When bad service bites back

By Evert Akkerman

Law360 Canada (July 20, 2023, 11:21 AM EDT) --
Evert Akkerman
Evert Akkerman
It continues to surprise me how often businesses in hospitality, retail and financial services disrespect and disappoint their customers. Customer service isn’t hard — it just takes a bit of effort.

Many years ago, while lumbering through law school, I had a summer job as an instructor at a sailing school in Holland. One summer, enrolment was such that the school needed additional boats, and, on June 4, 1994, I was part of a group of nine instructors dispatched to a boat rental company some 50 kilometres away to pick up a bunch of boats. It wasn’t very well organized — we got there and were given three outboards for 10 boats. Normally it takes me some time to wake up in the morning but in this case, I instantly realized that this was going to be a long day. I elbowed two guys I knew well — Lars and Menno — and said, “Let’s grab an outboard and three boats, and get the heck out of here.”

We tied three boats together, installed the outboard on the lead boat, and left the harbour — Menno helming the lead boat and operating the outboard, and Lars and me in the second and third boat. When we looked back a minute later, the second team, which had also taken three boats, was in disarray and blocking half the canal.

We puttered along all day, hitching rides with yachts here and there, and our only real deadline was that we needed to pass the locks at a place called Dokkumer Nieuwe Zijlen, which were set to close at 8 p.m. We got there, with sunburn and without lunch breaks, at 7:30 p.m., cleared the locks and docked on the other side. At this point, we decided we had earned a hearty meal before crossing the lake for the home stretch.

It so happened that this village had a restaurant on the dike called “The Friar,” and I’m not making up these facts, as after so many years I don’t feel compelled to protect the guilty any longer. The Friar wasn’t fancy dining, but close to it — the owners aimed for the luxury segment. I remembered that my parents had been to the place a few times and raved about it, so that’s where we went.

We entered the place with our sunburnt faces and faded sailing attire. It was less than half full, which we figured was great for a Saturday, as we wouldn’t have to wait. We stood there for a few minutes. None of the staff acknowledged us. One lady who seemed to be in charge walked by at a brisk pace. I flagged her down, which didn’t seem to go over very well. She stopped and gave us a “watchawant” look. I asked whether it would be possible for us to have dinner there.

And here’s what she said: “Yeah, well, as you can see, we’re really busy. Maybe you can check upstairs, and there’s a chip wagon down the road, why don’t you head over there?” To which I replied: “Your hospitality envelops us like a warm blanket.”

It was clear that we didn’t fit the mould as The Friar’s ideal customers. We turned on our heels and walked out. And since we were still hungry, we went looking for the chip wagon. Which we found in minutes. The moment the owner spotted us, he came out with open arms and a broad smile, and said, “Welcome gentlemen, how can I help you today?” We told him what had just happened to us at The Friar. He said, “No worries, I’ll make you some extra special fish and chips!”

Which he did, giving us a great customer service experience. We referred friends and neighbours to him for years after.

Comment from Lars, as we walked back to the boats, still processing the snub: “When you think about it, the treatment we just got at The Friar was remarkable — you’re in law school, Menno is in med school, and I’m in physiotherapy. You’d figure that we’re the kind of crowd they’d be looking for, in a few years.”

The next day, I called my dad to tell him about our aborted dining attempt. He could hardly believe it, and then said: “Wait a minute, your Aunt Greta holds a social event at that place once a month, with 15 of her friends. I’ll give her a call.” He did and, reportedly, Aunt Greta instantly changed the location for her monthly dinners. All in all, it was a rather costly judgment call for The Friar. The good news is, it’s been under new ownership for several years now, and doing a much better job of providing hospitality.

Evert Akkerman is an HR professional based out of Newmarket, Ont., founder of XNL HR, and partner at executive search firm Crossings People. He can be reached at info@xnlhr.com and evert.akkerman@crossings-people.com.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s firm, its clients, Law 360Canada, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.  

Photo credit / Tero Vesalainen

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