I live in a section of Toronto that has four bakeries within a 15-minute walk of each other.
I live in a section of Toronto that has four bakeries within a 15-minute walk of each other. One of the bakeries carries a sourdough baguette that I love: open crumb structure, crusty exterior (that could be a little darker), with a flavour that has just the right amount of tang. It’s perfect for a sandwich, on its own with cheese and cold cuts, or just about any way you want to eat it. But as much as I love the bread, as much as even writing about it has started my mouth a-watering and my taste buds a-tingling, and as close as my apartment is to the bakery, I will never enter its doors again. I will never again feast on my beloved sourdough baguette because I refuse to contribute another dollar to the business. I’ve been in the bakery a few times when the owner thought it appropriate to berate the staff in front of me and other customers. When it first happened, I chalked it up to a bad day. But then it happened again. And then the owner, when ringing in my purchases one day, was unable to even mutter a hello or a thank-you. But I’m not a person who angers easily, and, knowing how exhausting bakery work can be, I chalked it up to another long day. Even I, however, have my limits.
About a month ago I walked into the bakery to buy a baguette for lunch. None of the counter staff was around, but I caught the eye of the owner who was puttering around in the back and who decided to ignore me and continue puttering, until, seconds later, the door signalled the arrival of another customer. The owner looked up, and recognizing the customer, beckoned the woman over to her, launching into a conversation while I stood there at the counter, still waiting. That did it. I’d had enough: enough of making excuses for this person, enough of being understanding, enough of chalking it up to a bad day. I turned around and left, and swore to myself I would never go back. And I haven’t. Instead of going home without a baguette, I walked down the street to another bakery. The difference was striking. The baguette’s a great baguette (not sourdough, but still crusty and flavourful). And the staff, including the owner, has only ever been friendly and courteous and efficient. This particular day, one of the counter staff greeted me as soon as I walked through the door, asked me what I wanted, gave me what I wanted and even found time to throw a joke into the conversation. It was a pleasant experience that was the exact opposite of what I usually experienced down the road.
How often do you take your bad days out on your customers? Two words for you: you can’t. Product quality is only part of the equation. No matter how great your products might be, how high the quality, how flavourful your baguette, your customers are your lifeline. They are why you can continue doing what you do. Lose them, and you lose your business.
I happen to know other customers who have experienced similar episodes with the owner of the bakery around the corner and who have launched their own boycott. Eventually, if it hasn’t already, the business will suffer because of the attitude of its owner. It may not be immediate (the business is a few years old), but it will catch up with the bakery. That kind of attitude is infectious in the worst way. It infects not only staff but also poisons customers’ impression of a business. Attitude matters. It’s about the only thing that really separates similar businesses these days.
I miss my sourdough baguette. There are times when I’m tempted to give up the good fight just for another sandwich made with the bread. But I cannot reward poor attitude. As a customer and as a human being, I deserve better. So do your customers. As a customer and human being, I have the ability to choose. I choose to be treated better. So will your customers.
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