I heard the radio ad first.
"Melty cheese...three kinds of cheese...come to Panera."
So - like a tried-and-true lab rat - I did.
"Grown-up grilled cheese, please." (Feeling famished.) "What do I get with that?"
"I can't take your order here." A quick and irritated-sounding response. Finger pointing to the other cash register -- not three feet away. "This cash register is for baked goods only."
Now I was feeling irritated. Sure I bought the greasy thing. It was okay, I guess. But in my head I resolved never to buy that "waste of money" again.
Consider that I have faithfully bought Starbucks' bitter brew for nearly twenty years now. And that they are uniformly willing to take my order, anywhere, anytime, pretty much right away.
How much did that air time cost Panera?
At an otherwise nice hotel, an early-evening request for more of something. A call to the all-purpose "guest careline."
Then finally an answer, and this is what I hear:
"Can you call over to (this other number)? Because I don't handle those things."
Hey! It's a hotel! Whoever picks up the phone, should handle everything!
Or, try calling FedEx about FedEx Freight.
They apparently are not friendly enough to handle each other's phone calls!
Company after company, brand after brand, wasted ad after wasted ad. Cable, wireless, airline, you name it - one call does NOT do it all.
Verizon Fios. Oh my goodness. A nightmare of phone numbers, customer service representatives, dizzying discussions of services never rendered - because I canceled it before it could go from Point A to Point B.
And this after countless direct mailings and discount offers persuaded me to give it a try. (They even set up a stand handing out fliers.)
Why do big brands waste good ad campaigns by reeling customers in, then spitting them out?
It's really not a mystery: Most think from the inside out rather than the outside in.
If you ask, "why don't you have a single phone number," or "a single web interface" and the like, they will tell you, as if you're an idiot:
"But the inquiries go to different departments!"
...as if stove-piping is natural and it's the customer's problem to figure their byzantine bureaucracies out.
The famous Staples "Easy Button" campaign was a wake-up call. More companies need to wake up.
The businesses I patronize over and over again - the car shop, the pizza place, the doctor and the dentist, the hair salon and the Starbucks - can be big brands but more often are not. Because they know me, I know them, and customer service is never a hassle. (Try Primanti's Pizza in Ft. Lauderdale and you'll see what I mean.)
In the end creativity can take you a long way. But it can't take you away from what business is - a people thing. And when you try to fit people into your internal processes, rather than the other way around, you've just given away your competitive advantage to your competitors.
One living, breathing, instant-gratification-seeking, can't-be-hassled-anymore-than-necessary, just-wants-to-deal-with-a-decent-human-being customer at a time.