2 lobsters, a local fish market and the importance of customer service

This is a perfect example of an excellent post that came out recently: A Better Business Doctrine – Part 1: A**holes are bad for business which should be required reading for businesses.

I’m going to warn you now, this is long, very long. Skip to the end if you want the moral but not the story.

I debated about putting this on my blog, but it does have a point and quite frankly writing it out is very therapeutic as opposed to my posting a rant on every site I could find online, so instead, if your interested, you can listen to me vent, and maybe be amused or perturbed, depending on your point of view.

This all began this past Valentine’s Day when I, in the spirit of wanting to spoil my hubbie with lobster, went to my local fish market and bought two over 3 lb lobsters. We buy lobster occasionally but not often, not because the price is high, but because our current kitchen is small, and my lobster pot in our sink is a real pain to clean out because the pot is huge and the sink is not. Thus it ends up getting cleaned in the bathtub which is a pain in the tuckus.

I had been shopping at this fish market since we moved to the area about 9 months ago, and have in general, been happy with their fish (even though a bit pricey) and we had bought lobster there before without a problem.

A little bit of back story for those that don’t know my background. I spent 20 years in the restaurant business, starting when I was 13 as a dishwasher in a local café and worked my way up through the ranks. I went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park,NY, as well as working for over a year in a large wholesale fish market as their chef and catering chef.

In that time I’ve cooked more lobsters then the average person times about 500, not including the time when we almost lost 4 huge bays of lobsters when we had a three day power outage, and myself and my crew cooked lobsters nonstop for almost 14 hours trying to save as much product as possible.

So I know lobsters pretty well.

I also know when a lobster is old after cooking, its hard to tell before hand, unless they are softshells, when it’s starting to molt, and what it looks like after a molt, and how to pick a decent softshell, as well as how to pick with fairly good accuracy what is a female and what’s a male. Many people love lobster roe (myself included) and will request females if possible, so it became useful to learn how to identify them.

When I cooked the lobsters on Valentine’s Eve and used my favorite cleaver to split them I was a bit horrified, first by the tail, which was miniscule, and second by the claw yield, which was less then half of what it was supposed to be.

While I know lobsters can have assorted yields, as I’d run into repeatedly over my many years cooking them, yields such as those I had only encountered before in old lobsters. The odds of having one lobster that had a bad yield was a possibility. The odds of having 2 enormous. If you go by average standard yields: a 1 lb. live lobster yields 3.84 oz. meat or Yield Range of 20-24%(source http://www.ciaprochef.com/mainelobster/lobster_6.html) I should have gotten at least 9-10 oz per lobster for a 3 lb. each and these were both over that. I got less then 6 oz. each. The math is not hard to figure out.

At this point, as a loyal customer, I thought the fish market would like to know. Not assuming they would reimburse or replace the lobsters, but if it was MY place and I had lobsters not being rotated out properly I would want to know. And, Yes we did eat the lobsters, it was Valentine’s Day. Be hard to say to the hubbie, lets just have a salad. But again as a owner, I would have thought one would like to be aware if there were issues.

I left a voice mail that night as well as also sending an email to the owner and buyer of the market. Perhaps I expect too much of businesses, but I expected a phone call or at least email back just to follow up.

The next day I posted a comment on their Facebook wall, not having heard back from anyone:

HT: It’s a shame that “the local fish market” can’t respond to a voicemail as well as an email to their owner and buyer about a very unhappy purchase made on Valentine’s Day by a loyal customer. Wasn’t looking for anything aside from an acknowledgement of the issue. (the comment is still there at the moment)

About 1/2 and hour later I get a response:

“the local fish market” :Hello Heather. I, personally, am unaware of any email or voicemail regarding an unhappy purchase. I don’t know what email address you used…but I would appreciate hearing from you. Please go to our website and tell me what happened on the Contact/Feedback page. I’ll wait to hear from you.

HT:  Thank you, I copied my sent email in to the feedback form

“the local fish market” : Heather, I received your email and will get back to you shortly with my comment. Thank you.

At that point I went to their feedback form and copied in the email I had sent to the owner and buyer:

cc: the owner

cc: the fish buyer

Sent: Monday, February 14, 2011 7:59 PM

Subject: Lobsters from “the local fish market”

Dear XX and XX, today I bought two over 3 lb lobsters, my bill for them came to $102.88

If this had been any other occasion other then Valentine’s Day I would have cooked the lobsters and then brought them back the next day. I wanted to let you know I am EXTREMELY disappointed in the yield from them. I have bought lobsters there before and I will again, but only smaller sizes as apparently you have a higher turnover with them.

Apparently your larger lobsters have been around for awhile (or at least the two I received were) as the meat was literally 1/2 of what it should have been.

