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April 16, 2013

Littlejohn’s does customer value right…

by soniasur

So right after Professor Maxham told us his story about Arby’s I had an experience at Littlejohn’s that exemplified the good side of restaurants providing great customer value. This is how the story goes…

I stopped into Littlejohn’s immediately after class, hoping to get the Freebird sandwich…if you haven’t had it, you must try it! I may be the most delicious sandwich ever. Anyways. The Freebird usually comes in a half-sandwich “lighter fare” form, but as I was quite hungry and trying to fuel up for an “I’m trying to cram writing a GIE paper into 2 hours” session, I decided to opt for a double-size.

As you may know, the counter at Littlejohns is quite high, the noise level (despite the number of people there) is always high, and the ladies behind the counter never seem like they are paying attention. You may have also noticed that I am very short. So, standing on my tip-toes, straining to at least see above the counter, I yell(ish) that I want a “Freebird on wheat bread please!” (I try to emphasize the bread part so that they know it is a sandwich and not the usual smaller wrap form.) I hear the lady repeat the order and I head on down to the cash register….possibly grabbing a chocolate chip muffin for good measure. I pay for my order and happily stand there waiting for my food.

After a couple of minutes, the guy that packs up all of the orders announces “Freebird!” and I joyously indicate that I am the intended recipient of the delicious Freebird sandwich. However, much to my dismay, he hands me a tiny little box that cannot possibly contain the large version I was anticipating. So, as politely as I could – I was hungry, and sometimes hunger makes me cranky – I tell him that I actually ordered a full sandwich… which point the cash register man informs me that I had only paid for the smaller version. At this point I mumble a dejected, “oh” and half-heartedly tell them that it was my mistake and that I would take smaller sandwich.

(This is where it gets really interesting, I promise.) The man who had been arranging the orders proceeds to refuse to give me the sandwich and tells me that he will fix it to my liking. Of course, I realize at this point that, due to the counter’s unfortunate height and my even more unfortunate lack of height, the lady had not heard my order and this entire ordeal was my fault. So I protest, saying that it is not a problem and that I will take the sandwich and go. Again the man refuses! At this point he literally says to me, “I refuse to let you leave until you are completely satisfied with your order.” At which point I give in and tell him my original request. Once I tell him, he promptly goes back and has the cooks fix the sandwich (after reappearing briefly to ask if I wanted a large wheat wrap or bread…I chose the wrap) and emerges approximately 2 minutes later with a gloriously large box that contains my delicious Freebird.

Now, why am I telling this story in excruciating detail? Honestly, it’s mostly because of how astonished I was that he went to all of the trouble…and we had just had customer value class, so I suppose the subject was on my mind. It surprised me that someone from Littlejohns, a sandwich shop that probably sees at least 100 customers a day (and probably just as many in the middle of the night during the weekend), would bother going to this much trouble to help me. As I look back on this, though, maybe in a place like Arby’s, a huge chain, something like an order mix up is not a big deal. It can be attributed to one location, but doesn’t necessarily reflect on the rest of Arby’s. However, Littlejohn’s is a local Charlottesville spot. It relies more on repeat customers rather than just a hungry someone driving through town and maybe that is why service was so important to this one employee.

I guess this made me think about the difference between what is important for local vs. national stores. I think it is much more important for local businesses to try to provide excellent customer service and great value because they can’t afford to burn bridges. This is, I believe, what makes many popular local spots so attractive – that personal, one on one, go the extra mile service that keeps people coming back. It’s very important for local restaurants and shops. But it’s also becoming more important, or it should become more important, to larger chains. As social media grows and becomes more and more integrated into our daily lives, one particularly bad encounter can spread across the country in a split-second. But, so can a good one. If a company (like Virgin, for example) can make customer service fantastic across the entire organization, it can differentiate itself and gain a significant advantage over its competitors.


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