The Best Boulangerie – A lesson in Customer Relationships

By - March 25, 2020

Times are uncertain, and businesses in many industries are taking things day by day. RSM has always offered advice on how to get your business through hardship, but the best thing you can do for yourself and your company many be simpler than you think. Though hindered now, nothing can replace the relationship that you’ve cultivated with your customers. Now and in the future, the care you give to others will always come back to you.

The Best Boulangerie

This morning, March 19, I slept late and so was out around 9:30 to buy my breakfast croissant. Because we are in a period of confinement at home, decreed by the government in an effort to stop the coronavirus epidemic, I had with me a printed certificate attesting to my plan to leave my apartment to buy basic necessities, such as a croissant. The atmosphere in the almost deserted street was ominous, and I wanted to make my purchase and get back home as fast as possible.

Going down the rue du Cherche-Midi, I saw coming toward me a dark-haired woman, middle-aged, plumpish, with glasses, who looked familiar. She must have also recognized me, for she stopped, observing the regulation coronavirus distance of one meter.

Then I recognized her. I used to see her at the bakery where she sold me my croissant each morning. I didn’t know her name, she didn’t know mine, but we knew each other’s identities all the same.

She spoke first. “I haven’t seen you for a while, have you been sick? And where’s your little dog?”

At that moment I was embarrassed. I could not admit to her that after having long been one of her faithful customers, I had deliberately switched bakeries. One day, on the weekly closing day of the bakery that I used to frequent, I had tried the croissants at another bakery located just a block or so farther on. They were even plumper and flakier than the ones I had been buying. So I had made the change.

I could not confess my sin of disloyalty to the woman in front of me. Instead, I told her the truth, but a different truth. “I fell and broke a bone at the end of December, and I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks. Even after I got home, it was a while before I could walk without crutches.”

“But what about your dog?” the woman repeated. She looked truly concerned about my little wire-haired dachshund Britanie, whom I had always left attached to a hook just outside the bakery door where I, and the bakery woman, could see her easily from within.

Then I had to tell the rest of the truth, and I felt no more guilt, just pain. “Britanie is dead. She was an old dog, she was 14, and she died of a massive heart attack while she was with her dog sitter in the country. It was just before Christmas, on December 21. I was still in the hospital. I never got to see her again.”

“That’s terrible!” the woman from the bakery exclaimed. She added: “You must get another dog. Your dog was such a wonderful companion for you. It won’t be the same dog, of course, but it will be a presence in your home.”

A presence in my home. That was just the way I had always thought of Britanie. “She certainly was,” I said. I assured her: “I do plan to look for another dog, as soon as this coronavirus emergency is over.”

“I’m so glad to hear that,” said the woman from the bakery. She gave me a big smile.

We went our separate ways, I returning home to face another long day of confinement. I thought about this kindly woman and how sympathetic she had been to me. And I thought about the croissants she sold. They are not that much less good than the ones at the bakery a block away. They are a little less flaky, but not enough to make a big difference. On the other hand, the woman at my old bakery is so kind, nicer than the women at the other bakery, who are polite enough but cool, who never noticed my little dog or the moment when she was no longer there.

Tomorrow I will return to my old bakery and the kindly woman who warmed my heart in this cold, hard time.

-Alice Evleth

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