How To Lose a Customer for Life

Ron Kaufman

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My friend told me about a local restaurant that serves a variety of Chinese dim sum dishes. He went there with five friends for a business lunch and ordered widely from the menu. Each dish featured six bite-sized items, one per person.

Most of the food was delicious, but one tofu dish did not measure up. All six diners popped the tofu into their mouths. Then all six turned up their noses at the taste. The tofu had gone rancid.

Tofu disintegrates pretty quickly in the mouth, so everyone swallowed hard and reached quickly for their drinks to wash away the taste. The waitress apologized right away and promised to tell the owner. Better-tasting dishes soon followed.

But when the bill was presented at the end of the meal, the tofu dish was still included! The waitress apologized again and referred to the restaurant owner. The owner appeared and defended the bill. ‘But you ate the tofu, ’ he said, ‘so we still have to charge you. If the tofu was no good, why did you eat all six pieces?’ Despite their protests, the tofu remained on the bill.

And that was the last bill ever paid at that restaurant by any of the six lunchtime diners…or their families…or their friends…or their business associates.

Now, what should the owner have done? Provide free desserts or a round of free drinks for everyone at the table? Immediately remove the tofu from the bill? Apologize personally and thank the group for their valuable feedback? Promise to alert the chef immediately, and do so? Upon departure, give each of the six diners a business card from the restaurant with a hand-signed promise from the owner for ‘Six delicious and fresh tofu dim sum…free anytime within the next two months’? All of the above?

This approach would help ensure that each diner returned in the near future, giving the restaurant – and the tofu – another chance. But no one eats just tofu. So there would be another round of lunchtime bills to pay by each diner…and their families…and their friends…and their business associates.

Key Learning Point
Occasionally things do go sour. When it happens to you, fix the problem fast. Make it your speed, generosity and concern that gets remembered. Not the trouble, or the tofu.

Action Steps
Develop a service recovery policy and display it with pride. Let your customers know: if something goes wrong, you will make it right.

Ron Kaufman is an internationally acclaimed educator and motivator for partnerships and quality customer service. He is author of the bestselling “UP Your Service!" and founder of “UP Your Service College". Visit for more such Customer Service articles, subscribe to his Newsletter, or to buy his bestselling Books, Videos, Audio CDs on Customer Service from his secure Online Store . You can also watch Ron live or listen to him at .


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