The Icing on the Cake

Regular readers will know that I think the best, maybe the only way to deliver great customer service, is through employees who can put themselves in the customer’s shoes, own the problem and get it sorted. You need devolved power, transparency and the confidence to admit you are wrong coupled with the will to put things right. For me, great customer service, like great HR, goes way beyond its functional responsibility.

Picture the scene: We arrive at the Spectrum Leisure Centre in Guildford on a busy Sunday afternoon, with Keira and 8 other kids for an ice skating party.  The party is pre-booked as is the post party food, and the cake is in the back of the car. There are people buzzing everywhere, and out of the crowd appear some of the leisure centre staff. Instinctively they know the kind of groups they are looking for and just like that, our instructor Katharine introduces herself and the girls are off for some fun. Katharine turned out to be a good skater and instructor, and had everyone enjoying themselves, playing games on the ice, falling over and laughing. She was confident beyond her 16 years and did a great job.

After the skating – it’s burger time. The staff at the Wimpy were friendly, though we didn’t get the meals we had pre-ordered two weeks earlier (at their request). It was mainly a matter of size – we got junior instead of standard – and the very small portions just disappeared down nine hungry throats. A quick word with the manager and sure enough – he has delivered what he’d been asked to – so the order glitch was elsewhere. And he politely explained that his restaurant and the leisure centre were two different companies.

At this point I got that typical sinking feeling you get when things don’t go to plan. ‘Sorting this is gonna be a pain’. The customer service desk is closed on Sundays and we have two different companies pinging responsibility around – that kind of thing. I went to the main front desk and got a friendly, understanding response. ‘Leave it with us – we’ll check this out and come and see you soon’, came the reply.

Shortly after, the duty manager (I wish I had taken her name) came and found me and simply and honestly explained that the mistake was theirs, not the restaurant’s. No bluffing, no BS, ‘Here’s the money back we overcharged, we’re very sorry’. Now – I mentioned cake at the start of the tale, and here comes the icing on the service cake. Unprompted, the duty manager says ‘We’d like to offer you a complimentary visit to the leisure centre as a way of making up for our error.’ Nice touch – expectations well and truly exceeded, and here I am now writing about an example of good service and how to recover from a mistake.

What did I take away from the experience:


When you have to make a complaint – it really helps if a) you do it in a friendly way and b) the response is similar


Customer services was closed, and that didn’t matter. The duty manager owned the problem. I think a sign of a healthy organisation is when functional lines can be blurred in pursuit of helping the customer. Good customer service is a lot like good HR – they should be practiced all across the business, way beyond their functional responsibility.


The Spectrum Leisure Centre made a mistake, they acknowledged it, said sorry and put it right.

Icing on the cake

The Spectrum Leisure Centre exceeded my expectations, unprompted and with a genuine sense of goodwill.

We are quick to judge when things don’t measure up to expectation. I think it’s just as important to highlight when things get put right too.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

6 thoughts on “The Icing on the Cake”

  1. Brilliant story Doug, restores my faith in human nature, and all that. Also good to hear that Wimpy bars are alive and well, and living in Guildford. I had my first ever ‘meal out’ in a Wimpy bar! 🙂

  2. Love this one Doug. We are only human and we won’t always meet customer expectation, but recognising this and apologising in an authentic manner can strengthen any relationship built.

    PS Keira’s cake is bloody amazing!

    1. I love the way you put that Sinead thanks. And please let me reassure you – Keira’s cake tastes bloody good too! 🙂

        1. Our local Coughlans did it for us. It was huge, and delicious. Cost about £100 mind you. We were v impressed as was K!

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