For the last few years, we’ve been picking up BBQ from a local joint every Saturday after the local college football game. In over three years, they hadn’t made any mistakes getting our order right, even though we often had big sometimes even complicated orders. The food was always tasty and was prepared correctly every time.

Then, about a week or so before the end of this year’s season, they forgot the BBQ sauce. Now, if you’ve had BBQ before, you know that BBQ sauce is critical. Critical. Fortunately we had some sauce at home to use, but it wasn’t as good as their BBQ sauce.

I recall that they were pretty busy at the drive-through that night, and it seemed like the kitchen was a bit more hectic than usual. So I wrote it off and quickly forgot about it.

The following week, when my father-in-law and I got to the drive-through window, after placing our order, I thought I would let them know what happened the previous week. “We’ve been coming here for a few years,” I told the guy at the window who seemed like a manager, “and in that time you guys have never made a mistake. But last week, you forgot the BBQ sauce. We love this place, and I just wanted to let you know about it so you can keep things going strong. Obviously, we came back, so it wasn’t a big deal.”

The guy apologized, thanked me, and told me he’d make sure there was BBQ sauce this time. I was appreciative that he’d had such a positive response, and my father-in-law commented on how nice I was about it. Then to my surprise, when giving me the order through the window, he said “Here ya go,” and handed me a bottle of their sauce.

I think this is the best example of great customer service I’ve seen from a bricks-and-mortar operation in a long time. Going into the situation, I’d had no motivations or motives save one: I’d hoped that they’d hear me, and do their best to make a change with quality in mind for the next time, and for the next customer.

But instead, the guy handed me a $6 bottle of BBQ sauce. Although the bottle probably cost them next to nothing, by giving it to me he’d sent a message in a way that an apology couldn’t. “We’re sorry,” the bottle in my hand seemed to be saying to me. “We made a mistake, and we value your business.”

I don’t think there’s a better way to set things right than to be responsive to your customers in this way. Before graduating from college, I’d spent many years in retail jobs and then a good number in IT support. One lesson I learned early on is that most of the time, your customer just wants to hear you, somebody, anybody, take credit and apologize, even if it’s not your fault. Try it, the positive results may just surprise you.

Footnote: Those of you who know me also know that I’m predominantly vegetarian. So if you’re wondering what I eat from a BBQ joint that features dancing cartoon pigs as its logo, I usually make an exception and get the catfish.

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