Tag Archives: customer service

How To Be A Good Customer (And Get What You Want)

All businesses are customer service businesses, whether you’re selling widgets or repairing plumbing.  You can’t do business in a vacuum.  You need customers, therefore, it goes without saying that it’s in your best interests to make them happy.  However, here’s a tip: you don’t necessarily need all of them.

I’ve been a manager in the business world for something like 30 years, 22 of them in the business I’m currently in, which makes me the Complaint Department.  But I’m also a customer of many other businesses, and my own customers have taught me everything I know about how to be a good customer, mostly by behaving badly.  I’d say my success rate is much higher than theirs.

Locally there is a business consultant named Jerry Osteryoung.  Here are a few of his qualifications:  Jim Moran Professor Emeritus of Entrepreneurship and Professor Emeritus of Finance at Florida State University; book author; newspaper contributor; consultant to over 3,000 businesses.  He used to write a weekly column for the Tallahassee Democrat, primarily about how to deal with customers and employees.  His viewpoint was a breath of fresh air.

The subject of one of his articles was the meme “The customer is always right.”  His take on that?  Who says?  Whose bright idea was that, anyway?  I almost jumped for joy when I read this article.  He said, the customer is always right, until they aren’t.  Sometimes, he said, the best thing to do is cut your losses.  Part of the old meme was “research” showed a customer who had a bad experience with you would tell 11 people, whereas a customer who had a good experience would tell 3 (if any).  So a lot of attention was focused on bad experiences, out of fear of losing not just one, but eleven customers.  Jerry said, sometimes you just have to say, “Clearly I can’t make you happy, so it would probably be best for us both if you found another provider”.  First, of course, you have to try.  You have to listen.  You have to ask yourself sincerely whether you or one of your employees did something wrong, and even if not, whether you could have done something better.  You have to give the customer the benefit of the doubt.  Neither Jerry nor I are talking about blowing off customers, which would be suicidal.  But it is entirely true that some customers will never be happy unless they are not only made whole for their perceived bad experience, but be in better shape than they were before.  I have two favorite illustrations of this principle, one I only learned of this week.

First,  I have a friend who works in the Customer Service Department for Carnival Cruise Lines.  He once got a call from a customer who wanted the entire price of his two-week cruise refunded, because one night, they served shrimp for dinner.  Not that he’s allergic to shrimp.  He just doesn’t like it.  And there was another option.  The customer’s point was that since he doesn’t like shrimp, that left him with only one option instead of two, so he “deserved” to have his entire fee refunded.  My friend gave him the standard response, “I’m sorry.  We’ll give you a 10% discount on your next cruise”.  The customer demanded to talk to a supervisor.  He got the standard supervisor response–“I’m sorry.  We’ll give you 20% off your next cruise”.  And that was the end of the line for him.  No amount of threatening to call the President of the company, posting evil things about Carnival on Facebook, or telling all his friends and family to boycott Carnival forever was going to get him any further, because what he wanted was unreasonable.

Example #2:  A restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina accidentally served sangria to a toddler, who took two sips before someone realized the mistake.  The family finished their meal, then “rushed” the toddler to the ER an hour later.  Wisely, the restaurant manager went with them.  The manager says the ER said the child was indeed sick, but from an upper respiratory infection.  The family says it was alcohol poisoning.  I’m quite sure the meal was free, since the restaurant acknowledged the mistake.  So what else does the family want.  My guess is, the keys to the restaurant.  They will lose.  But the attitude here and in many other cases is, “It doesn’t hurt to try, right?”  Well, yes, it does.

The impetus for this post is that a friend of a friend person on Facebook has had a very frustrating week with customer service issues.  I sort of half-jokingly offered to post tips, which in fact I will never do, because I don’t think she would like them.  They would work, but she still wouldn’t like them.  Understand, this is a lovely woman, in all the ways we mean that in the South.  Beautiful, elegant, well-educated, a former college instructor, very artistic.  But she is having difficulty navigating the outside world.  She has two main issues.  She can’t find the light bulbs she wants after going to two major hardware stores.  She feels dismissed by them, as they don’t seem to want to help her (they’ve tried to explain to her why, but it’s unacceptable to her).  She feels she has been deceived by ATT, since she accepted a “bundle”, and got a new telephone which won’t work if the power goes out.   Her solution has been to write letters to the Presidents/ Chairmen of the companies.

