The deli display case was overstuffed with the day’s bounty, ready for the masses to descend as lunchtime approached: Grilled salmon on focaccia, roasted peppers, gourmet meatloaf – a veritable feast for the eyes. The bread bins, off to the right in the corner, were well-stocked with just about every type of bread and roll you could imagine. My usual request, a tuna on white bread with tomato, wouldn’t do today. The delicacies beckoned, and so I thought I’d go for the grilled chicken breast, beautifully stacked on a plate in the display case, dripping with barbeque sauce. I dutifully took a number from the dispenser and waited impatiently to give the woman behind the counter my order.
“Number six!” came the call, and like some lucky lottery winner I waved my ticket in the air to indicate that I was next. “I’ll have the barbequed chicken breast on a roll with tomato, please,” I declared, mouth watering. “And can you heat up the chicken, please?”
“Excuse me?” asked the woman behind the counter quizzically, a departure from her usual welcoming wave and big smile. “The chicken, here,” I said, motioning toward the stack of chicken breasts labeled $3.99 each. “I’ll have one of those on a poppy seed roll with tomato, please.”
“I don’t think we can do that, sir. Let me ask,” said the woman, heading through the double swinging doors to the kitchen as she spoke, quickly returning with three of her colleagues. “This gentleman here, he wants the chicken breasts, on a roll. Can we do that?” she asked, furrowing her brow as she cocked her head toward her apparent supervisor and the two other counterpersons who had caucused to discuss my lunch. “I don’t think so,” said the supervisor, who then asked me, somewhat incredulously, “What exactly do you want?”
“The chicken breasts, the barbequed ones, here,” I said, pointing. “On a roll with tomato.”
“Oh, yeah, we can’t do that, sir. You’ll have to buy the chicken breast and pay for a sandwich. So it’s $3.99 for the chicken breast, and $5.99 for a sandwich.”
“So it’ll cost me ten dollars for the sandwich I want? Why don’t I just buy a roll for fifty cents, and a chicken breast for $3.99, then?”
“Well, you could do that, too. That’s your choice,” replied the supervisor.
“But you won’t make it for me?” I asked, in as nice a way as possible. “No sir, not unless you want to pay for the chicken and a sandwich.”
“OK, thanks,” I said, now running late, having spent the past ten minutes negotiating.
I had the lady behind the counter wrap me up one barbequed chicken cutlet, walked over to the bread bin, grabbed a roll and made my way to the checkout. Total, $4.49.
What’s the process management lesson here?
First off, had they sold me the sandwich in the first place, I would have been out of there in five minutes instead of fifteen. Several workers were sidetracked for several minutes trying to figure out how to placate me but were unable to. Lots of wasted time.
Second, the sandwich would have cost $5.99, which I would have gladly paid. Instead, the store got just $4.49 from me – 25% less than they could have easily realized. Lost revenue.
Third, the woman behind the counter was not properly empowered to make a simple decision, and as a result had to escalate the “issue” to a supervisor who conferred with several other workers who, to the chagrin of others waiting during this busy lunch period, were unable to perform any other work. Bottleneck.
Finally, they failed to satisfy their customer. My needs were secondary to the “rules,” which in this case were unnecessarily constraining, and as such I’ll think twice about going back there. Poor customer service.
Wasted time (i.e., added expense), lost revenue, a process bottleneck and a dissatisfied customer, all the result of a poor process. Multiply that by the number of customers similarly frustrated by similar "issues" during any given day, week, month, year and well, you get the idea.
I headed back to the office, threw the chicken into the microwave in the break room, placed it on the roll, and got back to work. And it was delicious.