Lyle's Blog

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I know that I can be hard a times. Especially with sales type people. I believe that one has to be a bit to be in business. But, at the same time, some of my greatest and deepest friendships have been with the same. You will find me very easy to deal with when I am being served and serviced right and....I can be a bear when there is a problem that is not being addressed to my standards. My standards? I guess you would say that they are what I would be doing if I were in their place.

On a daily basis, I walk the floor with a pot of coffee talking with our customers. I am looking for more than just empty cups. I am looking to insure that each and ever customers experience is the best that it can be. I listen for key words and phrases that might lead me to inquire deeper. For instance, if ask how their meal is and they say 'fine', then I will inquire further. Sometimes that means they like it but many times it means they had a problem of some sort and I want to know what it is so I can solve it. I want that customer back.

I often talk business with my buddy, Frank, who seems to get a kick out of some of my stories both in the front and in the back of the house. He says my way of dealing with salesman that are not servicing my business up to my expectations is that I will encourage and prod from a distance. If I don't get what I want, I get a little closer and encourage more. Somewhere along the way, my encouragements get more demonstrative. He said, the problem comes when all of a sudden, I am in their face and they wonder what changed Dr. Jeckyl into Mr. Hyde.

That being said, let me tell you my waffle story. It actually starts quite a while back. When I was managing Jake's back in the early 90's. I always wanted waffles and had called my friend and mentor, Jack Mangin from the Pilot Butte Drive In (the man who created it). Jack came over and showed me the ins and outs of waffles and introduced me to the company who makes the best. The Carbon Waffle Company. Their malted waffle mix is absolutely the best.

All went well until my delivery man and I had a problem. I don't recall the problem but I do recall that our personalities clashed. The problem was resolved when I called his company up and discussed it with them. I did not want the man fired, I just wanted to get what I felt was good service. That phone call seem to resolve the problem and I was told that Shawn was still there so I felt that all was good.

Now, fast forward to the more present. A few years back, I walked into our storeroom to find a huge amount of waffle irons. It seemed that the salesman was just dropping them off and not picking them up. Trying to be the good guy, I called the company (Waffles Northwest who distributes for Carbon) and told them that they might want to pick them up. Unfortunately, that salesman was not doing what his business wanted him to do and he lost his job. I kicked my self for not talking to the salesman first. He was a very nice man who we seemed to get along with well.

The next salesman was different. And he immediately began changing things. The first thing that he changed was he began charging me for my irons. I remember challenging him regarding that and he told me that it was company policy. I reminded him that the company provided me with irons for using their product exclusively. He told me that the only person who could override that was not him, but Shawn. Shawn? The same Shawn who had delivered back in the 90's and I had a problem with? I asked him if Shawn was now the manager. "He is more than that.....he is the owner.", came the reply.

I was shocked remembering back but went on to contact Shawn about the issue. I recall the conversation as I felt that he seemed to either remember me from before or he had just not changed his style. He told me that many customers were abusing his irons and that he had to charge for that abuse. I told him that my crew does not abuse and that we only need irons when they get used too much. He said that he would leave it up to Chris, our new salesman, and if Chris felt that my crew was abusing, he would charge. If it was normal wear and tear, there would be no charge.

We went on quite well....until this spring. I was working the line on a Saturday when I noticed some of the waffles coming out a bit too brown. When I inquired, I found that the timer bells on the iron were not working. My first step was to have Jim talk to Chris about fixing the bells.

A while went by and I had the same thing happen again. When I asked the cooks about the overly brown waffles, they made mention that the bells still did not work. So, this time, I called the company direct. I left a message stating that I wanted the bells fixed. No call was returned and to my surprise we received timer bells in the mail. Jim installed them but we had to really play around to get them to ring true.

I then received a bill for shipping on the bells. I called the company to complain and was told that I had ordered the bells. "No, I didn't.", I countered, "I said I wanted the bells fixed.". I then informed them that I would not be paying for the shipping on the bells.

So...this summer, I started seeing overly brown waffles once more. And, to my surprise, found that the bells on the iron were not working. I called the company and received no word back from them. And so, I took the next step and called the Carbon Waffle company. I believe I also emailed them so that they would know that I really had a problem. I was soon called by Chris, the salesman. I told him that I was getting a bit frustrated over all of this and that I wanted my timer bells to work. He said that he had sent me bells and I told him that they did not work. I remember getting a little frustrated with him and telling him that I wanted him to fix the bells, the next time he was over. I do know that my tone was firmer as I was on my cell and after I got off, one of our cooks said, "Remind me not to get on your bad side.".

