Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Right Way and the Wrong Way

Just about everything we can perceive and rationalize has a gray area to it.  As much as I am into Taoist philosophies and the concept of yin and yang, life is just never quite that simple.  Yes, there are opposites, but there’s a whole lot of middle ground between them that is always open to interpretations.  We have day and night, and yet there is also dawn and dusk.  We have tall and short, and yet they are just opposing ends of the bell curve when it comes to human stature.

One aspect that definitely does not have a gray area though is that of customer service.  Sure, you can have mediocre or average customer service, but really isn’t that just as bad as poor customer service?  I mean, if a waiter only asks you for one refill and then disappears for the rest of your meal, or if a person rings you up at a cash register and barely acknowledges your existence, are you satisfied?  Again, each level of customer service is open to individual interpretation, but you only ever tip well if someone has been spectacular at their job—or in the case of my family, has to clean up the mess of food and crayons that my 3-year-old has somehow managed to create on the floor underneath our table.  How does he do that anyway?  It's like that's his master plan as soon as we arrive.  Get stuff and get it onto the floor without Mommy and Daddy seeing.  He’s lightning fast, that’s for sure!

So I was listening to the radio yesterday, and they were asking retail and customer service people to call in with their rants about bad customers.  Sure, bad customers exist.  Some are just plain rude and have no right whatsoever eating out at an establishment or shopping at a certain store.  One spoke of a fast food customer returning and throwing a bag of food at her.  Another complained of a kid that created a mess on the floor under his table.  I hope that wasn’t us!!  But more often than not, those people complaining yesterday are the ones at fault.  Seriously.

My case in point, my family recently had a streak going of three separate incidents where we ordered take-out meals and the restaurant staffs screwed up our orders.  I'd say we order or eat out maybe two and occasionally three times a week counting weekends, and so three in a row is rather uncanny.  It started with a trip to Panera one morning, where the MANAGER (of all people) neglected to put the fat-free cream cheese into our bag for my wife’s bagel.  She lived with it even though we paid for the nonexistent cream cheese, but we moved on.  Oh well.  No big deal.  Really.  Although I do have to mention that my wife’s brother is a manager of a Panera in Harrisburg, and that restaurant seems to be a million times better than the one in Altoona.  I digress.  Anyway, we then decided to get pizza and subs from a local pizza joint near where we live.  We ordered everything, brought it home, and then discovered that our small pizza was actually a kid-sized pan pizza.  Both were listed on the menu, and the difference in price was negligible, but that’s not the point, is it?  Luckily my son wasn’t that hungry that night (it was being shared with others), so we moved on.  Oh well.  No big deal.  Really.  Two nights later though, we ordered a larger meal from TGI Friday’s, and that one was the worst.  When we got home, we discovered that we were missing literally half of our order.  All three entrees were completely missing their side dishes.  One was just a piece of fish nestled lonely in the little plastic container.  Seriously?  Oh yeah, my wife did get an extra side of corn on the cob, although it looked like that piece of corn had baked out in the Arizona sun for three days before being placed in our bag.  We called and complained over that order, and the manager did send us a few coupons for free appetizers and some other $5 coupons off the total order, but it left some of my family members a little angry not to mention hungry!

Now I’m a smart guy.  I don't mean to sound arrogant, but I’ll admit it.  I've got a lot of useless knowledge up in my noggin, and I tend to catch onto things quicker than others.  But I just can’t imagine that checking an order before sending it to the cooks or giving it to the customer is all that difficult.  I know these people get really busy, and sometimes they may have a handful of orders to deal with at a time, but it’s not like they are juggling chainsaws.  These places aren’t even fast food joints.  I mean, we ALWAYS check our orders when going through fast food drive-thrus, and really, when they have to deal with like fifty to seventy-five cars an hour, they are bound to have mistakes.  But these other places shouldn’t.  That, to me, is laziness or neglect for their job, and it’s one of the worst forms of customer service.  People have paid for their food and left, and what are they supposed to do?  Drive back and get it so that all of their food can be cold when they get home?  Drive back and have the place recook everything?  Oh yeah, like that wouldn’t invite a restaurant worker to leave a little spit surprise in the mashed potatoes.  Or maybe they should just go without?  Or, like we did, call and complain so that they can be sent coupons, when really now they don’t want to go back at all.

I’m talking quite a bit about the restaurants here, but my sentiments about bad customer service are pervasive.  Just today I met with a sales guy from a local IT company trying to sell some services to our firm.  We are a client with this company with regards to a large programming project they designed, implemented, and continue to host for us, and so I always give these people at least a shot.  We’ve had horrible issues with that programming project though (bad turnover of their staff, incompetent programmers, huge delays, etc.), and so our confidence in them is not very high.  But this guy showed up at my office and tried to pitch me on his services, and the entire time he’s there he’s touting his company’s high level of support and service and bad-mouthing the competition, which my firm uses.  The last time I met with this guy, a year ago or so, he gave me the same pitch, then came back with a quote twice of what we pay now to his competition.  Yes, two times the amount.  Yep, our costs now multiplied by two!  Really, guy?  I'm not that bad at math...

I’d also mentioned an incident a couple of weeks ago where we were having an issue with the program they'd designed for us and I wasn't able to get ahold of our usual account rep because she was on vacation.  I’d reached out to this particular guy and a couple of others, and one of the others responded immediately.  This guy hadn’t responded then, and he didn’t even seem to know what I was talking about when I mentioned it during our meeting today.  Yeah, OK.

So you just want us to shell out twice of what we pay now for what you say is a “better level of service,” and all we’ve seen from your company throughout the past few years is poor customer service and poor responsiveness?  Maybe that works on some people, but not on me.  As I stated earlier, I’m a smart guy.  Not to mention the fact that he completely insulted my skill level during his presentation by vastly underestimating my knowledge in certain products and services he was trying to sell me.  It was like he was trying to sell a $20 pair of shoes for $100 to my wife.  No, I don’t think so.

My little rant here is getting too long and losing the point—kind of like the movie In Time with Justin Timberlake that I watched over the weekend—and so I’ll wrap things up here.  If time is money, you've got a cool concept, but don't lose it by trying to save the pretty main characters even though they are constantly about to die.  No, seriously, if you are in customer service, don’t whine and complain about your job.  Everyone has some aspect of their jobs that get under their skin.  If you don’t, lucky you—play the lottery.  But don’t complain about your jobs and then not do them right.  If you are paid to serve food, make sure it’s all there, cooked to specifications, and please double check your work.  If you are paid to fix something, do it in a reasonable amount of time and make sure it’s fixed PROPERLY.  If you are paid to sell something, don’t try to pitch me on your track record when my experience with your track record is abysmal.  And above all else, smile and be nice to your customers.  Nobody wants to deal with a bunch of buttmunches when buying groceries or grabbing some grub.

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