Look for life lessons in unexpected places.
Given the story that’s about to follow, it would be awesome if I could say that was the fortune that came in my fortune cookie when I ordered Chinese on Monday night. My fortune actually was “Your opinions are highly regarded by others.” (Also commendable — and of course, true.)
Often when we talk about lessons we learn about startups, it’s through case studies: looking at what made X company the $50 billion business it is today or why Y company failed. It often comes from discussions or reading about it books. However, sometimes, the best examples are ones you encounter by mere chance in your daily life.
Take, for example, Monday night. With two working parents and two small kids, we aren’t huge on cooking at my house. Fortunately living in Silicon Valley, there are several options as far as places that deliver. Not just in the traditional call for pizza, but sites where you can go through and order pretty much any type of food on one site. (Now, all of my fellow urbanites might think that doesn’t need explanation because everywhere has that. Obviously, you have not been to North Dakota.) Anyway, we usually go through Waiter.com or GrubHub, which I have had no real complaints about. However, a few weeks ago, I was waiting for our takeout order from a Thai place when the pickup guy from DoorDash came in for an order. I had vaguely heard of them before – they’re a startup with Stanford ties, and the next time we ordered I gave them a try. The service was as good as the other places we’d used, and I was impressed by their communication. You get text updates when your order is place, when it’s picked up and the driver is en route, etc.
Which brings us to Monday. We wanted Chinese, and instead of going with the sites we had a longer history using, I went with DoorDash again. Ordering – went fine. Dinner was supposed to arrive around 6:40. At 6:41, I got a call from the driver. There was an issue, he said. Instead of pulling up with our food, he was just on his way to get it and it was going to be about half an hour late. He was apologetic and polite, but it was still annoying. With two little kids, an extra half hour until dinner can seem interminable.
I shot off a quick email — not asking for anything — just basically saying we ordered, it was late, the guy was polite, he mentioned following up with them, so I was. I said we were happy the first time, but “a bit disappointed this go round.” That was it. Trust me, I have sent out way more harshly worded emails. At this point, I would have said the chance we’d use DoorDash again stood at 50% — they hadn’t lost us as a customer completely, but they weren’t going to jump out as a clear No. 1.True to his word, the delivery guy showed up with our food about half an hour later. Again, apologetic and said I should definitely feel free to follow up with the Door Dash people. I learned long ago, usually it’s not the fault of the delivery person/person on the other end of call service line/etc. that is the reason for whatever screw up, so there’s no real point in taking it out on the messenger — so I thanked him and off he went. I fed the kids, and then debated if I should follow up. Inevitably, 25 extra minutes wasn’t the end of the world — and hey, it’s not like they’re the only food delivery service out there. But at the same time, I thought “Why not?”
Yesterday morning, I got this response:
Thank you for taking the time to follow up with us. I’m sorry if there was any confusion when your driver spoke to you over the phone, but not nearly as sorry as I am about your order arriving so late.
To put it frankly, the reason for the delay with meal was that we were severely understaffed. We try to have as many drivers on the road as possible to make sure all of our customer’s meals arrive quickly; a promise that we were unable to keep tonight. By the time your driver was assigned to your order, it was already approaching the time it should have been dropped off. I’m sure his apology was sincere, but what he was apologizing for was a deeper problem that DoorDash currently faces, not his own actions. We’re working hard to build our team of drivers to avoid situations like these, and maintain a consistent level of service that you can rely upon day-in and day-out.
Since we clearly let you down tonight, we’d love to make this up to you anyway that we can. That’s why I’m going to be refunding the full cost your meal, and putting $6 in delivery credits back into your DoorDash account to be used towards your next purchase. You will receive an e-mail shortly letting you know that the refund has been processed, and should be reflected on your credit card statement within the next 5 to 7 business days.
I know this only scratches the surface at a much larger issue, but we appreciate you being so understanding. If there’s anything else we can do for you, please feel free to let us know.
Paying my electric bill online later, I saw that the money had indeed been credited back to my account. That was great — definitely more than I had expected or was looking for when I emailed them. I had figured, they’d credit me the $6 delivery fee – which would have made me happy.
But what actually impressed me most was the fact that they straight up owned up to the mistake, explained it, took the responsibility on company level, committed to fixing it and then went above and beyond my expectations.
The last time I posted I wrote about overriding the desire to put a perfect product on the market and just getting your product out there when it comes to a startup. I hit on the fact that you have accept the early version(s) of your product will have glitches.
What I didn’t get into as much was the fact that it’s how you respond to those errors that can ultimately set your company apart — and up for success. My experience with DoorDash is an excellent example of that.
And it’s not always the intangible things like politeness, but sometimes, it’s financial as well. Companies — especially startups — need to recognize short term versus long term gain. For about $62, DoorDash is likely get several times that return back from me. The fact that they’ve gotten a few million in funding probably helps give them a little leeway to do that, but how many bigger companies with far more resources aren’t willing to make that small investment that will have a huge return? More over, how many startups because money is tight are hesitant to make those small investments (which can feel huge when you’re bootstrapping)? I had mentioned above that DoorDash wasn’t necessarily going to be my first choice next time. Now it is.
One of the things that we have really strived for at 7 Generation Games is excellent customer service. When one of our first 100 users couldn’t get the game installed on a home computer, our CEO went an hour out of her way to help install it. (Sorry, but we may have grown past the size of individual house calls.) She is going back to North Dakota for another two weeks in April to follow up with the schools we’re in there. Through our first year, we worked to set up on-site installs with any schools that would like it, even if the travel to the site was going to cost more than we’d make from game licensing. One of our first hires was a technical support specialist to help handle any user troubleshooting, and we have a policy of responding to any customer questions within 12 hours (usually, it’s much quicker than that, but occasionally, we all happen to be sleeping at the same time).
At 7 Generation Games, we recognize that we’re still at the stage where things might not be perfect 100 percent of the time. But we also recognize the power of nearly perfect customer service in remedying any technical shortfalls. Being on the receiving end of great customer service, it reinforced to me.
I had to wait an extra half hour for my food, but I will remember the amazing way DoorDash responded to the situation long after I throw away the leftover Chinese food in my fridge.
Startup life comes is full of valuable lessons – you just don’t always expect them to be tasty as well.