I recently started thinking about special requests from customers. What industry do you typically think of when you hear special requests? I immediately think about the restaurant industry. Think about how often you have told your server to hold the onions or put the dressing on the side. Perhaps you completely remade the entrée. Maybe you had to explain to your server that you had a food allergy. Or maybe your request was a bit more involved. You wanted to have a romantic evening with your spouse so you called the restaurant ahead of time to request a private room with a violinist during your dinner. How would you say your experience turned out? Was it a success?
The truth is, we have all made special requests at some point, whether for food, gifts, special events, business, etc. I know am guilty of making special orders or requests. Let us examine some of my past experiences with special requests.
My family visited a local Italian restaurant to celebrate my mother’s birthday a couple weeks ago. I knew that this restaurant could make favorite dish, which happens to be chicken piccata. However, the menu has the entree listed as veal piccata. Our server that evening had literally just come to Indiana from Italy. So there was a bit of a language barrier and on top of it, was still learning the menu at the restaurant. When I ordered chicken piccata, our server looked at me blankly. I told him I had ordered it before here and it was no problem. A little while later the server came back and asked me again what I ordered. My younger sister also made a small request. She ordered an entree to be made vegetarian. She repeated that she was a vegetarian a few times. In all honesty, I didn’t think I would end up with anything close to what I ordered. I figured my sister would have either not eat her meal because it had meat or would the kitchen would have to remake her entree. However, we were both pleasantly surprised when our food came out just as we had ordered.
It wasn’t just the fact that our server got our special orders correct, but that he made an effort to get to know our table. My sister talked with him about places in Italy she had visited a few years ago. My other sister works at a winery and discussed with him different wines. He also taught my brother to say a few things in Italian. At the end of the evening, he shook all of our hands and asked us our names. He thanked us for visiting and walked us out of the restaurant. It was a unique restaurant experience, one that will make us return in the future.
Etsy is a perfect example with vendors that allow you to make special requests. Vendors generally work with you to fulfill your need, which is great. Of course, this isn’t the only site out there like that. I have found that a lot of vendors on Etsy don’t say no to you. One of my favorite vendors creates dog bows. I will send the vendor messages asking if she has a certain color of fabric or anything new she can make me. Usually within 24 hours, (generally less) she will let me know what my options are. She even has made special orders just for me! I think this is one of the reasons why I continue to purchase from her.
A few years ago, I worked at a 5-star hotel downtown Indianapolis as an event concierge. As an event concierge, I worked directly with meeting planners that came into town for conventions, meetings, and parties. It was my job to make the client happy and assist them in any way I could throughout their stay at the hotel. Event concierges have to possess many qualities in order to be successful but the most important one was being intuitive. One client sticks out in my mind. I was helping this client set up prior to the event and noticed she was stressed from traveling and then things not working out as planned. Instead of asking her what I could do, I brought her both a glass of water and white wine. It was just a small gesture, but it made a huge difference to this client. It seemed to turn her whole day around.
Working at the hotel, we saw a lot of obscure requests but we never told our guests no. Whether our clients needed us to order them dinner, sew on a button to their shirt, order tickets to a baseball game, or have us create marketing packets for their event, we always made it happen. ‘No’ was simply not in our vocabulary.
“You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down.”
My question is, when have customers gone too far with their requests? From a customer perspective you should be able to customize something YOU are paying for, right? From a business perspective you don’t want to lose a potential customer or a current customer. Is there a right or wrong answer? I see where both perspectives are coming from. I don’t necessarily think there is a right or wrong answer.
If the customer says they won’t work with you if you don’t fulfill their request, do you take on the challenge or do you decline to work with them?
I admit that sometimes I have felt guilty about asking for a custom order or special request. The only time I generally don’t is when I have built a relationship with the other person, like with the dog bow vendor on Etsy. I think it is all about understanding each other and learning the other person’s needs or wants. You want to have an impact on your customers. While their request may take time, it could be something they remember forever. By helping them, it could potentially convert them into loyal customers too. Isn’t that what we should always strive for? I think the goal for businesses, is to always find ways to leave an impact on your customers. Even if you can’t fulfill their request in its entirety, you can at least assure them that they won’t be disappointed by your service. That everything else will be perfect for them.