I may not be able to post these tips on Facebook, but I can do it here.

1.  Lose the entitlement attitude.  No, the customer is not always right, and that may include you.

2.  Ask yourself if you have truly been wronged, or if you want something because you’re special.

3.  If you’ve truly been wronged, make them want to help you.  You ask.  You don’t demand.  You don’t threaten.  “I’m never coming back here!” (Okay, we won’t miss you.)  “I’m writing the President of your company!” (Please do, I want you to tell him how much you hate shrimp.) “I’ll have your job!” (Good luck with that.)

4.  Ask yourself what you would be satisfied with if you don’t get everything you want.  A friend recently asked that question about the protestors in Ferguson, Missouri.  The Justice Department determined that major changes were needed in the police department, and a half-dozen high officials in the city have resigned–but people are still protesting.  So, what is it you want?  When will you know you’re happy?

These are just the bare bones of how to be a good customer.  You can follow them or be permanently outraged, which is an unfortunate way to live.  Life is short.

A Day in the Life Of Fakename

This day would be Friday, April 25th, 2014. Nothing special about this day, other than I happened to inhabit it.
First, I made my first ever trip to Whole Foods, because 1) it was the only grocery store between the hair salon where I got my hair cut and my workplace, and 2) I was having a food emergency, namely, I was starving. Had I not been in such a rush, I could do a whole Grocery Voyeurism post on the customers of this establishment, and I may have to go back, just in order to do a more detailed job of reporting. At a glance, I can say that the customers were of the Birkenstock-wearing, cloth bag-carrying variety. It isn’t nice to make fun of people, but some people just lend themselves too well to stereotyping, so I can’t help myself.
I also made a flying trip to the library on this day, since besides having a food emergency, I had a book emergency (didn’t have one). When I arrived, there was a guy standing at the ground level elevator. This elevator only goes up one level, and is there mostly to accommodate the handicapped. Because our library has delusions of grandeur and thinks it’s the U.S. Supreme Court. There are a gazillion steps leading to the entrance, which I think are supposed to remind you of the power and majesty within. So I take the elevator too.
About the time I arrived at the elevator, the guy standing there started to walk away. I said, “Isn’t it working?” And he replied, “I don’t know, I don’t know how to operate it”. This was like an immediate stab to the heart for me. I said, “Here, you only have to push this button”. Inside the elevator, he told me I’d come along at just the right time, and didn’t it look like it was going to rain? And lest you think badly of this guy, I realized later this was not one simple push button. It was an entire panel with another button to call for assistance, and another area for firefighter operation which you usually only see inside an elevator. And the button to actually call the elevator was not labeled.
I seem to have some sort of karma involving the library elevators. Once I was there and a woman got trapped and was screaming hysterically. Once she was freed, my flying trip was delayed by about 20 minutes while I sat at a table with her and pretty much cooed and talked nonsense, and said things like “You’re going to be okay”. I knew she was okay when she pulled out her cell phone and asked someone to come and get her. Good idea. No way was she driving.
At the end of my day, I had a truck towed from a parking space, because it was blocking the car next to it. In case you too ever manage parking, when you have a vehicle towed, the customer does not call you up and say, “Thank you so much for towing my vehicle. I now see that I behaved badly and I’ve learned my lesson.” Especially not at 4:00 P.M. on a Friday afternoon.
After making a couple of other feeble excuses, the guy finally said that he was there first. This made it a physics problem. I asked if he could explain to me how the customer he blocked managed to wedge herself in beside him so as to block herself?
Then I came home, read my book at the picnic table, drank some wine, played with the dog and the kitten, and watched the birds. The End.

Where Is The Charger For This Thing?

One of my favorite books ever is Enslaved by Ducks.  If I wrote a book, I would call it Chained to Chargers.  I am forever charging one thing or another, or looking for the charger, or the USB cable that connects it to the computer.  Or the User Manual–not that that would help.  User manuals are written by people who already understand very well how a thing works, and have forgotten the first 57 steps they took to get there.  Those are the steps you need to know.

