Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category

Service of a Cheery “Hello”

Monday, September 29th, 2014

smiling cashier 4

Wall Street Journal columnist Joe Queenan doesn’t like friendly employees. If he returns to his local drugstore in a day, he resents it when cashiers wish him “a good one” for the fifth time. He expects them to remember that he’d been there recently.

And he wants greetings to be genuine. In “Save That ‘Hello’ for the Next Customer,” he wrote: “Not everyone at the drugstore is equally adept at being ‘spontaneously’ hospitable. A couple of staffers had not said hello to me or anyone else since the Clinton administration, but then one day some manager obviously cracked the whip. Suddenly, they started saying ‘Good morning’ in an android-like fashion, as if they had a gun cocked to their heads.”

smiling cashier 3Some of the cashiers admitted, when he asked, that they’d been instructed to be “extra nice to customers.” He observed that their tone especially grated when he went to the store after a funeral.

He complained that supermarkets give similar instructions to their cashiers who must tell a customer to have “‘a good one’ even if they look like they might smack you.” In addition to insincere employees who are cheery because they are told to be, he dislikes strangers who say “hello.”

He continued, “There are several issues here. Misanthropes—and there are a lot of us out here—think of hyper-effusive greetings as an invasion of privacy, almost as a casus belli. That’s why we like to vacation in France, where you hardly ever run the risk of encountering belligerent conviviality at the retail level.”

Smiling cashiers 1So he could be left alone he wishes that a store’s rewards card could be programmed to indicate to staff that this customer doesn’t like to be greeted with a smile.

I wasn’t able to tell how much of Queenan’s tongue was in his cheek. I complained to management at an upstate gas station convenience store about its belligerent staff because they ignored not only my greeting but me. One of the things I resented was the total silence in reaction to my “hello,” or “good morning,” as well as “might I pay for this please?

Do you like it when retail staff greets you with a smile and happy word or does it rub you the wrong way? How can you tell if a greeting is genuine? Does it matter? Should a cashier be expected to remember that a customer has been to the store several times in a day?

smiling cashier 2

Service of New York Experiences: Surprise Elegance and Not

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Panama hat

I recently bought low-priced items from people working tough jobs in uncomfortable circumstances with very different service experiences.

I paid $10 for something from a street cart and was impressed by the vendor’s elegant approach. There was nothing stylish or surprising about his goods or merchandising. His scarves, hats and paraphernalia looked like those on similar carts around the city. The temperature was flirting with 90 and the typical NYC summer humidity was enough to make anyone feel grumpy and lethargic if they were stuck on the street all day.



I handed the money to his young assistant who’d been helping me which she gave to him. [It was the first time I saw him.] She asked me if I wanted a bag. I said I didn’t want to eat into the profits. He took my item, opened an “I love NY” plastic sack, placed my purchase inside and handed it to me as though it was an important purchase wrapped in the finest paper bag with elegant logo and ribbon handles. His expression: “we do things right here.” I’ve been treated with far less decorum by sales associates at luxury retail establishments. 

A few days before I was on lunch break from jury duty in one of the handsome buildings seen on the “Law & Order” TV series in downtown Manhattan. Given the time I had to eat and return to the jury waiting area I decided takeout was the wise option. Heading toward Chinatown I saw a short line of men wearing suits or business pants and shirts. They were outside a tiny establishment that accommodated two people at the serving counter and sold only dumplings and buns. The shabby shop on a narrow street nevertheless had an A sanitation rating.

Chinese dumplingsThe middle aged woman taking and fulfilling the orders barked at customers if she spoke at all. The customer behind me was familiar with the routine and guided me. I can’t blame her: Given the scorching hot dumplings—I had to wait quite a while before I could eat them without burning my mouth—imagine standing behind a steam apparatus that heated the food on a summer afternoon. I didn’t feel air conditioning inside. The dumplings cost $1 for five. I ate most of 10 on a bench outside a playground in the shade of a giant tree.

I was happy with my purchase from the street vendor because of his positive approach. The shockingly modest price of the toothsome dumplings and unconventional lunch [I usually eat yogurt and popcorn at my desk] balanced the unfriendly communication with the restaurant server. [I say restaurant as there were a few stools for those who wanted to eat in.] Who expects a smile with $2 worth of dumplings?

