Customer Service Lessons from Goats

September 21, 2011 4 Comments

Customer Service! Everyone has a customer service story. So do I. However, I hope to give you an angle that you may not have encountered.

Understanding the Problem

My brother, Warren, and I were managing a western amusement park in California. We received a call that there was a guest complaint at our petting zoo. When we arrived, there was a woman by the entrance with her husband. We approached and asked how we could help. She turned to the side, pointed down her leg, and said, “Your goat ate my dress!” Warren and I looked down and saw that she had a gapping hole in her flowered dress from her knees to her upper thigh.

Remember Your Research

To handle this goat versus dress problem, we recalled our education about goat behaviors. Goats have no upper front teeth; instead, they have a tough toothless dental pad. Goats do have teeth on the top and bottom of their jaws far back in their mouth, which help them to chew. So, goats cannot sharply bite down in a quick, tearing motion. While goats will not actually eat inedible material, they are inquisitive and will chew on and taste just about anything in order to decide whether it is good to eat. This is why they investigate items such as buttons, camera cases, or clothing by nibbling at them, occasionally eating them. Tests done on goats show that they can distinguish yellow, orange, blue, violet and green from grey shades of similar brightness. Who knows, maybe the movement of the dress and bright colors looked like some edible plant. Regardless, it took awhile for this goat to gnaw a large hole in this dress.

Using Your Research

Warren asked the woman to explain what happened. The woman said that she and her husband had entered the petting zoo and immediately a goat ran up to her, ate a hole in her dress, and then ran away. Warren took some time with the woman and explained how goats operate. He told her that she had to have known that the goat was there and the goat was tugging and gnawing at her dress. She said no, the goat ran up, ate her dress, and ran away. The husband said nothing. The woman did all the talking.

Warren tried to reason with the lady, stating that she had some responsibility for standing there while the goat gnawed away at her clothing, but she stuck to her “the goat ate it instantly” story.

The Basic Philosophy

Warren and I knew that in the customer service industry, unless you are 100 percent sure you are 100 percent right, you need to make some accommodation when a problem arises. There was no witness to the event, and Warren was not 100 percent sure of the facts of the incident. We knew that this guest would not assume any responsibility for what happened, so Warren would need to provide closure to this incident. Warren gave the guest his business card and told her to send us the receipt for a replacement dress and we would pay it. Interestingly, we never heard from her again.

The Deeper Philosophy

OK, using the philosophy of being 100 percent sure that you are 100 percent right before you reject any guest accommodation is an interesting angle. The lesson that managers will learn is that even after offering an adjustment, many customers get busy in their daily lives and fail to follow up with their claim. Often, family or friends will calm down the aggrieved person, they come to their senses, and let the issue drop. When you ask the aggrieved party to take a follow-up action to allow them to receive satisfaction, they often drop the ball or forget about it. The percentage of customers who actually follow up is low.

Side Two of the Story

To be fair, we need to consider the goat’s viewpoint. Maybe the goat was thinking, “There were flowers on the dress. I saw blossoms so I ate them. Besides, it was an ugly dress. I did the world a favor by destroying it!”

Links for Customer Service Ideas:

http://recmanagement.com/200307gc01.php

http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/187167

http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/242042

Need More Information On Goats?

http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/4H/meatgoats/meatgoatfs11.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goat

Allen F. Weitzel has spent 45 seasons in the recreation field and is safety and training manager at a California amusement park.

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4 Comments to “Customer Service Lessons from Goats”
  1. mat says:

    Now that is a funny story! I can imagine you and Warren explaining how goats eat things to some woman at the petting zoo. Too funny!

    • Mat,

      I guess our reputations precede us. Whether training employees or explaining how things work to a guest, Warren has always been as cool as a cucumber.

      It’s the old management trick of staying calm in the line of fire.

      We’re glad you liked the Blog. Thanks for checking in.

      Thanks for your support.

      Best,

      Allen

  2. J. Douglas says:

    Great article! Certainly never a customer service situation I’ve ever seen arise!

    • Jay,

      Thanks for the compliment. I can’t say that my brother and I have seen them all; sometimes Guests still surprise us. However, that was a unique one, but Warren stayed with it to the end. A less experienced manager might have just thrown up his hands. Warren worked it out step-by-step. A good lesson for young managers.

      Thanks for your continued support of our work and the TAP website.

      Warm regards,

      Allen

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