Having worked in a large fish market aside from other very extensive restaurant experience I know what old lobsters look like after being in the tanks for way to long without sustenance and starting to feed on their own flesh, or when you have newer stock it’s apparently not being rotated properly. I have pictures if you would like to show your staff.

I am not looking for anything from you, I just wanted to vent my frustration and the fact that as owners and buyers you should be aware of this if you are not already. And to let you know you have a really miffed customer on Valentine’s Day no less who was looking forward to having a nice couple of lobsters (with leftovers for pasta) for her husband for dinner.

With regards, Heather T

And yes, I still am a temperamental and somewhat arrogant chef. Once a chef, always a chef, as my husband likes to say. While my ego in my current profession is the exact opposite of what it was when I was cooking for a living, I know I was and still am a very good chef.

Was it arrogant of me to assume the lobsters were old and could someone be offended by that? Yes, probably, but my experience in the cooking industry and in wholesale fish led me to that conclusion.

But needless to say, the email reply (not from the owner or his son the buyer) got my hackles up.

Heather Turner – I would like to address your email and your frustration.  Unfortunately I did not see your email until just a few minutes ago, hence the delay in responding.  I do not intend to make excuses, but I do want to address the items of concern.  I am sorry that you were disappointed with the yield of your lobsters.  I have had the same disappointment with lobsters that I have taken home for my own use.  Contrary to the common conception, we do not have any way to know for sure what the yield of any given lobster will be.  Many things will influence the final yield of live lobsters, a few of these you have mentioned, but yield is not limited to just those items.  With regard to your words “Apparently your larger lobsters have been around awhile,” I can assure you that we sell many thousands of lobsters and our inventory turns over every few days. The best we can do is to allow our customers to select any live lobster from our large selection – believe me, if I knew the yield it would save us a lot of grief.  Had you brought the lobsters back, I would not have made any refunds or adjustments because we never know what the yield will be – I don’t like to do business this way but we have no other choice – we offer live lobsters, any one you may select, but the sale is final.  We appreciate your business and I can relate to your frustration, but that is the problem we have selling lobsters.  I’m sure this is not the answer you wanted to hear, but we are trying very hard to provide a wide variety of fresh, quality seafood along with prompt service.

If they had kept the reply short and sweet and perhaps just apologized and taken with a grain of salt what I had to say, I would have let it go.

Again if this was my business and a customer that did know what they were talking about expressed a concern that could very well be valid, I would have investigated and would have said as much.

Needless to say I couldn’t let it go and sent an email back.

Second email:

As I said I was not asking for anything aside from a response and acknowledgement there was a problem. We did indeed eat the lobsters that day and similar to my days of being an executive chef, if someone ate something and then complained about it, I would not refund anything and that was not what I was requesting.

Having cooked quite literally almost a thousand lobsters in my foodservice career I had only seen such horrible yields in old lobsters. Having worked in a large scale fish market as well, which I mentioned, this also holds true.

When you have a 7 inch long lobster claw and the claw interior is less then 2.5 inches long and less then 1/2 inch thick as well as the tail end being heavily pulled away from the interior of the shell one tends to be a bit shall we say disturbed. This being from an over 3.5 lb lobster and yes thank you I do know how to cook them.

I am glad I guess at this point, I didn’t bring the lobsters back uneaten, because if I was told you would not issue a credit or replacement at the counter, I would have had an issue with that.

If that is the way you do business it would, and at this point probably will, no longer be a local business I would consider patronizing, as to me that is poor customer service and a bad business practice.

And your right, that was not the answer I wanted to hear, especially because we have lived here for almost a year and in that time I have spent more then a thousand dollars at your fish market which business will probably go elsewhere now. Very disappointing.

Just as an aside, apparently none of your counter staff knows what PBO means in regards to being asked if a fish is pin bone out. (yes that was snarky but I couldn’t resist)

The following morning the owner’s son and buyer called me and we had a nice (and rather long) pleasant conversation. In a nutshell he said his father had put as policy for lobsters that there was no returns on them. He said he didn’t agree with it and he would post a notice on the bulletin board with a note for me replacing the lobsters. I told him I much appreciated that and that wasn’t why I had emailed in the first place, but I’m certainly not going to complain about it if he was going to replace them. My faith was restored in “the local fish market”.

I also went back to “the local fish market” fan page wall and posted:

Thank you XX for following up, I very much appreciate it!

Now since then, I’ve been back to purchase fish there every couple of weeks, more fool I for not asking about the “note” shortly after the conversation. I figured that XX was a man of honesty wanting to do the good customer service thing (and I am still going to assume he is and was) and the “note” would be there for a bit. Wanting to save it for another special occasion I left it alone. More fool I apparently.

