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It’s Not Just What We Do But How We Do It 10

It’s Not Just What We Do But How We Do It

My family went out to dinner one night and the service was really slow. After a long wait, our server brought the burgers and fries but did not bring any ketchup. When we asked for some ketchup, the server said she would bring it right out. Ten minutes later we still didn’t have any ketchup. I don’t know how long it takes you to eat but for me, ten minutes is about eight minutes longer than I need. I eat fast. Coincidentally, I also walk fast, talk fast, hurry fast…well…you get the picture.

In addition to not getting any ketchup, the food was lukewarm. So the longer we waited, the less appetizing our already-cold-sans-ketchup meal became.

When the server finally returned, my wife said, “Unfortunately, our food was not hot when it arrived. And we didn’t get the ketchup.”

The server said, “Well, we’re doing the best we can. It’s very busy.”

And then she walked away.

Do you ever have those moments in life when you want to stand up and deliver a ten-minute soliloquy on good customer service?

No? Well, maybe that’s just me and my professional speaker world. And for the record, I held my tongue and did not say, “Well, you’re way behind and you really need to ketch-up.”

But here’s the thing. The main concern I had with our server’s behavior was not so much what she did but how she did it. Oh sure, we were frustrated by the slow service and the lack of ketchup but her response compounded the problem significantly.

The better approach would have been to apologize, to offer to replace our cold food, and to take responsibility for not remembering the dang ketchup. But when the server discounted our problem and blamed it on being busy, the implication was that her busy-ness took precedent over our need for a quality dining experience.

The how of what we do is not always obvious to us because we’re too busy doing the what. Our days are so cram packed, we typically just want to get stuff done rather than pay attention to how we’re getting stuff done.

I suggest, though, that the how is just as important as the what, and when we consider both, we’re much more effective in everything we do. Let’s walk through a few ideas for how we can apply this concept.

Take Responsibility. First and foremost, we must take responsibility for our role in any situation or relationship. When we blame other people or the system, we are not operating with integrity and we’ll be less successful in our endeavors.

In our restaurant experience, the server blamed the situation for our lack of satisfaction. By saying that they were doing the best that they could, she made it sound as if they were unable to do any better. However, if she had owned the situation, we might have become her ally and tried to make things easier on her. And even if she couldn’t control the chaos of the evening, by simply acknowledging what she was doing to improve things for us, she would have added a bit of integrity to her efforts.

Empathy. One of the best techniques for successfully maneuvering through this world is to show empathy for others. When we understand where others are coming from, we put ourselves in their shoes. And when we do that, we’re much more likely to approach them and the situation with more compassion.

For instance, if our server had more empathy for us, she would have realized that we were not happy with the slow service or the fact that our food was cold. But instead of empathizing with us, she was more concerned with herself and responded in a self-protective manner by defending her own behavior.

Word Choice. Lastly, once we take responsibility and have empathy for others, our choice of words has a big impact on how we interact with others. In my experience, I have seen a number of leaders undermine their good ideas because they didn’t use the right words to share those ideas. And when we use the wrong words, we can sometimes create more problems than we solve.

Imagine how we would have felt if our server had said this: “I’m so sorry that your food is cold. I can understand your frustration. This is not the kind of experience we want our customers to have. I want to fix this for you so that you leave our restaurant happy and satisfied.”

I think we would have reacted differently. But somewhere along the way, she was probably told that she should not admit that there is a problem or else people will demand a refund or make a complaint to the manager. Ironically when service personnel acknowledge the problem, most customers are more understanding.

I truly do empathize with restaurant staff and anyone else who has to deal with the public. It’s a tough job and people are not always polite. However, if we just understand the value of taking responsibility for the situation, showing a little empathy, and then using the right words, we will be more successful in how we handle most challenges.

So, the rule to remember is this: Pay as much attention to the how as you do to the what. Oh, and BYOK (Bring Your Own Ketchup).


  • Patti Turnbull says:

    Dear Ron, been there done that, patience is a vertue. My mother use to embarrass the daylight savings out of my sister and I and I swore I would never follow in her footsteps. It is difficult to be nice to people sometimes but what good does it do to get upset over things we have no control over. I will definitely BYOK.

  • Thank you for your insight into this situation. So often, people do not want to own up to their responsibility, because it might make them look “bad”. Your comments are really “right on”.

  • Brian Hennessy says:

    I learned and later adopted into my courses the Ken Blanchard Co. concept of Legendary Service to counteract these ill behaviors in service providers.

    I like to think that the masses of providers who give poor to mediocre service provide a great opportunity for those who wish to differentiate themselves as service legends.

  • Donnette Dixon says:

    Thanks for sharing this experience about Customer Service and the importance of giving great Customer Service! If the young lady had shown some empathy, most definitely she would have felt a little better despite the busy evening she was having. All it takes is to say “I’m sorry.” I liked the funny saying that she needed to “Ketch-up” and next time you will “BYOK!”

  • DEEV says:

    Take responsibility ~ empathy ~ the right words. Spot on! The best way to tame the angry beast of a dissatisfied client/customer – spouse, child, friend or loved one – is to use those three steps. Simple, not easy.

    Everything I know about customer service was learned at my Mama’s knee ~ ~ be kind with others, especially if they seem to be hurting; you have two ears & one mouth to listen more than you talk; do unto others as you would have them do unto you; clean up your own mess; always be willing to offer a helping hand; take responsibility; make commitments sparingly & honor those you make; never burn bridges over which you may someday wish to cross; if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well; well done is better than well said……

    AKA ~ ~ take responsibility, show empathy, use the right words. Once again, you distill the important many into the powerful few. THANKS!

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