making changes and improvements to address the issue.  A few months later, even more money is spent on marketing to explain that everything has been fixed.  If a brand/organization is lucky, and they are still in business after the crisis has subsided, it becomes a very expensive lesson in how the world now operates.

We have all heard theses stories (and watched many of them unfold in full glory on YouTube). I’ve posted numerous complaints myself, and though most seem to fall on deaf ears, I have regaled friends, colleagues, students, and family members with my disastrous brand experiences and customer service failures.  I have even worked several of them into speeches and interviews.  Bad customer service stories can quickly become legendary. 

But what about the good stories?  What happens when someone has a really good experience with a brand/organization?  What happens when a company does respond thoughtfully to a customer complaint?  You don’t hear those very often.  Well, I had a situation arise the other day – and it actually ended well.  So, I think its to share it. 

Here’s what happened:

On Friday (September 2, 2011), after attending a meeting all the way across town, I went to get lunch at Just Salad, a chain of watch-someone-make-your-salad-right-before-your-eyes take-out restaurants with locations in New York and Hong Kong.  I had never heard of Just Salad, but the concept (think Chop’t) has become pretty well established, especially in New York, so I knew what to expect.  I chose an item off the menu, answered a half-dozen questions for the Just Salad employee behind the counter about how I wanted it prepared, and took my lunch back to my office.

I ate at my desk, while reading an article and fielding phone calls.  I finished the first half of my wrap - and it was really yummy.  I was excited to eat the rest… but when I reached down to grab the other half of my wrap I saw a small bug crawl out from between a grouping of black beans.  I re-packaged my lunch, let out a big sigh, and tossed it in the trash.  I turned to my computer and typed in: “I was so excited to eat my lunch from Just Salad… until I found a bug walking around in it. So much for that idea.’ and published it to my twitter feed.

I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t sickened. I was disappointed. I wasn’t going to take my wrap across town to complain.  I wasn’t interested in making a big issue out of it – I didn’t even look to see if Just Salad had a twitter handle. My tweet was an outlet for my disappointment.  I just needed to vent.  I wasn’t expecting anything.

Within minutes I received a message from the @justsalad twitter handle asking me to DM my email so they could follow up about my experience.  I responded with my email.

The first email message from Just Salad came at 2:16pm EST:

Good Afternoon Brian,

Thank you for providing your e-mail! I am so sorry to hear about your experience with us earlier today. We hold the quality of our food products in the most serious regard, and I would like to address this with our management, store staff, and supplier immediately. Would you mind elaborating on the details of your order (i.e. store location, time you visited, and what you ordered)?

Thank you, and I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,


Jennifer Konde
Director of Customer Relations, Just Salad LLC
Phone: 212-244-1111 (office)
Follow us: Twitter | Facebook | Blog | Newsletter | SaladMatch

I wrote back at 2:29pm EST

Thanks for your note (and bravo for catching my tweet).  I bought a Texas two-step wrap from the Just Salad location between 39th and 40th on 3rd avenue in NYC.  The in-store experience was fine… a little slow (and I think I had someone who was training handling my order).  But the main issue is that when I got back to my office (which is in Soho, I was out at a meeting, so I had to take a taxi back, and am on the other side of town - or I probably would have gone to return it to the store)… I started eating, and after I had finished half of my wrap I saw a small bug crawl out from the other side.  I threw out my wrap and tweeted my experience…

Hope that helps.


Brian

Jennifer from Just Salad replied at 4:31pm:

Good Afternoon Brian, Thank you for the details!

I am deeply sorry about this. I have already spoken to the General Manager at our Third Avenue location, and we will be going over our food handling procedures with the entire staff of this store, in addition to contacting our supplier, to be sure that this does not happen again. We truly apologize, as this is definitely not representative of our usual level of quality.

I would love to treat you to a complimentary salad/wrap on us. Please accept the following coupon for use on your next delivery or pick-up order.

Code: XXXXXXX 

Active from 09/02/2011 to 10/02/2011

Use at http://www.orderjustsalad.com Your feedback is extremely important to us, and please do not hesitate to contact me with any additional comments or concerns in the future.

Thank you, and have a great weekend!

I was surprised to receive any response from Just Salad, and beyond pleased with the personal, direct, and efficient way in which they addressed the issue.  As I noted above, most of the time my complaints go unanswered – even those I direct to a particular individual (or twitter handle) at the offending brand/organization.  Not here.  Just Salad reached out to me.  Just salad took it upon themselves to resolve the situation.  And more than just offering me a coupon (which they did), their response seemed to suggest they were responding specifically to the issues I had raised, not just hoping to make the complaint disappear.  This was no auto-response, that’s for sure.  And I suspect that if you asked Jennifer from Just Salad, she would tell you it really wasn’t that difficult to reach out as she did.

I will probably eat at a Just Salad again – they have earned a second chance.  More importantly (for them) I will regale friends, colleagues, students, and family members with details of this positive customer service experience, and work a reference into an upcoming speech or interview.  I am still disappointed that my lunch came with more than just salad. But I know that someone at Just Salad cares enough about my business to reach out and try to address the situation.  I appreciate that. A lot. 

To all the brands/organizations out there who wonder what it takes to be successful in today’s highly-fragmented, fast-moving connected society… my advice is this: TRY. There is no perfect response, but a response is necessary.  The rest you will have to figure out on your own.

I write more about customer service and how organizations must re-think how they communicate and engage audiences in a connected society in my new book, Shift & Reset. Buy a copy today… then read it. What are you waiting for?