This past weekend we signed a contract for a new house, this seemed like an appropriate time to “redeem” my lobsters. So Saturday morning in I go to the local fish market hoping the lobster note would be there, as well as with the intent to buy a side of salmon, some littlenecks and some red snapper, as we were to have guests and a full house that weekend. I actually half expected the note to be gone and I would have bought my fish and sent the owner’s son an email casually enquiring about it.

Instead I got confronted by a pipsqueak of a man that didn’t want to listen to what I had to say at all, and I admit I lost my temper after trying to be reasonable with him for several minutes and stalked out. I did try my best to be civil and explain the situation first.

But! When an employee tells me the owner’s son is not the owner and he can’t make offers like that, I wonder how the chain of command really works there. And more importantly, when someone refuses to listen and instead of trying to investigate and follow up on something and just insists that they are right, it makes me mad.

Never argue with a temperamental ex-chef and don’t call them  call them “Miss”.  Especially don’t talk down to them!

Whether I’m a chef or not. NEVER talk down to a customer!

When I got home fuming I posted on their Facebook wall again. I should have copied it (it was deleted by them) but this was basically what it said. “It’s unfortunate that something that I was told would be there was not, I’d hadn’t realized that it had an expiration date, I was saving it for a special occasion,  more disappointing was the attitude of the manager(?) who just wanted to deny what I was talking about instead of listening. Please apologize to XX for me for my losing my temper at him but he didn’t handle that one all that well himself” I did call the person a cad as well, which was much nicer then what I really wanted to say.

I didn’t specify what the problem was, but there was a prior post on their Facebook fan page wall from February if they had bothered to look.

Within about 20 minutes the post was deleted and that was the final straw for me, I went back to my previous post and wrote: You know deleting my comment instead of addressing it is not really great social media etiquette 😦   While my cad comment may have been iffy, they should have responded instead of deleting it.

I have heard nothing from “the local fish market” and highly doubt I will, but they have definitely lost a customer at this point. Let’s see an average spend of several hundred dollars per month on fish times X number of months = you do the math in lost revenue.

I’ll probably never go in there again and it has nothing to do with lobster or replacing lobsters, but is entirely due to horrible customer service on the part of “the local fish market’s” employee. A customer should be always right until the problem or issue is investigated.

In this case he was rude and refused to listen to me. Is it my fault I lost my temper and stalked out after trying to explain something to him? Perhaps. But if the roles were reversed I would have made an effort to find out if the customer in question had a valid claim to something, especially after being told that XX the owner’s son had called me personally.

While this was entirely too long winded and I do apologize, but had to put in the history, “the local fish market” should be taking into account what that one, now very unhappy customer means to them in terms of revenue and future lost revenue, as well as what one person who is involved with social media COULD do if they really wanted to cause a brand damage online, especially to a business that is apparently not very active in monitoring what customers say about them.

My In-laws and my three sisters in law live locally, they shop at “the local fish market” While I can’t control where they go to buy their fish, I am certainly not going to be shy about making my displeasure known to them. While they may (or more likely not) continue to shop there, I do know that the several gift cards we get from them during the holidays for “the local fish market” won’t be bought there for us any longer as we wouldn’t use them.

If they take into account many of the people I meet on a weekly basis though my business, when they find out I was a former executive chef, they generally ask me where I shop. While I will try to be polite and say “the local fish market” has nice fish, a little pricey but I don’t shop there anymore because I had a really bad experience with their customer service, why don’t you try Whole Foods: The fish is always good there as well and the customer service is always excellent.

As a case in point, I asked two different staff at the counter there (at Whole Foods) as well as at the local Big Y, what they would have done if I had brought lobsters back in the condition that they were in when I cooked the ones from “the local fish market”. I was told without hesitation that they would be replaced or a substitute found. I shop in both places regularly and have observed several situations with customers that were handled well and handled professionally even when the customer was irate.

I became irate after having someone refuse to listen to me not before.

If I was a really vindictive person which I generally am not, I would post on Yelp and Tripadvisor, I would post daily on twitter as well as on my own internal and external Facebook pages, as well as mentioning them by name in the blog and putting the blog link on dozen of sites and bookmarking sites.

While the “local fish market” is easily deduced by seeing where I live in CT and then looking for local fish markets, I honestly hope they do well, as most customers seem happy and they do have good fish.

But as a formerly loyal customer who was burned once and lured back and then burned again, Why should I patronize a place where I haven’t been treated well? While XX the owner’s son did entice me to come back and continue to spend money there, I will now probably never return.

Yes I am an opinionated temperamental, egotistical, probably labeled prima donna pain in the tuckus ex-chef, but I am also a customer.