Do you anticipate reduced treatment when you don’t pay a lot and are you at times surprised?



Service of Someone at the Other End of the Line

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Vintage telephone operator

In the middle of Tuesday’s snowstorm, while we were crawling in traffic, I listened to a friend call a hotel restaurant–our destination. She wanted to say we might be late. She also wanted to ask which entrance we should take as there were several. [One of us had recently recovered from a broken ankle which sported a pin. She wasn’t in the mood for a hospital reprise from a misstep in slush/ice/snow.] After as many as 25 rings she ended in voicemail, left the message and asked that someone return the call to inform her about the entrance. Nobody called.

On phone in snowShe next tried the hotel switchboard—where the operator answered the entrance question—and after many more rings, still nobody picked up. On our arrival–the room was almost empty due to the weather–my friend asked the hostess if there was a phone at her station and recounted her experience. “Someone picks up downstairs,” the hostess replied, noting that yes, there also was a phone at her station.

After this the service was perfect.

Delta takeoffMy friend was due to leave the city Tuesday evening but her flight was cancelled. This well-travelled Elite Service member called me the next morning to tell me of an astonishing thing that just happened when she called Delta Airlines to gauge her chances for her Wednesday afternoon flight. A computer voice welcomed her by name, apologized that the airline had to cancel her Tuesday flight and asked her to push a letter on her phone if she wanted to speak with someone. She did, expecting to wait ages when almost immediately a live person asked her, again by name, how she might help her.

Even though when we spoke** she still didn’t know whether or not the afternoon flight would go—all Wednesday morning and night flights had already been cancelled—this 30 year Elite Service member was brimming with delight that it had been so easy for her to reach a live voice, at an airline no less, under these stressful [for them after a storm with so many cancelled flights] circumstances! “It was a first,” she said. **She was scheduled to depart on the afternoon flight when we spoke again just before takeoff.

Hooray for Delta! What a difference an easily accessible caring voice can make. Wonder why more businesses don’t realize this [especially one, like the hotel restaurant, that's already paying for two people to answer a phone and nobody does]?

Children playing telephone 1

Service of Do It Yourself in a Digital Age: Saga of Installing a Cable TV Digital Adapter

Monday, August 19th, 2013

 Digital Adaptor Box

Our cable television service provider sent us a letter headlined: “Name of Company is going All Digital” followed by the subhead “Order any Digital Adapters you may need today.”

The letter noted: “This will affect you only if your cable line is plugged directly from the wall into your TV, VCR or DVD.” Our TV is. The letter warned, “Please order before August 6 to avoid losing your picture on August 13.”

calling customer servieTo get the box, which should have taken two minutes online, I spent over 2 hours in some eight to 10 follow up phone calls for reasons ranging from “your payment is past due,” which it wasn’t to my asking “where is the box you said would arrive on Saturday?”

Another call was to cancel a visit by an installer that we learned about through a message left on our home phone. We never requested this. From the start I’d opted for the do-it-yourself setup to save 1) $40+ and 2) the aggravation and stress of waiting for a service person to come on time–if ever.

The box arrived last week and after work one night my husband and I laid out all the elements on the bed in the order described in the brochure and methodically removed the existing cable from the original installation and attached the coaxial cable here and there, where it belonged. We were elated when the new digital box blinked at us with green flashes as it should.

TV blank screenWe had no TV picture so I called the toll free number to activate the system as instructed and a recorded message said to wait an hour and call back if the system wasn’t up by then. I set a timer, ate dinner and called because the green flashes had turned to red ones and I couldn’t turn on the TV.

The nicest, kindest, most patient customer service person told me that I wasn’t going to believe what he was going to say. I thought, “Fiddlesticks: That I need a new TV.” That wasn’t it: “You don’t need a digital adapter, Ma’am. I will help you restore the setup you had.”

The coup de grace: Lucky I confirmed the next step: that I should return the digital adapter, cables, remote and instruction booklets in the box using the Fed Ex label supplied. “No,” he said, “Please return it to the Name Of Company‘s store.” Translation: More time wasted. I’m planning to hand them the open box–photo at the top of the post–so as not to spend another second on this project.

