GrubHub: A Welcome Third Party Intervention

February 19, 2014

The ‘stiff upper lip’ is a trait frequently dredged up in discussions regarding my nationality. We natives of the British Isles are, for a variety of reasons, famed for our resilient, tacit acceptance of the substandard or difficult, as perfectly underscored by the slogan of famous WWII era posters: ‘Keep Calm and Carry On.’

This “just deal with it” mindset has broadened beyond the struggles of international conflict and reflects in our consumer habits: a poll last year showed that 47 percent of Brits surveyed would rather accept a poor restaurant experience than make their views known, for fear of embarrassment or awkwardness. Furthermore, a blog in last year’s GQ magazine questioned the basis of Brits’ inherent unwillingness to complain upon receipt of bad service. This resonated with me, having on numerous occasions received the wrong dish and shrugged it off, insisting ‘it doesn’t matter.’ As a foodie, of course it mattered, but I simply wasn’t willing to risk the wrath – or repercussions – of the restaurateur.

Imagine my joy upon moving to New York City and discovering GrubHub, a food ordering/delivery service that would let me order from any number of great restaurants with complete confidence. If my order did not arrive exactly as specified, THEY would make it right.  While some might prefer to deal directly with the restaurant, I’ve found this intermediated approach far more beneficial when something goes awry, as things inevitably do in a busy restaurant kitchen.

Call a restaurant directly to complain about an errant order and you have the voice – and economic impact – of one lone diner.  When GrubHub gets involved in correcting that mistake, however, the stakes are exponentially higher for the restaurant who wants to maintain a favorable relationship with this revenue-driving site.  In highly competitive marketplaces such as New York and San Francisco, the website can connect small restaurants to affluent clients at law firms and banks who might otherwise have never known they existed; keeping GrubHub and its customers happy is in their economic best interest, particularly as customers can see restaurant food and service reviews on the restaurant via GrubHub.

For me, my first, and I might add, reluctant negative feedback involved tiny pieces of bone in a chicken sandwich – truly unappetizing, not to mention a choking hazard. Knowing the brusque manner of this particular diner’s manager, I submitted a timid complaint online… within 10 minutes, an executive of GrubHub called me, extending sincere apologies and a compensatory gesture of free food, which was immediately credited to my account. No arguments over misheard orders, no misunderstandings, no conflict, no ‘next time you come in, just ask for Jimmy.’ I was immediately able to order elsewhere, sans drama, and my word was not disputed.

Similarly, on a particularly busy morning last week, I was working from home on a snowy, somewhat treacherous day in deepest Brooklyn. Relieved to find that some foolhardy (business-savvy?) restaurants were continuing to provide delivery, I placed an order via GrubHub and patiently waited for my breakfast – including, of course, the all-important coffee – to arrive. [Note to self: Replace the broken coffeemaker in the kitchen.]

Words can scarcely describe the look on my face as I bounded to answer the door, only to watch in some horror as the delivery man’s bag split, showering my porch in a rather interesting mix of black coffee, kale smoothie, and egg-white omelet. Though an innocent mishap, I was facing another hour trapped in my snow-surrounded fortress sans fresh Arabica. Quelle horreur.

Still, sending the highly apologetic delivery man on his way with sympathetic and vehement reassurances that it was not his fault, my pain was quelled by my immediate contact with GrubHub, who confirmed I wanted my order resent, made the necessary arrangements with the restaurant, and then credited my account with a further $10 for the inconvenience (note: the delivery guy had double-bagged my order the second time around. He learns from his mistakes; I like that).

The above are but two examples of GrubHub’s commitment to prompt, responsive, efficient customer service, which has been consistent throughout my dealings with them over the last two years – and a key reason I am so loyal to them.

GrubHub’s success can be attributed to one key Marketing 101 fundamental: Know your customer and what their motivations are. For this online site, it is undoubtedly people like me for whom convenience and ease of use is imperative.  We don’t want to spend our time digging out menus from the bottom of a drawer, and we certainly don’t want to enter into a lengthy debate about the definition of ‘medium rare’ with defensive hospitality staff.  GrubHub appears to understand that, and has built its site to minimize confusion and misinterpretation, but equally important, empowered its agents to respond effortlessly if something goes wrong. No one there has ever put me on hold while they ‘speak to a supervisor’ – and that speaks volumes.  Indeed, GrubHub is so attuned to its customer base that all new recruits at the company – regardless of position held – must spend the first two days of their employment answering customer service calls.

Expeditious, responsive customer service builds trust and, as my colleague Eric has astutely pointed out (here and here), is an often-overlooked asset for leveraging, and maintaining, brand reputation. At the heart of GrubHub’s success is surely its dedication to preserving and upholding the age-old maxim: ‘The customer is always right.’ Let’s hope that, as this young company continues to expand beyond its start-up roots, it doesn’t fail to recognize its most important constituents: the hungry customer. Because – though I strongly admire the assertiveness of the native New Yorkers with whom I surround myself – this Brit would hate to have to start complaining.