His next time here was on the 24th of September. And on the 25th, my bells did not ring. I looked for the bill to see if there was an explanation and found something else. A charge for a new iron. Now, I remembered back that on the month before, he had refused to deliver an iron saying he was out.

And, so, I ratcheted up to the next level. I looked online for any other distributors. Waffles Northwest had the only rights in the area. I contacted my other purveyors and had them begin to check into their programs. No one had malted waffle mix. I called Waffles Northwest and left a message. I sent emails to them and to the Carbon Waffle company. When I did not hear back, I saw a number on the side of one of their boxes and on Monday morning, called the Carbon company. I was told that they would inform Waffles Northwest. I said that I had already done that but they were insistent that they needed to do that so I conceded.

I asked the line cook who had been on when Chris delivered if anyone had looked at the irons and their bells. I told him that I was surprised that he (the cook) had not said anything to Chris. "I don't talk to Chris. He is a jerk.", came the answer.

That afternoon, Chris called me. Now, I am the bear that Frank talked about. I could have easily been diffused by a simple apology and a promise to get the problem solved but Chris became quite confronting. "I fixed your bells. They work!", he demanded. "No, they don't!", I countered. I asked him if he did not promise to fix the bells this time around and he countered with "I sent you bells". The conversation got a bit heated with Chris telling me that I always seemed to have problems with him every time he stops by and with me saying that I only had one problem but now had two as he had charged me for the new iron. He stated boldly that it was Waffles Northwest policy that all irons be charged for if they were overly dirty or misused. Since I knew that my crew keeps pretty good care of the equipment, I asked him if that meant the latter. He then accused me of twisting his words. He said, "I can't deal with you anymore. I am passing you over to Shawn.". I said, "Fine". Hanging up the line, I dropped my head and attempted to relax. I had let him push my buttons and had let my anger build. I have never liked the feel of anger.....especially the after effects. I tried to compose myself and ready for the next call. But....the call never came.

Early this morning, I stopped by Frank's office to chat. I shared my waffle story with he and his crew and they uplifted me with their laughter over my story. Frank asked me what I was going to do since Shawn had not called me. "I don't know. I think I am going to call the main company again.". I asked Frank if he thought that was a good idea and he agreed that even though it wasn't the best, it seemed to be the only option.....that or stop selling that brand of waffle.

So, I called the hot line again. This time, I talked with a young man. At first, he thought I was having problems with my mix and he began his normal explanation of how to properly mix the mix. "You are not listening", I interrupted, "My problem is my timer bells don't work. And I cannot get anyone to fix them.". He agreed that the timer was important to get the best quality waffle. I then went on to inquire about the waffle iron charge. He said $25 was pretty cheap. Some companies charged $50. "But, the program states that the irons are provided.", I countered. "Look", he said, "I promise you that I will contact Shawn and we will get this problem resolved. He will call you today.". So, I hung up and waited for the call.

Around 1PM, I received the call. "Hi Lyle, this is Shawn from Waffles Northwest.". "Hi Shawn, I am glad you called". "Well, you won't be. I am done with you. I am giving you a 30 day notice. I will be in your business at the end of next month to pick up my equipment and I will no longer be servicing your restaurant.". "I am sorry you are doing that", I stated. "I am sorry you went over my head.", came the answer. "All I wanted was my timer bells to work.", I said. "That problem is easy.", he angerly stated. "Just clean the bells and they will work fine. You know well that the problem is over spraying that clogs up the bells. All you would have had to do was take them out, clean them, and put them back in. They would work fine.". I could see that this conversation was not going to turn out good and that if I continued that I would just get myself all worked up so I simply thanked him and hung up.

I sat there at my computer looking up Carbon's mission statement that states how important the customer is and how they endeavor to delight them by exceeding their expectations. Had my expectations been that out of line? And then I read articles where it's president stated that their salesman would provide and service irons free of charge for simply using their product. I guess nothing is as simple as it seems.

So, today, I guess I get busy. I have to decide what the best step to take is. I know that their seems to be no other waffle mix like Carbon's. It is simply the best. So, I guess I call the company back up and look at what my options are now. I probably will bring up those articles that I read but I know that probably doesn't mean much right now. They don't know me. They do know Shawn. And, Shawn is their man.

So, for whom the bell tolls.....I guess it tolls for me.

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