I have a while to return it before I’m charged for the device. The store isn’t convenient to my office or home. I hope there isn’t a line as the customer service man implied that I’m far from the only person in this situation. “Did you find out you needed the adapter via letter?” he’d asked me. We decided that I and all the others in my boat received the letter due to a database error.

I feel so insecure about my TV signal that I’m waiting for a blackout when I try to turn on the TV one night. If this happens, I’ll know how to avoid the phone and online technology and where to go to get another box and thanks to the dry run, just how to install it.

Have you experienced or heard of a similar mix-up? Think it is too much to ask that the database that caused the wrong people to get the misguided letter send out a second one telling those customers to ignore the first? Do corporations so hate admitting a mistake that they’d rather cause their customers to waste countless hours in fruitless pursuits while smugly charging them a tidy sum every month?


Service of Exemplary Service

Thursday, May 30th, 2013


Here are a few recent instances of people who performed well beyond expectations. What a joyful way to end the month of May!


Kelsi, a teenage checkout person at the A&P in Pleasant Valley, NY shocked me when she opened a box of erase sponges in my pile of things on the conveyor belt. “Missing two, thought so,” she said.

Groceries“How could you possibly tell?” I asked her, astonished as these sponges weigh as much as whipped egg whites. While she sent someone back to retrieve an intact box she said, “In training they sent through a woman with an empty pizza box. You pick it up.” It turns out that the person who stole the two sponges went to town: Many of the remaining boxes were also missing two.

In the Chips

After a strenuous visit to a physical therapist for a bum arm my husband, [who is also inching out of a year with chronic Lyme disease so he must use his energy sparingly] dropped by Fairway on East 86th Street in Manhattan. I’d asked him to pick up a bag of my favorite Fairway restaurant style tortilla chips as he was in the neighborhood.

Tortilla chipsOn entering, he asked a young man where to find them. He responded: “Wait here, I’ll be right back,” and he ran downstairs, soon emerging with just the right chips. Did my husband have written on his face or in his body language, “I hate shopping and I don’t want to be here?” I wager he may go back to that store anyway because he called me on the spot—he also dislikes speaking on his mobile phone—to tell me how pleased and surprised he was at this glorious service.

Seamless Service

MendingIt’s dry cleaning season. I went to Thims in its Salt Point, NY branch to pick up a load of fresh woolens and a skirt came back outside the plastic protective bags with a handwritten note that Heather Killmer read to me. The note inquired whether I wanted the tailor to fix a tiny tear on a seam before the garment was cleaned. There were precise instructions as to where this tear was located—we needed them. I mentioned to Ms. Killmer how astonished I was that someone had even noticed such a microscopic flaw. “We carefully go over every piece before we clean it,” she smiled.

Do you think, “What’s the big deal, these people are doing their jobs” or do you agree we’ve lucked in to some special operations or individuals? Can you share similar service experiences?  

Cherry on top

Service of an Expert Salesman

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Dancing with Fred A

When an improved product and expert salesman mesh, it’s a pleasure to spend money. For a service fanatic, it’s poetry to behold–like dancing with a star.

This happened to us the other week when Barry Lang from Audia Motor Sales in Millbrook, NY called to tell us our lease had expired on our Chevy Malibu. My husband Homer Byington, not a car enthusiast, was impressed by the negotiation. He said, “I knew I had to do something about the lease, and Barry got to me before I reached out to Audia. There was plenty of time to make a decision: Buy the car we’d driven for three years or lease a new one.

Chevy Malibu“He could tell I was technologically illiterate and conducted his sales pitch in language I could understand,” said Homer. “He also priced his offer competitively, not taking advantage of me.” Homer had checked with a family member in a related business who confirmed the lease price was fair.

Meanwhile, while we liked the 2010 Malibu we turned in, it had its faults, every one of which was addressed in the 2013 auto. The designers reduced the size of the side view mirror that previously had been so big that at certain angles I had to practically stand up in my seat while making a left hand turn for fear of running over someone hidden behind the device. The windshield seems bigger and the rear headrests smaller increasing visibility. Chevy also removed a lump that housed a break light at eye level for the cars behind, which took away rear window visibility for the driver. And it added handles above each door as a standard feature and enlarged the glove compartment.

