Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Food Trucks and X Degrees of Separation

Note: Today's post is geared specifically to food truck owners, but applies to general customer service as well. Also, pictures do not pertain to this article except to show trucks conducting business.

In the 1988 movie Coming to America Eddie Murphy plays an African prince who comes to America in search of a bride. He ends up playing the part of an exchange student and gets a job at a fast food joint so that the woman he has his eye on will love him for himself and not for his title. In the Mark Twain tale The Prince and the Pauper, two boys that look the same but come from the different ends of the economic spectrum swap places. The pauper is playing the prince and the prince is living as a pauper. 

A great story is one where Melvin Dummar picked up a bum off the side of the highway one night in 1967. Turns out it was the millionaire Howard Hughes.

The reason I bring up these examples is that you can never know the background of a stranger or customer you meet. Let's extend this a bit further with Six Degrees of Separation.  You never know who they know and who their friends know, etc.

Applying it to the food truck business...

Let's assume a customer comes up to your food truck and places an order. They are completely new to you - they are just another customer. You or your order taker is having a bad day and the attitude is bad. This customer has an issue with their food and complains. Being in a bad mood, you give them a hard time, are uncooperative, and just rude.

Now what if it turns out that person happens to be one of the following?  A food blogger or reviewer, the head of the social committee for a major organization, a City Councilmember, an elite Yelper, or, god forbid, someone who works in a department that permits businesses.  Perhaps they are a wedding or event coordinator that often books catering for large scale events.

They could also just be an ordinary person with an ordinary 9-5 job. But what if their best friend is the President of a Fortune 500 company? Or maybe they are the classmate of a famous person. Their daughter is getting married and they are checking out different food trucks with the idea of booking one for the wedding.

One more scenario. You get a request for your truck to come out to a birthday party and even though it's small, you agree.  But later you have second thoughts as the numbers are questionable. Is it worth your while? You decide not and flake the event. 

Little did you know that the birthday party was for a prominent person in the community and among the guests were some of those key people, like above, who could bring you future business. But because you didn't show and pissed off the host and made them look bad, you are now being bad mouthed to everyone in the party and everyone they ever talk to about food trucks in the future. They might even leave a scathing review on Yelp.

The thing is, you not only damaged your own business, you also cast a shadow over the food truck business in general. Although food trucks are still ever popular and more trucks join the ranks every week, the percentage of the general population who have eaten from food trucks is still low.
“One in five individuals is not aware of or has not seen a food truck, and one-third of individuals who are aware of them still haven’t purchased from one.” Technomic study

That means there is a huge market out there still untouched. It also means there's a good chance you could be the very first food truck experience for a customer. Did you leave a good or bad taste in their mouth? Will they come back to you again? Will they try other trucks after their experience with you?

It's really a golden rule for customer service - you never know who your customer is (or who they know), so always treat them with the best service possible.

Follow this rule and protect your own reputation and that of the food truck industry as a whole.
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