Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

A famous "John Spence" letter on poor customer service

This is a real letter I recently sent to a place that just did not understand the “value” of delivering great customer service. Once you do the math, it gets very interesting…

Debbie Beaulieu
The Bakery Mill & Deli
1143 NW 76th Blvd.
Gainesville, FL 32606

Although it seems that you do not really care, I wanted to send you a brief note to let you know that you lost some customers this morning.

My wife and I have been coming to your restaurant for breakfast almost every weekday for the past year or so. We would have come in on the weekends too, but we were there one Saturday and the server told us “I am sorry, we are low on eggs so we can’t do egg-whites.” Although it sounded like a lame excuse, we figured it was just a weekend issue, and decided we’d simply go to the 43rd Street Deli on the weekends. However, when we came in for breakfast this morning (a Thursday) we got the same story; low on eggs, we won’t do egg-whites for you. So we got up and left and we will not be coming back.

Now to you this is probably no big deal, you didn’t sell a few egg-whites this morning, so what… but let’s look a little closer. As mentioned above we have been coming there almost every single weekday for the past year (enough so that Sarah and the rest of the staff know our order by heart – which I am sure you do too because our waiter this morning told us we could not have egg-whites, before we even had a chance to order!) so that means we are there about 250 days every year. Our bill is the same every morning: $10.14 – and we always give a $3.00 tip – so that is $13.14 x 250 – or roughly $3,285 in lost revenue to you and your staff.

Ah, but we also bought muffins and cookies for our clients from you and we had been ordering lunch for our entire staff from you a few times every month too, so conservatively that is at least another $1,200 a year we were spending at The Bakery Mill & Deli. Now the total is $4,485 in lost revenue.

However, that is only one year. Since we live right up the road, there is no reason to believe that if we had been treated well we would not have continued to come in for quite some time. But let’s just call it the next 3 years – so a conservative “lifetime value” for us as customers is: $13,455. Which means you just turned away more than $10,000 in future business over probably less than $1 of egg-whites.

There are two unique reasons that your refusal to do egg-whites was especially unfortunate. First, whether I buy the entire egg or just the white – I am paying to buy an egg from you. There was no problem for anyone sitting around us that wanted to buy regular eggs, they weren’t told “sorry we are low on eggs, we can only make a two-egg omelet for you.” So it obviously had nothing to do with your egg inventory. Second, even if you were low on eggs (which would be rather inept for a restaurant that sells bakery items and breakfast) there is a Publix 300 yards from your front door. Wouldn’t it be better to send someone over there to buy a few dozen eggs, rather than disappoint customers?

Debbie, your food and baked items are very good, but there are dozens of restaurants in Gainesville that serve food of at least equal or superior quality. Your location is convenient to me and your staff tries hard to be friendly and attentive. But your attitude toward customer service is severely lacking. In a world where consumers have literally hundreds of choices, fewer and fewer will chose to patronize any establishment that does not deliver quality food AND great customer service.

I am going to guess that you likely look at this note as just a complaint from some over- sensitive fool, but I assure you, for every one person like me who feels strongly enough to take the time to write you a letter; there are 20 more who feel the same, but just quietly leave and never come back. Do the math on that.

The next time you look out of the kitchen and there is no one sitting out there eating, just remember that there might have been a room full of customers, but we left because you did not feel like going to just a little extra effort to make us feel like we were important to you. And when customers are not important to you – you soon will not have any.

John B. Spence


  1. I would like to see a continuation of the topic