Or I can’t figure out how to do something and have to chat online with someone from India about it.  These are the people who Value My Business, Strive For Excellence in customer service, and are Very Sorry that I have a problem.  All cynicism aside, online chat is my preferred method.  I hate talking on the phone to them, and since the user manuals are no help, what’s the alternative?  Plus, I have a certain sympathy for the position they’re in.  This is partly due to knowing people in the call center business, and partly due to seeing the movie Slumdog Millionaire.  But it’s mostly due to being in a customer service business myself.  It always amazes me how people unload on the powerless.  Had a bad day?  I’ve seen people scream at a cashier for five minutes because the prices were too high, then say, I know it isn’t your fault.  Oh that makes it all better now.

But I digress.  Recently I had the occasion to make three new best friends from Amazon.com, and on Thursday, I got to know my new best friend Jayjay at Sony.com.  The occasion was that I have lost the USB cable to my Sony digital camera and wanted to order a new one.  Good luck finding that on your own on the Sony website.  Lucky for me, Jayjay popped up and offered to help.

But this is not the perfect marriage between me and all my new best friends.  Jayjay told me I would receive an order confirmation within 24 hours.  Did I?  Nope.  Kind of like my last new best friend Joan, who said she would waive shipping charges for the USB cable (!) I bought for the Kindle, and then charged my credit card anyway.  So every problem seems to require at least two contacts.  One to get it fixed, and one to follow up on whether or not it really is fixed.

So, armed with the order number Jayjay gave me, I went on Sony.com to see if I could track my order.  Very, very funny, Fakename.  Do you also see dead people?

So I called them.  On the phone, even.  When I gave my order number, my helper said, Oh.  That’s a Sony Store order number from the Parts and Accessories department.  (Duh.)  Unfortunately, you need to talk to them about it and they are closed this weekend.

Is that classic or what?  It’s not my department.  Anyhow, I started laughing.  Helper Woman said, The thing is, they are usually open all weekend (I’ll bet they are.  Miss an opportunity to sell stuff?  I don’t think so.)  But they are doing a major software upgrade.  I laughed harder.  Really! she said (somewhat offended), it’s a really big deal.   I tried to calm down a bit.  I know, I said, I’m laughing because this is just my luck–I’m trying to check an order on the only weekend the Sony Store has shut down.

So she gave me the direct number to that department and said I should call on Monday.  On second thought, she said, it might be better to call on Tuesday.  That did it.  I was laughing helplessly by that time, because…I know how that goes, and I know she’s right.

I thought these devices were supposed to make my life easier and more rewarding.  Instead, the care and feeding of them is like trying to raise a child or an orchid.  Fakesister, always cutting brilliantly to the heart of a matter, says this:  some devices are truly labor-saving.  Like dishwashers and vacuum cleaners.  But yours are not.  Oh.  My.  Is that ever true.

But some days, you just wish that the Kindle, the smart phone, and the digital camera would just go to their rooms and play quietly.

My New Best Friend Joan…from Amazon.com

Right.  Hi Joan, Goodbye Joan.  It’s not like you can ask for a particular person again…But for this particular instant in the space/time continuum, I like Joan.

Needless to say, I had a technology woe again, namely, the Kindle Fire died yesterday afternoon.  I mean really died.  It just sort of froze in the middle of things.  So I decided I would be smart and turn it off, and turn it back on.  Except it wouldn’t come back on.  Then I plugged it into the charger…and the LED light wouldn’t even come on.  (It’s red when it’s charging, green when it’s charged, and nothing when it’s dead.)

I was at work.  I tried plugging it into a different outlet.  No response.  So my employee Kitty said, “See, that’s the advantage of a real book.  You don’t have to charge them.”  I raised my eyes to the heavens.  Lord, I prayed, When will you change the U.S. employment laws so that I can legally smite her?  Just kidding, of course, especially because she was right.

So when I got home, I plugged up the Kindle and at least I got a light…a green one even, which would stay on for about 10 seconds and go out again.  After 8 hours of charging…same thing.  Visions of nightmares, rather than sugarplums, were dancing in my head.  I would have to send it back.  It’s amazing how attached you can become to an inanimate object.  So I decided this morning that I would take the plunge and chat with whoever I got on Amazon.com chat.  Ergo, Joan.

