A few weeks back, my sister and I were returning from a trip to Pennsylvania when we decided to stop at an outlet mall near home. We did a little shopping and walked around on one of the first really beautiful days of this spring, but after an hour or two we looked at each other, and as if our stomachs had walkie-talkies to communicate, we knew we were both HUNGRY. 10-4. Whats worse, after four hours in the car and some spirited shopping rounds, our hunger was teetering on the verge of Hanger. (You know, hungry-angry.) And friends don’t let friends get hangry, you guys. They just don’t. So we started searching for a place nearby. Being the incredible health conscious humans we are, all we required was a restaurant that served burgers and shakes. Much to our excitement, there was one of those right down the hill! It was a national burger chain that neither of us had been to but were excited to try before getting back on the road and getting home. We placed our orders and stepped to the side while watching the burgers cook behind the counter. Yum. Burgers!
But then some weird things happened. We waited. We waited and waited. Fifteen minutes went by and a woman who had been standing in the corner of the store was finally called to grab her bag to go. She huffed to the counter and mumbled something about her wait. Must be in a rush to get home, I thought, and shrugged it off. Twenty, twenty-five minutes went by and our number still hadn’t been called, not even for our shakes. Looking around, the customers near us were starting to get antsy, too. A man walked up to the counter and asked about the order that he’d placed 30 minutes ago. He walked back to his seated waiting position without having received a clear answer about his food. Another woman went to ask about her milkshake that she’d order over 40 minutes ago, somewhat visibly annoyed. The response she received from the employee behind the counter was one I’d never seen before: the employee looked her customer in the eye as she voiced her concern, and without a word, turned around and ignored her.
At this point, my sister and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows not knowing what to do. We were hungry and really just wanted our food to go now. At minute 45, my sister’s number was called and she finally received her burger and shake. Then a man who ordered after her was called, which was weird since I’d placed my order even before my sister. Two more customers who were behind us in line were called to get their food, and then nothing. We were now verging on the 50 minute mark, and my internal instinct to be extra kind to those who work in the service industry was wearing thin. I’ve been there! I’ve worked in retail, restaurants and reception: dealing with demanding customers in these settings is not fun. But I was shocked at the complete lack of customer service being demonstrated by the employees behind the counter.
Finally, I decided to stop giving the benefit of the doubt and ask about my order. The woman who was acting as the manager on duty told me unapologetically that my food hadn’t been made. Wasn’t even on the grill. I waited a second after she said this, pausing for an explanation, an apology, anything. Isn’t that what we expect from the culture of customer service that we’ve built?: when something goes wrong in the customer experience, special actions are taken to attempt to make the error a little better so a customer doesn’t leave with a sour taste in their mouth. But after 50 minutes of waiting for a burger, that didn’t happen at this restaurant. I got my money back and we left.
“Cool story, Steph,” I’m sure you’re thinking. Why on earth am I blogging about my terrible burger experience? Why do I think you’d care? I promise it’s not because I need a place to vent about the frustrating experience. I walked out of that restaurant visibly frustrated. Frustrated that I’d waited almost an hour for nothing. Frustrated that I didn’t get to try the food at this restaurant. Frustrated that I was still hungry. And most of all, frustrated at the lack of service I’d received as a paying customer. I didn’t feel cared for and I didn’t feel well-served. And then my brain’s lightbulb went off: what an incredibly valuable lesson in how [NOT] to treat my clients.
Part of the issue at this restaurant was that they were understaffed—only three employees working on a busy Sunday afternoon. I can related to that. Over the last year as my business began to grow, I continued to work at least 24 hours a week at my “real” job. It may not sound like that much, but in the summer and fall when my business was already a more-than-full-time job, I felt constantly understaffed. It resulted in emails that were returned entirely too late, at least 5 full weddings that I needed to edit at any moment, and the neglect of what I know should be one of the pillars of my client’s experience—fast service. Last year, I asked my clients to stand and wait for their order to be ready while I scrambled behind the counter. The good news is that I’ve gotten to work with some of the most incredible couples who were MORE than patient with me when I fell behind. The sad news is that waiting around has never made anyone feel special, cared for, or well-served, and poorly cared for is the absolute opposite of how I want any of my clients to feel. They deserve to know the truth: that they are some of the best folks in the world, that I couldn’t do any of this without them.
So here is where my story diverges from that of the restaurant: I’m choosing to do something about it. I don’t want to stare blankly at the fantastic couples who have trusted me to photograph the first day of their marriage. I want them to know how thankful I am to have each and every one of them in my life, and that I’d be nowhere without the faith that they placed in me when they first hired me. So last week, I sent out some packages filled with love. Now that the surprise won’t be ruined, I’m proud to say that my 2013 couples each received a canvas of one of my favorite shots of their day. As a thank you. As a token of my deep gratitude. As a way of saying, “Thank you for sticking with me even when I didn’t deserve it.” Future clients and 2014 couples, rest assured, it is because of these incredible humans that I’m now able to shower more time and attention on you. I owe them each so much more than something that hangs on their wall.