Monday, September 28, 2009

Customer Service: The Dark Side

This post by Tim Berry on the dark side of extreme customer service should be widely read and discussed. An excerpt:

The salesperson, meanwhile, notes that the brand is one the store has never carried. She’s dying to say, loud enough for the sympathetic customers around to hear her, “I’m sorry sir, but I know you didn’t buy this jacket here because this store has never carried that brand.” And, after saying that, to send him on his way. “Now please let me attend to customers waiting for my help.” The other customers want that too.

However, because of the lore of extreme customer service, she has to swallow hard, apologize, and process a return. This is bad for her morale, bad for her health, bad for her spirit, and didn’t do much for the store either.


Rob said...

Do really need bad customers? If 1 in 100 customers are obnoxious and rude, do you really need them? Are they not better going to your competitor, especially if they are cost negative?

We pander to bad behavior....but at what cost?

John said...

This reminds me of a story. I posted it a couple years ago at my old blog but here is is again.


My associate manager worked on Sundays and I was scheduled off on Sundays and Mondays so I rarely got to meet the Sunday crowd except when the associate manager was on vacation. My dining room staff told me about a family that was stealing crackers and I reacted by being blad that it was on Sundays. "The associate manager will handle it," I told them. "He's the man in charge on Sundays."

The day came, of course, when I had to be on duty when this family came in. A couple of the staff came whispering up to me...."They're here! That's the people who are stealing crackers. Right back there in the second booth!"

"Chill out," I said. "Let me check into this...." [Why ME? I thought. I always get stuck with the stickiest public relations problems.]

Sure enough there was a family of four. Two kids (watching and learning from the example of their mother), Mom and Dad. Mom had brought a purse that looked like a converted school lunch pail. Cute. Just the right size. And sure enough she had picked up an inventory of saltines and was getting them organized to pack into the "purse." Stacked up neatly on the table like poker chips, about six or eight to the stack. They fit perfectly in place. It was about half to one-third the size of a standard box of crackers.

What to do....

I put it off, trying to think how best to confront the situation...or maybe ignoring it altogether and telling the staff that we have to overlook stuff like that because some people are just that rude and selfish and we need their business just like everyone else's. (Kinda like smokers who insisted on lighting up in a non-smoking section. Always, it seemed, only a few feet away from a child with asthma---or so Mama said. This was before the ban on public smoking.)

As they left, Mom took the girl child to the restroom and Dad went up to pay. This is great! Mom was the problem and Dad didn't seem to have anything to do with it except letting his pushy wife do her thing. As he was handing the check to the cashier I walked up and said "Ann, give him back his money. I want him to be our guest today."

The cashier was well-trained and instantly handed him his money, waiting for me to say something.

"I hope you all enjoyed your lunch today," I said. "And anytime you get soup, please have as many crackers as you want to eat. But I have to ask you not to take out as many crackers as you took because we need to have the same rules for everyone. Mostly, if my staff sees customers carrying out food without paying for it, they think it's okay to do that and you can see what that could lead to."

He was mortified. Poor guy. He got in trouble because of what his wife had done. He mumbled something weak, like, "I understand. Thanks for mentioning it..." and left quickly with the son.

Whew! That was easier than I thought.

But wait. About five minutes later I saw the woman coming in. Walking down the line of waiting customers and making for the dining room. I pretended not to see her...She made her way through the Sunday crowd and came directly to me. I smiled at her and said, "Hello, what can I do for you?"

"Here," she said stiffly, dropping a check for their meal on a tray that I was carrying. "Go buy yourself some crackers." She turned and left, saying nothing more.

I never saw them after that. I can imagine what happened when that poor, hen-pecked husband had to face his pushy wife, telling her how embarrassed he was at the checkout. I double that even he was prepared for her reaction. I toyed with the idea of mailing her check back to her jsut to underscore my point, but I decided to deposit it instead. The point had already been made. No reason to add insult to injury.

For me it was yet another footnote in a long history of meeting, serving and loving that great American Public. Thank God, I'm getting close to retirement.

Michael Wade said...


Quite so! Let them go to the competition.


Marvelous story. Ah, the moral indignation of offenders!