The lobster point is moot, the customer service issue is not.

If the employee had taken a moment to at least try to investigate, even if he couldn’t come up with a resolution, I wouldn’t have left mad, I would have bought fish and I would be returning to buy yet more fish. Instead they have a pissed off customer who if I ran into the Fish Market’s employee in question on the street, I probably would not be shy about telling them what I really thought about them.

As an aside note, they have on their home page, follow us on twitter. (this drives me nuts when I see businesses put social media front and center and then not use it)  The page hasn’t been updated since last August. They do have reviews on Yelp as well, mostly good but a couple that should have been responded to.

Some takeaways about this from a business standpoint:

  • They need to monitor their brand online and be prepared to reply and follow up appropriately, as well as look at their Yelp reviews. While the ones in question are a bit old, one is from last month and probably should be commented on.
  • They should be prepared to protect their brand (as should every business)  because the next person that comes along, that spends time online, and has an issue might decide to push the point, and having seen what can happen to a business online when someone has a problem and decides to be a pest, it’s not a situation I would recommend for anyone to be in.  (As an example, when I returned from there on Saturday, I posted several sarcastic tweets naming them, this came up on live search on the first page when you Googled their business name for several days. If I mentioned this once a day it would stay there for as long as I wanted to keep pushing it there.) I have no desire to do so, but someone else might not be so considerate.
  • The “local fish market” needs to work on teaching their employees to find out all the facts before they assume something and piss off a good revenue generating customer. Customer service will always remain key to customer retention.

Update: May 04, apparently my post from February has also been deleted and this is a first, I’ve been kicked off their fan page. I think  that’s hilarious actually. Yet another social media #FAIL to chalk up for them.

Related post:  3 Ways to Manage Your Online Reputation – Good, Bad, and Ugly By SCOTT THOMAS

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About Chef Forfeng

Innkeeping Tip and Tricks: Please check out some marketing ideas for Inns and B&Bs, Blogging ideas, Facebook Tips and Social Media Tutorials https://chefforfeng.wordpress.com/marketing-for-lodging-resources/
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4 Responses to 2 lobsters, a local fish market and the importance of customer service

  1. Lawrance Medina says:

    Hi Heather, Great post! I’m just catching up with my reading and ended up reading Brewster House’s post first and then lead into yours.

    I’m glad we don’t live locally to this place as I’d go in and have a few words with them. Although the next time I go down that way I may have to stop! They should be grateful you didn’t decide to go whole hog and blast them. They truly don’t have a clue about social media and the power of it (or customer service for that fact.) Shame on them!

    I don’t know if you remember us but we met you at the PAII conference in S.C. My wife Susan and I cornered you in the art gallery at the outdoor reception to pick your brain about Tripadvisor and some ideas for our guest house. Ring a bell? We will definitely be calling you when we are finished renovating for photos and some other help as well.

    We really enjoyed your seminars especially the blogging one. Lots of fodder for our soon to be working blog. We have a Blogger blog up and running that we are playing around with, but might switch over to wordpress at some point before we officially go “live”.

    We look forward to meeting you again soon and have been following your blog avidly. Are you speaking at any future PAII conferences? Please let us know if you do and have new workshops.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Chef Forfeng says:

      Hi Lawrance, I do indeed remember you and your wife. You are renovating the inn nears Storrs if I remember correctly and your a dog breeder as well(?).

      Thank you very much for the nice comments 🙂 Much appreciated!

      I don’t know if I will speaking at any PAII conferences anytime soon but I’ll be the anchor speaker at the Michigan B&B association conference (Lake to Lake) in the Fall. Jay Karen will be the keynote there as well for Better Way to Stay.

      Take care and I look forward to seeing you both again!

  2. Karen says:

    As an owner of a small business I work so very hard to make sure everything is perfect. But at some point or other, no matter how hard I work, something is going to go wrong. This is the point when any good businessperson says to their customer “Yes, we’re in the wrong, we apologise. We recognise the impact this has had on you, our customer and this is what we’re going to do about”.
    This is what the fish market seems to have failed to do and unfortunately has failed to recognise that this could be a time to turn you into a really happy customer. It’s their actions in dealing with the problem that have wound you up.
    It looks to me like they have also failed to understand how to use social media.
    Any company with more than 1 employee ( and even those micro business with ONLY 1 employee ) should have a strategy in place about how they will deal with customers’ online comments. Deleting them, unless they are really inflammatory, abusive etc, is not the right way to go about it in my opinion.

  3. Scott says:

    This is really quite a story – how a small business with apparently a good reputation allowed its offline personalities and attitudes to cause online damage to its reputation. This is almost a textbook case of how not to do reputation management.

    Lots of food for thought (and blog posts) here….

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