Back to Barry. He was patient with our questions, explaining how the car’s Bluetooth system worked and other features basic for most but unfamiliar to us. We took a week to decide whether to buy or lease again and a car in the color we liked–a blue/gray–was still there on our return. When we noted this Barry said he’d reserved it for us.

snooty car salesmanWe’ve written previously about how friends and family members have been treated dismissively and disrespectfully by showroom staff selling highfalutin brands with hefty price tags. We don’t think Barry could make someone feel diminished; arrogance isn’t his style yet he could sell high end products with equal success.

If you drop in to Audia Motors, my bet is that one of the Audias will be there. One brother, Peter, chatted with us briefly last Saturday before we signed up and this Saturday Bob handed me my permanent NY State registration. During the week someone at Audia had paid for and picked it up at Motor Vehicles.

Can you share a boast about a similar sales experience for any product?

Happy Customer

Service of Stupidity

Saturday, February 16th, 2013


David Reich writes a blog “my 2 cents,” musings on marketing, media, public relations….and life. He founded Reich Communications, a NYC-based PR and marketing company years ago. I have been lucky to work on projects with him. He rarely complains.

When he asked to share this experience, I knew we’d want to read about it because his nose for news is perfect pitch [an apt reference as he also loves jazz].

David wrote:

I get The Wall Street Journal delivered to my office every day.

I, frankly, don’t remember how much I pay for the subscription or when it expires. I recall that when I ordered it, it was a good deal, maybe something like $9.95/mo. But it’s just not one of those things I normally give much thought to.

customer-service21I had a call this morning from The Journal offering me “their best deal” of $29.95/mo and I’d get two months free. So that comes to about what I seem to recall I’ve been paying per month, although maybe not such a great deal after three months.

At that moment, I didn’t remember what I’ve been paying. So I asked the nice man on the phone how much I’m now paying. He said he didn’t have that information.

I then asked him when my subscription expires. He said he didn’t have that information.

He then asked to confirm my address, and he gave me the address that I moved away from two months ago. I gave him my new address and also told him I’ve been getting the paper here at the new place since we moved. He had no information on the new address.

8001I then asked him how he expected me to make a purchase decision without key information that he should have – like how much I’ve been paying and how much longer my subscription is paid. He started to tell me I could call the Journal’s subscription number – 1-800 something.

But we didn’t get that far, because I politely told the guy I didn’t have time to call to get information about my account that he should have when he called me. The call wasted about four minutes of my valuable time, and it also wasted the time of the person who’s getting paid at the Journal’s call center.

Customer service? No, more like service of stupidity.

You’ve got to scratch your head, but think of all the companies that plunk staffers on the phone who have no clue beyond the script they’re given and/or are not prepped with sufficient backup information to do their jobs properly. Can you share such instances?


Service of Dammed If You Do & If You Don’t

Thursday, July 12th, 2012


A friend, I will call her Lisa, works in a small but prominent boutique with beautiful things. She’s been in high-end retail most of her life, has owned stores and traveled abroad on buying missions for years.

boutiqueLast week a woman returned an item saying it had broken. Lisa offered immediately to exchange it for another one and was pleased to see she had one in exactly the same colors, when she noticed that the item was badly stained.  She immediately figured that the woman had broken the piece so as to wangle a new one. Lisa also knew that she couldn’t get a replacement from the manufacturer under these circumstances.

Meanwhile, the store continued to fill up with other customers.

Lisa pointed out the stain and offered to have the piece fixed explaining why she could no longer give her a new one, at which the customer began to argue loudly that the thing broke the first time she used it and that she wanted a new one because she was a good customer. [Lisa had never before seen her though clearly someone had been to the store to buy the article.]

angry-womanKnowing she was being taken, Lisa chose not to inflict a scene on the others. She also wanted to free herself to answer their questions, ring up and wrap their selections. So she gave the woman a new item to get rid of her. 

