I called the quick-service restaurant with a large carry-out order, and was told it would be ready at 5:45. At exactly 5:46, I walked in and discovered that nobody had started to prepare my food. The manager muttered an apology and snapped at the crew to get to work, then disappeared from sight.

A smiling teenage employee walked up and said, “Sir, if you’d like to have a seat, I’ll bring your order to you when it’s ready.” I thanked her and declined, primarily because I wanted to watch the kitchen crew prepare my food. I’m funny that way, especially after the cooks have just been scolded.

Ten minutes later, my order was finally ready, and one of the employees rang it up. As I was preparing to leave, the smiling teenager walked up and handed me two coupons for free meals. “You shouldn’t have had to wait for your order, so next time, it’s on us,” she said.

Think about that. The manager was barely able to accept responsibility for his team’s misstep, but one of the youngest (and probably lowest-paid) employees recognized that her employer’s service fell short and took it upon herself to remedy it. I don’t know anything about her, but I’ll wager that she’ll be running a successfully department or company in a few years.

Hiring the right customer contact people isn’t enough. You have to give them the authority and the flexibility to take care of situations without needing to beg approval from their superiors. That’s where extraordinary customer service begins.