Smashburger Sacrifices Customer Service, Sets Clocks 10 Minutes Fast

by Dwayne Kilbourne on December 6, 2012

Last evening, I was running behind schedule but was craving some delicious Smashburger food. Unfortunately, I must report that a fast clock and a lack of customer service barred me from enjoying a tasty BBQ Bacon and Cheddar Big Smash Burger on multi-grain with a side or two of Smash Fries, and it also meant that some of my family members wanting a similar food experience were also left disappointed. But, what happened? How could a clock and some bad customer service prevent this all from happening? I’m compelled to vent my frustration about this disservice and offer some words of advice to companies, big and small.

The Wednesday Evening Debacle

Like most evenings, I went for a workout at my local LA Fitness; it was “Leg Day,” so I was anxious. Plus, I had some extra motivation running through my veins. However, with the holiday season in full effect, I enjoyed a few extra conversations before heading out after my workout. As a result, I did not get to FedEx Office (which happens to be in the same plaza as Smashburger) until 8:47pm. After getting the things done there that I needed to, I knew that I had two more stops to go, and those were not on the way home, so it would be foolish to get my food 35 minutes before heading home. My plan was to go to those two other quick stops (Dunkin Donuts – 9:35pm and Shell Gas Station – 9:41pm) before heading back to Smashburger on my way home.

Now, I respect and understand how business works, so I do my best to avoid walking in at the very last minute and ordering or buying something. So, what did I do as I got out of the Shell Gas Station? Well, at 9:44pm, I give Smashburger a courtesy call. My thinking was that they could be preparing my order while I am driving their way. I’m only 6 minutes away from their Kennesaw location (a location that normally gives me rock-solid customers service), but I still wanted to call so I could save them some time [I’m sure they are anxious to wrap business up for the evening]. They don’t answer my first call, so I called again (still 9:44pm as I drive two exits from Wade Green to Barrett Parkway to their location). And that is when things really got interesting.

A young male answered the phone. I asked him if they still closed at 10pm. He said, “Yes!” I told him that I was driving that way but would like to place an order. At 9:45pm, he indicated that they are not allowed to take orders over the phone 10 minutes before close as he informed me that his clock read 9:55pm. He mentioned that he would be closing in 5 minutes. I told him that his clock was wrong. My car’s clock read 9:45pm as did BOTH of my Android smartphones (which are directly synchronized to be automatically updated with the correct time). I had just checked in at Shell, and that was 4 minutes ago, so I told him that his clock was 10 minutes fast. I told him that I am 2 exits away and am heading his way. I asked what happens if I get there at 9:51pm and his clocks read 10:01pm… will the doors be closed? He said that he apologizes for the inconvenience. Certainly, I am getting extremely upset at this lack of customer service. This guy either does not care about serving me and hence lies about the time or simply is not empowered to service the customer. Sure, enough, I get caught at the red light while exiting I-75 (exit 269) and pull in front of Smashburger to find the lights off, open sign turned off, and unwilling to serve me. I took the photo of the door illustrating this (see below), and it was only 9:53pm.

Proof Smashburger Kennesaw Closes 10 minutes early

Jimmy John’s To The Rescue

As a result of this, I tweet SmashburgerATL at 9:59pm and check-in to Smashburger to spread my frustration with my foursquare and Twitter following (at 10:01pm) and proceed to ask Jimmy John’s (which is now two doors down) if they are still open and willing to let me order. They are more than happy to. In fact, the staff there was happy to and did not question the time. Of course, by the time I ordered and checked in on foursquare, it was 10:05pm, yet they did not mind. Now, I question whether to return to Smashburger in the near future. Sure, their food is great, but they have now left a BITTER TASTE in my mouth.

Jimmy Johns Saves the Evening!

Lessons For Businesses, Managers

Certainly, we can all learn from this misfortune and Smashburger’s missteps.

#1 Customers Comes First

First, the customer comes first, especially when they go the extra mile to save you time and help you get their business. You see… some people will not call ahead to order their “To-Go” order when it is 15 minutes before close. Instead, they will simply show up before closing time and expect you to be open during those hours that you claim to be open. These simple customer expectations must be met, or your brand will be frowned upon and lose legitimacy and respect from consumers. Typically, I would eat at Smashburger sometime between the hours of 4:45pm and 7pm, but the level of customer service should not be different at 9:45pm compared to services experienced at 5pm. Whether it is super busy or super slow… super early or super late, the experience needs to be maintained… and positive!

#2 Practice What You Preach

Second, do what you say, and say what you do! If they want to close at 9:50pm each night, that is fine, but [then] don’t advertise 10pm. Be honest and transparent with the customer. I will admit that this is not the first company to “set their clocks forward,” but I’m shocked that they apparently do so by 10 MINUTES! I’ve heard of and saw 5 minutes before, but this seems a bit outrageous. In fact, this makes me want to request proof from them about what their clocks really read… sure, they can fix the clock issue, but I still remain suspicious. I wonder what my next receipt from there will be time-stamped with… assuming I ever walk back into the restaurant again! Legitimate time stamps on photos don’t lie! So, was the employee merely lying out of customer service laziness, or is it policy and practice to set the clocks forward? I’d love to hear the answer!

#3 Empower Your Employees

Okay, so let’s say that the employee was not being lazy and lying to me about the time showing on their clocks… let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. I mean, he did indicate that he would pass along my consumer frustrations with his general manager, so I’m not here to knock him on that. However, management needs to empower its employees to satisfy the customer by giving them the tools necessary to do so within reason. If you have a customer calling from 3 miles away, and your clocks are set 10 minutes fast, take the customer’s order over the phone. If I was prank calling and never showed up, what’s the loss in the big picture? Compare that to the loss of not taking the order and potentially losing a customer. You’ll gain much more, especially in the long-term! Remember that it costs less to retain a valued, loyal customer than it does to get a new one, and the employees are the face of the company; hence, it is critical that they are empowered to act on the behalf of your best interest. Of course, let’s hope that all employees are motivated to provide the best experience for the customers.

Time Will Tell

Well, I guess time will tell. I’m anxious to see if they fix their clocks, if they empower their employees, and if they respond in an effort to resolve the matter and ensure that all customers, vocal or silent, are provided with the best customer service ever! Will I return in the near future? Ever? Time will tell. I’m hopeful that a brand like Smashburger that has some tasty food learns from these type of unfortunate situations and bolsters its customer-centric focus – a balance between quality product and quality service. The ball is now in Smashburger’s court!


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