A cigarette butt.
I summoned the manager to express my lack of interest in paying for the meal. Her response was interesting: “You have to understand my position. None of my employees smoke that brand. This must have happened in the packing plant, so it’s not our fault.”
Wait a sec. There’s a cigarette butt in my beef bourguignon, and I have to understand her position? It seemed to me that she needed to understand my position, apologize, and assure me of steps she would take to ensure such a thing never happened again. Anti-nausea medication might have been nice, too.
Fast forward to a scolding one of our clients just received from a customer, who was offended at direct mail addressed to her husband instead of to her. She, not he, makes the family’s business decisions.
A little digging revealed that her husband had opened the business relationship, but that, over time, she assumed responsibility for it. Unfortunately, the database still listed the husband as the primary contact.
Some of our employees felt she should have understood our client’s position. It was, after all, an honest database error. And, some thought she was guilty of having an over-the-top feminist reaction.
Much in the same way I didn’t see a meat packing plant error—just a cigarette butt in my food—this woman didn’t see a database problem. Right or wrong, she saw sexism. She emphatically did not need to understand our client’s position. She needed an apology, at most a brief explanation, and an assurance it wouldn’t happen again.
Database problems happen. We know that. Direct mail recipients don’t know that. So errors like this one are opportunities to update the database and, equally if not more important, win customers by apologizing with class.
As for whether this customer was guilty of an over-the-top feminist reaction: hard to say. I’m male, and I don’t know what it’s like to be a female in business. But I do know that sexism, even the appearance of it, matters these days.