Joan said, do you have a USB cable?  Well, yes I do.  I bought one.  They don’t give you one, because it takes a geologic era to charge your Kindle Fire with a USB cable.  All the other Kindle versions come with a USB cable.  But it turns out you can download stuff onto the Kindle Fire with the USB in the absence of WiFi, which is why I got it.  So Joan says, plug it up to the USB and just see if the LED comes on.  Yes.  I said, are you suggesting the charger is bad?

Then she says, I’m not sure yet.  Do you have a cell phone charger that will fit the Kindle?  What? What about all those warnings that say that absolutely under no circumstances are you supposed to try to charge your device with an unapproved charger, otherwise you will void your warranty, the Kindle will blow up, and all your children will be born deformed?  She was like, you have my permission.

And guess what.  That worked too.  Another icon shattered–so it really DOESN’T matter what charger you use?  As long as it fits?  Boy, do I feel stupid.

So the end result is, they are sending me another charger, free.  When it quits working, next time I know what to do without calling on Amazon.  Or, well, I will still have to call them so I can get it free.

But I still like Joan.  She took me through the steps to figure out if it was the charger or the Kindle itself (its battery, actually, or so I figured.)

I generally hate it when I have to talk to Customer Service for any big company…mostly Sprint or Comcast.  I have a Sprint cellphone, and I used to tell my employees they might want to go home for the day because I was about to have to call Sprint.  They would be like, Oh Nooooo.  But Sprint has completely changed direction.  It’s no longer an ordeal to call them.  And Amazon has never been that way, so they didn’t have anything to overcome.

There is an internal culture in every company I know of which values everything but customer service.  The smart people are the ones who get the business–the engineers, the software designers, the marketers, etc.  But the customer service people are the people who keep the business for you.  In the long run, failing to value that will kill you.  So…thanks, Joan.

How Is This MY Bird?

This is my all-time favorite classic incident regarding customer service.  My former assistant manager, Eric, gets a call from a customer, who says that a mockingbird is dive-bombing people as they exit the elevator from our garage.  The mockingbird lives in a tree on the property next to ours.  And what, she wants to know, are we going to do about it?  I might have said, what do you think we should do about it?  I mean, does she want us to shoot it?  Poison it?  Or I might have suggested, wear a hard hat to work.  But Eric, fresh from university graduation with a double major in business and hospitality, is still under the illusion that the customer is always right.  This philosophy works reasonably well if you’re a worker bee, but as a manager, you have to get real.  So when Eric hangs up the phone, he turns to me and says, “How is this MY bird?”  I was laughing so hard I had to put my head down on my desk.  I laughed so hard I was crying.  I couldn’t even speak.  Welcome, Eric, to the real world! 

But Eric–see above re: recent university graduate–felt some sort of obligation to do something.  So he went to the landscaping crew for the City’s Parks and Recreation department–figuring they probably encountered mockingbirds more often–and asked for their advice.  They said, Um, we dunno.  Put up a sign saying “Beware Of Bird”?  At that, I was completely hysterical with laughter.  I never heard from Eric as to what his response was to the customer.  He was probably afraid to tell me, afraid I would laugh myself into a heart attack.  He of course thought I was mean and cynical, and that I just didn’t “get it”.  I of course got it just fine, and thought he was an idiot, so I guess we’re even.  I didn’t really think he was an idiot, per se, it’s just that he didn’t have enough experience  to blow off what he needed to blow off.  As the saying goes, good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement.  It’s hard to have any good judgement when you’re twenty-five years old.    As for the mean and cynical part, sometimes I just wanted to say to him, if that’s true, how have I survived 18 years as a manager in this particular business?  Especially having to navigate the tricky world of politics.  You just want to say, STFU and watch me.  But that doesn’t work.  People don’t learn by having you insist on it. 

All this leads into the night I had on Friday.  A woman came to me and the security guard demanding her money back for the $5.00 she paid to park.  She said she was behind like 100 other cars, all of which went to Level 1 of the garage, which was full.  So they had to all turn around and navigate the slow ascent to the upper levels of the garage.  It took her 30 minutes to find a parking space.  By the time she got where she was going, she was late for the event she planned to attend, and couldn’t find the friends she intended to meet.  She was miserable, and practically in tears, and for that reason, I was tempted to give her her money back.  Almost.  Sometimes you have to make a decision in a split second, which is when experience comes in handy. 

