Thursday, March 25, 2010

Customer Service

I've been working since I was 16 years old in some type of customer service industry. I started as a hostess at Bob Evans (I could really go for some cheesy potato soup and an extra roll right now...) and then moved to Edison in the Student Development office. I've been a server a few times, for a few years. I worked at a grocery store. I've answered phones. I've dealt with clients. All of which requires some amount of customer service.

Having been a server for so long, I feel like I know the industry well enough. I know that it typically isn't the server's fault when it takes forever to get your food. I know that sometimes they just forget. I know that it isn't likely that the server will spit in your food - but you have to be careful about the cook. Especially when you special order something, because for some reason or another, cooks hate that. And it's probable that your server had to fight the cook in order to make that omelet with no onions sub tomatoes. Knowing all of this affects the way I treat my server. I don't expect perfection, but I do have expectations. I forgive mistakes if they admit to them. I do not like when they ignore me because they don't want to admit it. I tip.... well, I used to tip really generously until I realized that I couldn't afford it, and now I tip 20% or a little more depending on how well I was served.

But sometimes - and it has happened more frequently than I like to admit - I just don't have patience for sales people or customer service people. I don't care if they are just trying to do their job and I don't care that they are having a bad day. I know what I want and I want them out of my way so I can get it. I don't think I have ever been so pushy as I am now. (I think it's the aging process.)

Most Recent example:
Last night (and yes, I'm giving you the back story to defend my thought processes) I worked until 1:30 a.m. This morning I woke up, having gotten a mere 5 hours of sleep (I always thought this was enough -- I think I need to rethink that) and had to run by Staples before going to the office. Since I was hungry already, hadn't had breakfast and hadn't had time to find a lunch at home, I stopped by Kmart to see what they had to offer. When I went to the register, Drenda asked me if I would like to sign up for their rewards thing and I said, "sure," thinking it would take little time to get my information into the system. Turns out, I was wrong. Drenda couldn't type. In fact, she typed with two fingers "pecker style" and kept having to look into part of her glasses to see the info I had written and another part to see the keyboard and a DIFFERENT part (yes, she admitted she had tri-focals) to see the screen. Not only did she type 3 wpm, but she also couldn't spell. Since I shop at Kmart strictly for work, I gave her my work email. To bad it has the word "architects" in it, because every time Drenda would get to architects, she would misspell it, and then hit backspace instead of enter and we would have to start the process all over again. I am not exaggerating nor am I kidding you when I say that we did this... I counted, ELEVEN times. I was fine with the first 3 - nay, the first 5 -- times we had to retype my email address. After that, I offered to type it in for her. I'm sure there is some policy about letting customers by the register, but really? The more I waited patiently, the more impatient my thoughts became. The shorter my responses when she said things like, "As you can see, I was never very good at English. It was my worst subject..." and, "I guess it's a good thing I told that other lady behind you to go to another register." I WANTED TO BE AT ANOTHER REGISTER. I felt like she was the biggest moron on the planet, and that's really just not a very nice thought. I'm sure my parting, "Have a good day," didn't make up for the unforgiving grimace I gave when she finally said, "Well, you're finally in the system! I thought I'd never get it!"

Unfortunately, there have been a few other times when I let my impatience get the best of me, and worse, there are witnesses (who never let me live it down, either).

We were at IHOP and I had just been happily presented with my custom-ordered crepes, just the way I like them. The waitress was going on about how she had to argue with the cook and get him to make them for me when I interrupted and said, "Can I have a fork?" Now, most people saw that as rude. And I guess it was... ok, there is no guessing about it. I know that the cooks - especially IHOP cooks - hate special orders. They hate modifying the dish by one ingredient, let alone creating something from scratch that isn't on the menu. But while she was jabbering, the crepes were getting cold and I didn't have utensils! And sometimes, I know that as a server you get to talking and then you walk away without letting the customer getting much response in because you don't want to be the waitress that talks too much. And I just didn't want that to happen! She got me a fork and I did, I think, apologize.

Another time we stopped at WalMart on our lunch break in order to pick up a few things. Now, lunch breaks are short time periods and I didn't want to be dallying around at WalMart, thank you very much, for the whole of the time, and so when I stopped by the eye center, I knew exactly what I wanted. ONE box of Acuvue 2 lenses met to the prescription that I held in my hand. He was trying to upsell to me. And I have a really hard time with that. I knew I wanted one box, so I came to get one box. So why would you try to talk me into two or three or four boxes? I want one. Also, he was soooooooooooo slow about getting the ONE box, I couldn't understand it. It was like he had all the time in the world, and if I had had a wad of cash on me, I would have thrown it at him and stormed away with my contacts. Unfortunately, I didn't have cash and he didn't hand me the contacts before I paid.

Finally, are the sales reps that I deal with at work. Sales people are naturally slimy. They want business because they need business, because that is how they make money. That's how everyone makes money. I know this. But they come in and try to schmooze their way into my good graces so that they can set up box lunches and appointments and get the inside scoop on projects.... and really, I see a motive behind every "How are you?" "Have a fabulous day?" "Let me know if there is anything - anything- at all I can do." Also, I don't want to talk about the weather, which consequently, is the only thing salespeople know how to talk to me about. After all, I'm not the one buying their services, I'm just the one that has to greet them at the door every time it opens. Sometimes it is really hard to force a smile on my face and ask them how they are. I'm not good at small talk, and so while they stand in the lobby I'm always torn between doing my work - which requires me facing the computer screen - or trying to come up with something to say...which always leads to talk about the weather. Sigh. It's annoying.

I can only imagine the wonderful things in-store for all customer service agents everywhere as I continue to crust over into this mask of impatience and intolerance. I don't know how it happened, but it seems to be getting worse. Pretty soon I'll dread even opening my mouth to someone for fear of offending them or insulting them in some way.

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