Karen Putz Talks to The Celebrity Experience Author

Donna Cutting, author of The Celebrity Experience is on a Book Tour and today’s stop is right here!  Donna and I met at the SOBCon’08 conference. You may recall Donna from a previous post where I reviewed her book and wondered, What Would Happen if Steak ‘n Shake Rolled Out the Red Carpet for Their Customers?

So today, I took the opportunity to ask Donna some more questions about how companies like Steak ‘n Shake could apply the Celebrity Experience and produce positive outcomes for their company:

Donna, I know you’re familiar with the Steak ‘n Shake incident, when I attempted to order two milkshakes through the drive through but was denied service because I could not use the drive through speaker.  I came home and blogged about the incident.  The company issued an apology via email and set up a meeting to discuss the incident with three of their executives.  What are some ways that Steak ‘n Shake could have handled this incident differently, to produce a better outcome?


Karen, I remember you telling me about this incident when we met, and I’ve read a few of the many blog posts on the subject. My first impression of the event was that it could have all been avoided if the clerk in question had simply chosen his customer over his own convenience or store “policy.” Driving up to the window instead ordering though the speaker is not the typical procedure, true. But honestly, disability or no disability, was it really a big deal to just serve you those milkshakes? What if a hearing individual drove by the speaker and went straight to the window by mistake. Must you really make them drive back to the speaker? What harm is it to just take the order at the window?


I wasn’t there to witness the event, but based on what you have said, it seems like the better customer service choice would have been to just bend policy and serve you at the window.


Based on what you’ve told me, certainly the clerk could have turned the situation around by sincerely apologizing once he realized you were deaf, and served you the milkshakes.


In giving red-carpet service, you want to strive to please the customer the first time. Mistakes happen. People are human. However, good service professionals own their mistakes and strive to immediately make the wrong right.


Please note this: I have not spoken with anyone at Steak ‘n Shake about this incident. I know one side of the story. So, I’m a little uncomfortable sharing what I think Steak ‘n Shake could have done differently. The fact that they did contact you and set up a meeting is positive. However, considering the story has been posted on several blogs and told in a variety of media outlets, they might have done well to detail on their website and your blog exactly how they intended to address the situation. From a customer service standpoint in general, all companies should ensure their employees are well-versed in the Americans with Disabilities Act, provide ongoing training and hold employees accountable for giving ALL customers exceptional service.



What are some ways that companies today can provide their customers with the Red Carpet experience? 


In my book, The Celebrity Experience: Insider Secrets to Delivering Red-Carpet Customer Service, I dedicate an entire chapter to the power of YES! The premise is to “treat your customers like Hollywood celebrities.” Well, for a celebrity, whatever the question the answer is YES!


For the rest of us, we often hear “Sorry, the policy is….’


The policy is that even though we sold you a defective laptop, we will not provide you with a replacement for the two weeks we need in order to repair the one you bought from us.


The policy is that you must stay home all day waiting for a plumber who may or may not show up.


The policy is that you have to order at the speaker, and if you go to the window first we will make you drive back to the speaker.


Great service providers empower their employees to give their customers a red-carpet service. The best hotels empower their team members to make things right for guests up to a certain dollar amount. Starbucks empowers their baristas to surprise and delight customers with the occasional freebie. (Problems or no, I’m still a Starbucks fan!)


Company leaders could start the red-carpet process by empowering and encouraging employees to be flexible when a customer doesn’t follow procedure. Use some creativity! Policies are in place for a reason – but it doesn’t hurt to bend them to give a customer a great experience.  



 When a company is hit with a negative experience that is shared on the internet, what are some ways that companies can address this?


It’s a new world for many companies. Rather than one person telling two friends, and they telling two friends…and so on…..disgruntled customers are telling millions of people in one fell swoop – with a blog post that travels far and wide, as yours did.


When an error has clearly been made, and it’s making the rounds on the internet, the best thing company leaders can do is communicate, communicate, communicate. Act quickly to address the error. Address it with the person in question, but also on the company website, on blogs, and by any other means available. Tell the truth about what happened, clearly outline what is being done to correct the situation, and keep customers updated on the progress. The key to regaining your customer’s trust is to communicate, communicate, and communicate some more.


Smart leaders are beginning to realize they too can jump on the blogging bandwagon. Zappos, Southwest, Jobing.com – they all have blogs and encourage customer participation. Through blog comments, Twitter Tweets, and other social networking strategies, customers are actually influencing the direction these companies take.



Steak ‘n Shake is now facing a formal complaint filed against them for discrimination at the drive through.  At this point, could Steak ‘n Shake employ Red Carpet strategies to turn the situation around or is the situation past the point of no return?


Again, I don’t know all sides of this story, and I’m not sure I’m qualified to speak directly to what Steak ‘n Shake could do at this point to prevent further actions from being taken.


In general, a company can recover from this type of situation by:


1. Owning Up to their mistakes

2. Communicating with their customers

3. Going Above and Beyond to make things right….and then some.

4. Providing exceptional training for their employees and hold them accountable to high service standards

5. Continue to communicate, communicate, communicate…..including getting feedback from customers about what they’d like to see happen.


This interview was part of a blog tour.

Yesterday, the blog tour was conducted at these locations:
Mary Eileen Williams /
Fiesty Side of Fifty
Kirsten Harrell / I Pop In
Pam Archer / I Do Weddings

Today, there are 2 other places you can read about Donna’s book:

Debba Haupert / Girlfriendology
Glenda Watson Hyatt / Author of I can do it Myself – Do It Myself

And tomorrow it continues at these blogs:
Heidi Caswell /
Get Your Cards Here
Jenn Givler / Create a Thriving Business
Melodiann Whitley / Wealth Together

Andrea Nierenberg’s blog

At anytime, you can purchase Donna’s book, The Celebrity Experience, Insider Secrets to Red Carpet Customer Service by going to Amazon
SOBCon 08 032
Donna Cutting and Stephen Hopson at the SOBCon’08

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