When I saw Lisa several hours afterwards, she was still annoyed that she’d done that, angry that she’d caused a loss to her employer. She felt this woman deliberately came at a busy time, knowing loud arguments aren’t conducive to business, figuring a crowd to unsettle would work in her favor.

In my opinion, the woman stole the second item from the store. Had she brought in the soiled piece and asked if the manufacturer could clean it or requested the name of a stain remover she might try on the textile, that would have been another thing.

Lisa’s boss backed her decision though several colleagues said she shouldn’t have let the woman get away with it and claimed that they wouldn’t have been so easy on this weasel.

What would you have done? Can you share other examples of no matter what, you’re wrong?


Service of Expectations

Thursday, May 31st, 2012


I read about the 2012 American ExpressGlobal Customer Service Barometer” in a research brief from the Center for Media Research. Many of the findings in “Consumers Bail if Service is Bad (…..duh),” weren’t surprising, as the title infers. On reading some of the conclusions, I wondered what part of the world the respondents came from. I’m pretty sure that impatient New Yorkers and anyone with a job must not have been represented in large numbers.

The brief notes that “The survey reveals a sorry state of service in general, pointing that 93% of Americans surveyed say that companies fail to exceed their service expectations, while 55% walked away from an intended purchase in the past year because of a poor customer service experience.”

How my gripes meet the respondents’:

According to the brief, rudeness“When asked about the top customer service irritants most likely to lead them to switch brands in 2012, 79% cited one of these ‘Big Four Gripes’:

Rudeness:  An insensitive or unresponsive customer service representative, 33%

Passing the Buck:  Being shuffled around with no resolution of the issue, 26%

The Waiting Game:  Waiting too long to have an issue resolved, 10%

Being Boomeranged:  Forced to continually follow up on an issue, 10%”

I wrote this post in the middle of a to-do with my office phone landline provider. I’d not had service for four days. Apart from the obvious inconvenience, my biggest gripe involved the time it takes to follow-up which I had to do several times a day. There is no direct phone number to repairs as there once was. Customers must press one, press two, and press something else to finally get a person and sometimes, once in the right place, wait on hold for an operator. Once resolved, you hear from many by text, phone and email messages galore.

The first day I expected the repair crew I got in on early and in mid afternoon got a call on my mobile phone to alert me that nobody would be coming because of heavy repair volume. After that, live people left messages on my mobile phone without it ringing so I couldn’t speak with them. Frustrating.

pass-the-buckNobody was rude; there was shuffling around with no resolution and I had to wait far too long. Further, I was given conflicting reasons for the breakdown from crossed wires and installation of new wires to programming issues.  The joke: There is only one other option to handle my landline, so who are we fooling? I can’t switch brands and everybody knows it. I’m at the mercy of the vendor.

My boiling point comes much faster than the survey participants’:

“The average consumer hits his or her boiling point after 13 minutes on hold, creating a golden opportunity for companies to increase customer satisfaction by beating the clock,” according to the brief.  “Similarly, Americans will wait an average of 12 minutes for in-person help at establishments such as banks, retail stores or restaurants.”

Me to survey takers: I wouldn’t wait two minutes, much less 12 to 13, for a retail store or restaurant to pick up the phone. I probably would wait a bit longer for a bank but wouldn’t be happy after four, at most five minutes. Who stays calm after that?

What are your expectations as a customer and what are your limits?


Service of Travel

Thursday, May 24th, 2012


As some airlines are reported to squeeze more money out of infrequent flyers and those who book later rather than sooner, I thought that Catherine C’s recent experience was an especially fitting one to share on the eve of Memorial Day weekend.

According to recent airline shenanigans, frequent travelers flying coach on these airlines are given first dibs for window and aisle seats. Standard travelers who don’t reserve early can ensure that they will sit next to family, friends and colleagues by forking over $25 each way. So you had planned to travel with your bride/groom, grandma or the kids? Such folly! Be prepared to say “See you when we land.”

Catherine C has written several guest posts on this blog such as “Service of Pets” and “Service at the High End.” The recent harrowing travel experience she shares was caused by weather.

flyingbadweatherWeather is an inevitable factor for all in the travel business. Yet there were so many ways that the airline and airport might have turned the inconvenience of storms into far less of a stressful nightmare for Catherine and countless others, as she describes:

I had a horror story of a flying experience recently.  Talk about lack of service.

