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Service lemons into lemonade

For New York City’s Café Metro and Fresh & Co. chains, “social media helps us answer the question, ‘What’s going wrong?’,” says Ty Sullivan, director of marketing for the sister sandwich and salad concepts. When he noticed a complaint from an irate customer on Twitter, Sullivan regarded the tweet as a free mystery shopper’s report.

“The female guest was visiting from France,” he recounts, identifying her only as Marguerite. “She had an issue with the gentleman making the salads and it spiraled from there.”

Instead of trying to appease her with a free sandwich (“everybody and their brother gives out a free sandwich,” he says), Sullivan requested that Marguerite meet him at the Fresh & Co. store for what she thought would be a routine staff meeting, an ideal opportunity to sound off.

In truth, the managers and staff conspired to make the emergency meeting anything but routine. “We were not there to beat anyone up,” Sullivan recounts, “but to open up a dialogue.”

Meeting informally, without the pressures of the lunch rush, the crew saw that Marguerite was just a disappointed person, not some faceless, whining pain who lived to stir up trouble. “She was a very engaging speaker,” says Sullivan. “She really capitalized on smiles and eye contact.”

They learned her story and, together with the guest, brainstormed ways to deliver better service.

Marguerite left giving hugs to the team. Upon her return to France, she e-mailed the store and even directed friends there. When she made it back to New York months later, she brought gifts for the employees.

Meanwhile, Fresh & Co. recounted Marguerite’s experiences, and the chain’s follow-up, on its blog.

Marguerite wasn’t the only one moved by the meeting. Employees of a quick-service restaurant are accustomed to interacting with a line of blurred faces. Making a connection with Marguerite left them a deeper understanding of thee customer, according to Sullivan. “After that meeting employees talked to customers as if they were neighbors,” he says.

He advises using social media for real-time, often humanizing comments.

“Any business not involved is committing a grave error,” he says.

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