Here was my thought process, which took place in that split second:  You came downtown during an event on the night before the biggest game of the Florida State football season–the game with Oklahoma–and you thought finding a parking place would be easy?  999,999 other people were here too.  When I left that night at 8:30 P.M. , I had to laugh.  People were parked everywhere.  The towing companies made a bundle that night, I’m sure!  I had to drive a half mile before I stopped encountering people walking to their cars.  Some people might have opted to give her her money back to forestall her complaining to the City, and she is the very type of person who will.  The City really, really hates complaints.  When they complain about getting a complaint, I say (in a nice way), Grow Up.  If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. 

So I said No.  The fact is, we only guaranteed you a parking space for your $5.00.  We are not responsible for you meeting your friends, arriving on time for your event, calling you up to say “you might want to get an early start”, or anything else.  In other words, this is not my bird. 


Customer Service…or Not

One of the often repeated mantras in the customer service business is that “the customer is always right”.  I don’t know who came up with that, but whoever it was, was full of shit.  If you’re actually IN the customer service business, that saying is modified: “The customer is always right…until they aren’t”.

One of the things you need to train yourself to be in the course of making it through life is being a good customer.  In the South, we have a saying for that too:  “You can attract more flies with honey”.  If you’re a customer with a problem, you get a lot better results by being respectful and asking for help than you do by screaming and threatening.  I don’t care how mad and frustrated you are. 

I’m very lucky.  I’m in the customer service business, but 99.9% of our customers are reasonable people.  It’s actually a pleasure to deal with them. And then there is that 0.1%. 

So consider the following scenario, which happened on Friday (yesterday):   a young man comes into the exit lane (with a young woman in the passenger seat) and says that he just came in, but his ticket has fallen into his dashboard, and he tells the cashier she needs to let him out.  She says she can’t, because without a ticket, she’ll have to charge him for a lost ticket, which is $6.00.

He says, I’m not doing that.  He briefly pleads.  Can’t you just give me a break?  At this point I get involved…she’s struggling.  I said, really, she can’t.  We can’t.  We aren’t permitted to let you out without a ticket unless you pay the lost ticket fee. 

From that point, the whole situation devolves.  The guy says to the cashier, I want to speak to your supervisor.  Cashier says, that’s her.  He says, then I want to speak to your supervisor.  Sorry, I said.  I’m it.  He said, well, who owns this garage?  I said, the City, and you can talk to them on Monday, but right now it’s too late.  It’s 5:00 P.M. and there’s no one there. 

Here’s the best part:  the guy says you “can’t” let me out?  So are you telling me that if an ambulance came through here on an emergency, you could not let them out?  I said, Sir, you aren’t an ambulance.  So he says, in other words, you COULD let them out but in my case you’re refusing?  I was done talking.  I said, Well, technically, yes.  We are refusing.

Then he backed up and parked. I was feeling a little bad about it, because I thought I maybe had escalated the issue.  Except for the fact that prior to reparking his car, he drove around and around in front of the office, which is half-glass all the way around screaming “Fuck you!  Fuck you!  Fuck you!”  Giving us the finger through the driver’s side window.  Blowing the horn repeatedly. 

Looking back, I ask myself if I could have done something to defuse the situation, and the answer is…yes.  But I didn’t want to.  This was a limit I wasn’t willing to breach.  Otherwise, both I and my employees would be subjected to management by loudmouths.  Sooo..

It was time for me to leave.  I talked to the security guard and said, Stay here.  If this guy comes back to the window and causes even the slightest disturbance, don’t even engage.  Call the police.  Mostly I like the police 🙂  In cases like this, they’re like, Let me get this straight:  YOU lost the ticket?  Our point exactly!  Pay or go to jail.  Because really, even trying to talk your way out of it is a form of theft.

Coming Out of the Closet…Er, The Garage

It’s time to reveal what I do for a living, because some of the funniest and most unbelievable things that happen to me don’t make sense otherwise. 

I’m a manager (in fact my title is “General Manager”) for a parking management company, or as my boss would say, “I park cars for a living”.  He says that because it’s almost impossible to explain to people what you do.  They’re like, you do what?  By my count, for example, twelve of my 36 Facebook friends already know what I do, and about half of them actually understand it.  Okay, maybe not half. 