I was coming home from a business trip to Florida, flying to Newark on US Airways via Charlotte.  We were warned, on takeoff, that there would be bad weather en route to Charlotte.  In fact, when we got near, we were forced to circle. 

Because we still couldn’t land, we diverted to Greenville-Spartanburg for fuel. Once there, we were seventh in line and waited a long time.  Eventually, it was our turn but lightning strikes forced another halt. 

When we finally took off–just short of three hours on the ground–it was past the time I should’ve been in Newark. I can’t say the pilot kept us updated as often as would have been nice. The airline did actually give us each two little cookies and didn’t charge. 

When we finally landed in Charlotte, we were not told that the rest of the flight had been cancelled. We were just herded off the plane. We may have been the last flight to land. 

Someone handed me a card with two phone numbers: One to call to rebook and a second to order a discounted hotel room. “Good luck,” he said.  “I doubt you’ll find a room.” 

I was able to use my mobile phone to rebook but nevertheless had to go to the desk to get the ticket issued. There were two agents: a man and a woman.  Fortunately, I got the man.  The woman was quite nasty.  Two colleagues who were with me-I’ll call them G. and L.–got stuck with her.  The best the agent could do for me was an 11:30 flight the next morning.  I wasn’t happy, but at least the seat was in first class.

I later realized that he wasn’t doing me a favor. One of my colleagues was lucky and was booked two flights earlier than mine and one was booked on the flight after that. 

sleepingairport1By now it was around 2:00 am.  It took some 30 minutes working our iPads and iPhones to find out there was no room at the inn and we’d be sitting up all night at the airport.  There had been so many cancellations and we were so late getting in, we didn’t stand a chance.

So we made “camp,”  but here was no place to sleep.  We were forbidden the gate areas, which left the cold concourse with noisy cleaning crews.  Nothing was open, so there was no food. 

Cockroaches came up out of the planters onto the floor in waves, forcing us to get our bags and gear off the floor.  It was 5:00 am before anything opened. Thank goodness for Starbucks, which was first. 

At 5:30 the US Airways Club opened. One of my colleagues is a member and got us in as guests.  The woman at the desk didn’t look happy, and grudgingly helped get two of us on the standby list for earlier flights to Newark.  We were 20th and 21st, I think. 

In the club there was food, newspapers, nice bathrooms, comfy chairs, TV – civilization.  When the early flight rolled around, we all went to the gate.  G. was ticketed and L. got on standby. Both of them fly US Airways frequently. I once did and was in its frequent flyer program, but not for years.  So I didn’t get on the first or next flight either. 

I went to the gate for the 11:30 flight and checked in with the agent.  Giving her my ticket I said, “Tell me I am definitely on this flight.” “No,” she said, “It says you went standby on that last flight.” I told her they never called my name and before leaving the gate I asked whether they were done calling standbys, which they were. 

“How can you do this to me?” I asked her, explaining what the last 12 hours had been like. I didn’t raise my voice; I just looked as exhausted as I was.  I’ll add that I was well dressed, which may have helped.  She didn’t say anything but clicked away for ages and finally handed me a new ticket for the same first class seat.  When the next passenger came to the desk, I overheard that she and I both had been rebooked to the next flight: a commuter flight in another terminal. 

So, the storms were not the airline’s fault and there was no obligation on its part.  But:

1) Why did the airline provide so little information along the way? 

2) Why did one of the gate agents have to be so bloody nasty? 

angrycaller3) Why, in situations like this, is there no provision for people who have to remain in the airport?  No place to rest, eat, warm up? Why can’t the airlines keep their clubs open? 

4) How can they play the kinds of games they do with ticketing?  You have a confirmed ticket but bump you without telling you so as to give the seat to someone they value more than you? 

Ironically, one of the presenters at the conference I just attended had worked at Virgin America, which aims to be the antidote to legacy airlines. I thought quite a bit about that while going through this experience. I think I may give it a try.

What else might the airline and airport have done in such an instance? Have you similar experiences to share? Have you noticed improvements in air travel?


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