Friday, December 18, 2015

Olive Garden - Thanks for Nothing (literally)

 But Wait ... It Gets Much, Much Worse ... (or, how to use a "make-good" to destroy customer loyalty forever)

Here is the blog I posted immediately after a bad experience.  There is an update, which only makes things much worse.  So, if you have already read this, scroll down and read more. Otherwise, realize this is a disaster (for Olive Garden) in three acts ... but it's a great lesson on how to piss away three decades of solid customer loyalty in under two weeks - and, apparently, without even trying.

Sometimes small mistakes have big consequences.  Like "forgetting" the salad dressing for an anniversary dinner.

Today (as I write this) is my wedding anniversary.  Since Lynn was feeling a bit under the weather, we decided to get carry-out from Olive Garden.  They were having a salmon special that Lynn loves, so the choice was obvious.

I got the food - it's delivered to you at the bar - and usually the server unpacks the take-home bag, but this time she didn't. I notice this, but didn't take any action.  After all, Olive Garden had never let me down.

Got home with hot food and sat down for a wonderful anniversary dinner.  As we usually do, we ate the hot food first, while it was hot, but we were both looking forward to the salad, which we love.  It's our dessert!

Only this time there was a problem.  The good folks at Olive Garden had "forgot" the salad dressing.  How you do that, when there is a cut-out in the lid of the salad container for a cup of salad dressing is beyond me.

You know how a magic moment can be shattered by one otherwise small problem?  Well, that's what happened tonight.

So thank you, Olive Garden, for nothing.  For lacking the quality control to ensure such a simple-but-important mistake doesn't happen to people who are counting on you for a good dining experience.


I just sent the following to Olive Garden, and I hope they choke on it.

Dear Olive Garden:

I want to congratulate you for destroying three decades of deep and consistent customer loyalty, and really sing your praises for the way you did this in less than two weeks, and did so without breaking a sweat. 

If you'd set out to drive me away, you couldn't have done a better job.  So good job, folks.

First, I had a bad experience on December 17. (note - I'll clip this here because you've read it in more detail above - basically, I just reminded them what happened).  

So I contacted Olive Garden via their website, and a few days later I got a call from a woman at the restaurant (Nellis Blvd., Las Vegas). She seemed to have a bit of an attitude, as if calling me was One More Thing she had to do to make her day complete; but, she asked what happened, so I told her.   Then, not very graciously, but she kept in check and I figured she might actually be having a Real Bad Day, so I cut her a bit of slack for attitude.  

Anyway, she said she'd send me a gift card.  That was nice, and for a brief moment I felt good about what they were doing to make good on a mistake that caused me a lot of unnecessary grief on my anniversary.  Then she blew it.  

What wasn't so nice - especially since she was trying to make up for a mistake and "win me back" as a loyal customer was the way she asked me very specifically what I'd ordered. It came across loud and clear that she was afraid that she might give me "too much."  

I didn't ask for a gift card, and I would have been happy with one at any value (i.e., a $20 Gift Card to make up for a $40 meal would have been OK).  But she had that "grasping" aura about her, as if this had to measure up.  I've got to tell you, that took the luster off the "make good."  Olive Garden had not "won back" my loyalty by her miserly attitude, but I figured it was all in a day's work (so to speak). I like the food and I suppose I'd be back despite her, so I let it go.

Then, everything started to fall apart all over again.  A week later I get an email.  It said that it's an e-gift card. Apparently, the corporate assumption was that Everyone On Earth gets their emails on their phone, so they could just flash it.  But
I don't, so it was worthless to me.  I wasn't about to carry my desktop computer over to Olive Garden and hook it up to demonstrate that I'd gotten an e-Gift card, and I didn't feel much like printing it out (it ran to pages and pages) - plus, it occurred to me that a print-out might not be acceptable, since somebody could print out dozens of them. 

Instead of a "make-good" that was supposed to make me feel better, this kind of fumbling, bumbling "make-good" was really starting to annoy me.  So I called the store and got "Mike," the manager.

I explained what had happened and he remembered me - "the guy who didn't get his salad dressing."  I'm not sure if that meant he was bothered that his store had let me down, or if he thought I was a petty jerk.  But he seemed like a nice-enough guy, so I continued.

I asked him what I was supposed to do with an email e-Gift card.  He said, in effect, "just show it to us on your phone."  I explained that I don't get my email on my phone - he actually seemed shocked (apparently this is more common than I thought, though how people manage emails on phones is beyond me).   I have thousands of mostly-business emails archived on my computer, and I use both screens to read and answer them.

I got even more annoyed at this arrogant corporate assumption that all "real" customers get their emails on their phones, making me a second-class customer, but Mike seemed like he was trying to make things work out, so again I "let it slide" - they were making a hash out of what was supposed to make me feel better about Olive Garden, but Mike didn't make the policy, and you can't fight city hall.

He said he'd mail me a gift card.  I gave him my address and sat back, waiting to get it and imagining the "free" dinner Lynn and I could enjoy there. 

But the next day (today), Mike called me back.  He hadn't mailed the gift card.  Instead, he said he had to ask for the digital code on the email e-Gift card.  That made two assumptions. 

One, (again), that I get my email on my phone, so I could give it to him - and that's just Alice through the Looking Glass kind of thinking.  And ...

Two, that I'd saved the email, even after it had proved useless and a replacement was on the way.

What Mike was doing, clearly, was taking steps to make sure that I didn't use both the plastic gift card and the digital e-Gift card, thereby stealing from Olive Garden the retail price of two meals.  There can be no other reason why he wanted that digital code.  

He couldn't have said any clearer that he (and, by extension) Olive Garden, didn't trust me and really didn't care that I knew they didn't trust me.

That kind of "respect" destroyed the last vestiges of goodwill and loyalty.  I told him so and hung up. 

Make-goods are supposed to make an injured customer feel better about the company that "wronged" them, not feel like a suspected thief.  

This may sound petty, but I went into detail for a reason.  I work every day with clients who are paying LOTS of money trying to win customer loyalty.  Every time Olive Garden runs an ad, they are trying to both attract new customers and - much more often - trying to remind customers to be "loyal" and come back by.  Yet so often, this is undermined by:

a.  Ill-advised corporate policies (I have little doubt that Mike was trying to follow a corporate policy when he asked for that code); and,

b.  Poorly-trained (or motivated) employees like the first one with the attitude problem, or Mike - who should have known how his request for the digital code would be taken.

It takes major investments in marketing to attract new customers and win back old customers. It takes almost nothing to destroy that loyalty and make mockery of their advertising and marketing investments.

That's the lesson for the readers.  For Olive Garden, the message is a bit more simple:  I give up.  But I will tell my friends.  Count on it. 

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