But I needed to say that because this week we made FAIL Blog.  Don’t tell me you don’t know Fail Blog.  Although if you don’t, you’re in good company.  My boss, my client, my electrician, and my 25-year old assistant manager didn’t know it either.  To the latter, I said, what is wrong with this concept?  It’s my generation who isn’t supposed to know about this stuff.  To be fair, I know about it only from Fakesister, who is really from my same generation now that we’ve progressed beyond being teenagers, and I don’t know what her excuse is. 

So here’s how we arrived: 

An area the Assistant to the City Manager now refers to as the “Stairway to Nowhere”.  (I think it would also qualify as the “Stairway to Heaven”.)  We were all alerted to this because the son of the administrative assistant to the mayor circulated the picture.  Needless to say, the picture does not exactly tell the whole story, but telling the whole story would ruin the fun.  I managed to be suitably stirred to action, but it was pretty hard in between breaking into peals of laughter and falling off my chair.  So that was Friday. 

On Thursday, a temp employee I had hoped to hire permanently called me on my cell phone at 7:00 A.M. and left a message to say that she was sick and would not be in.  No surprise.  She was sick the day before and left early.  She asked that I call her back.  I did not.  I didn’t see the point.  At 8:00 A.M., she calls me back…from the office.  I said, “What are you doing there?”  I was confused.  She said she came in anyway because I didn’t call her back.  Okay…I can see where this is headed.  It’s my fault.  I said, Really.  You didn’t have to come in.  You don’t need my permission to call in sick.  You notified me.  That’s your only obligation.  Little did I know. 

She said, I just got a $250 ticket…and it finally dawns on me that she parked in a handicap space directly in front of the office.  I said, you did what?  But follow this logic:  if I had called her back, she wouldn’t have come in, and if she hadn’t come in, and if she wasn’t sick, she wouldn’t have parked in a handicap space and wouldn’t have gotten a $250 ticket, ergo, it’s my fault.  Little does she know.  Even if I could have helped her, I would not. 

My father spent the last 30 years of his life in a wheelchair, and I vividly remember trying to take him places and watching the last handicap space be taken up by someone who jumps out and runs into the grocery store or whatever.  Leaving me to wrestle the wheelchair out of the car in some distant parking space and wheel him further than should have been necessary.  There is almost nothing you can do that infuriates me more than parking in a handicap space when you aren’t permitted to do so. 

I asked her to let me get off the phone so I could get there and discuss it in person.  By the time I arrived, she’d left.  Probably wise.  Took me only a couple of hours to call the temp agency and tell them to tell her not to set foot on the property again. 

Meanwhile, the Florida Legislature is in session here in Tallahassee, and there is “nowhere to park”.  This is a complete joke.  There are plenty of places to park, they just aren’t right across the street from the Capitol. 

Fortunately, I have people who work for me who are very good at customer service.  Actually, so am I, but I’m sort of the appeal of last resort.  By the time you get to me, like five people have already said no nicely.  People get amazingly out of control over parking.  I once had a guy step out of his car, and he was all red-faced, and he said that I WOULD let him in a full, closed garage because he had a meeting with the governor in FIVE MINUTES.  I said, then you needed to have been here an hour earlier.  And if you don’t get back in your car and back out, I’m calling the police, and if you decide you’re going to hurt me instead then go ahead but I’m going to do some damage to you on my way down.  Maybe it dawned on him there wouldn’t be much glory in punching out a 5’2″, 110 pound woman.  He left. 

Amazingly enough, I never get complaints.  By the time they get to me, some part of their reptile brain recognizes they are wrong.  In order to complain, they would have to explain their own actions, and that turns out to be best left unsaid. 

Also on Thursday, a customer came through and insisted that I come to the window.  She said she would like to apologize to me because she was rude to me last week.  I said, You know, I don’t even remember it.  And she said, I don’t CARE if you don’t remember it!  I remember it!  So I’m apologizing!  I said, um, Thank you.  As she drove away, the office erupted in laughter.  The assistant manager, the cashier, the locksmith who was there…and the locksmith said, how dare you not remember her! 

And that of course is the thing.  Everything is all about you.