Archive for the ‘Service’ Category

Service of Being Painted By the Same Brush

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

Photo: brushesandmore.com

There are some companies set up so you can’t reach them and others you can contact but that don’t listen to sense: They see all customers as offenders. A grouchy or nutty customer or employee writes a terrible online review and the words glare back from the top of every Google search about you or your business. Just try to get rid of it even if insane and untrue. Same if a competitor trashes your restaurant or business on Yelp. Nightmare.

And now, a company you can reach but can’t reason with—Retail Equation—can forbid you from returning purchases or exchanging them to a particular store for a year according to its calculations, even if you’re innocent.

Khadeeja Safdar wrote “Retailers Crack Down on Serial Returners,” in The Wall Street Journal. I’m all for that: Cheaters and unreasonable customers are not my favorites. I recently wrote about 106 year old L.L. Bean’s tightening its generous return policy after too many abuses hurt their bottom line in “Service of Going Too Far: L.L. Bean Puts its Boot Down.” But with Retail Equation keeping track of returns and more for retailers, reasonable shoppers can be swept up in the fray and painted by the same brush as serial returners.

One Best Buy customer bought a bunch of cellphone cases as gifts for his kids, let his sons choose among the colors, planning to return the three they didn’t select. When he did his salesperson warned him that the returns would jeopardize future ones–and even exchanges–for a year even though he was well within the designated 15 day after purchase period.

Photo: videoblocks.com

He contacted Retail Equation that tracks returns for large corporations. His entire record showed returns of the three cellphone cases worth, in all, less than $90. The company refused to change its decision. According to Safdar the customer said: “I’m being made to feel like I committed a crime. When you say habitual returner, I’m thinking 27 videogames and 14 TVs.”

Safdar reported: “Stores have long used generous return guidelines to lure more customers, but such policies also invite abuse. Retailers estimate 11% of their sales are returned, and of those, 11% are likely fraudulent returns, according to a 2017 survey of 63 retailers by the National Retail Federation. Return fraud or abuse occurs when customers exploit the return process, such as requesting a refund for items they have used, stolen or bought somewhere else.”

WARNING: You could be on the Retail Equation’s black list if you return in store or online:

  • an expensive item
  • a significant percentage of purchases
  • something without a receipt
  • after the accepted period
  • things that are often stolen at that store
  • just as the store closes or
  • too many items at once

Photo: cartoonstock.com

In addition to Best Buy, other stores that use Retail Equation to track returns are Home Depot, J.C. Penney, Sephora and Victoria’s Secret. If you want to protest your ban, you can call Best Buy at 1-866-764-6979 the Journal discovered when researching the story.

“It isn’t easy for shoppers to learn their standing before receiving a warning. Retailers typically don’t publicize their relationship with Retail Equation. And even if a customer tracks down his or her return report, it doesn’t include purchase history or other information used to generate a score. The report also doesn’t disclose the actual score or the thresholds for getting barred.”

I understand the reason for such a policy, but think it should be used judiciously and not be directed by a company that seems to treat every customer like a sleazy thief. Safdar didn’t say if the policy referred to gifts. What if you give your Aunt Millie a portable heater from Home Depot and her son had already bought her one? Who will be dunned and subsequently penalized for the return? Are customers supposed to keep unwanted items instead?  Have you been confronted with such a punishment? Does it make you think twice about using a vendor that resorts to such measures?

Service of a Happy Surprise When a Stranger Takes a Minute to Help

Monday, November 27th, 2017

 

Photo:theawesomedaily.com

There’s plenty to gripe about but I want to write about two positive things because you don’t want to hear about my attempt to get to Brooklyn by subway on a recent weekend. Embarrassing how nonexistent were communications that day between the track repair, motorman and station staff for a city the size of NY. We’ve never lived in such a well-connected world and I’ve rarely seen an example of such incompetence as happened that Saturday. Even the relatively new electronic messaging machines were out of order in all stations, bad timing or bad planning? There are NYC neighborhoods, such as Red Hook Brooklyn, where people lose their jobs because city transport consistently prevents them from arriving on time. A disgrace.

Photo: 123rf.com

This is why I especially appreciated what happened on a Metro-North train recently. The doors had closed at our upstate N.Y. station and the train was about to move south when over the loudspeaker the conductor said loud and clear, “We’ve got a runner!” That could have meant lots of things [had someone robbed a passenger and was the person running away? I watch too many “Blue Bloods” re-runs.] But in this case he’d observed a passenger racing from the parking area towards the steps to the train platform. Had he missed this one, the runner would have had two hours to wait for the next train. I trust everyone else appreciated, as I did, the one minute wait so he could travel with us.

Photo: ediblemanhattan.com

In another instance, I was about to leave for the station to meet my husband when over the office loudspeaker we were told that all elevators were stopped until the fire department checked out a smoke condition on the roof. This meant that I was probably going to be late arriving at the gate for our train at Grand Central Terminal because I couldn’t drag my suitcase down 11 flights of stairs.

“Big deal,” say you, because all the people you know carry a mobile phone. Not my husband. I knew he was at the Oyster Bar and I called there. I described him and his suitcase and the approximate location I knew he’d be seated to the woman who picked up the phone and she found him and gave him the message. Wow.

We’re all in such a rush or so involved in our own world we often don’t stop to do something meaningful for a stranger. Do you have any good examples of strangers helping others?

Photo qsb.stanford.edu

Service of Retail Etiquette: How Does the Message Get So Garbled?

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

 

Photo: epicurious.com

Retail stores are having a heck of a time so when I hear of one that sells a good product but whose owner or employees miss the mark in service, I wonder what’s going on.

There’s a bakery in a charming Litchfield, Conn. town that sells scrumptious delicacies that look as delectable as they taste. Friends surprised me when they served a delicious cake from there at my last birthday, [I didn’t think they knew what day it was], so I know about the quality of the goodies.

Photo: archiesonline.com

The friends who made my birthday dinner—I’ll call them Fred and Paul–had been asked to buy brownies for another birthday person who preferred them over cake. Paul described what happened: “As we walked into the bake shop a man with an unpleasant look on his face stared at us. The brownies were under a glass bell, priced $3.00 each.

“Fred asked for 12. The owner was horrified—actually angry. He gritted his teeth and snapped ‘Why didn’t you call ahead!?’ He feared that there wouldn’t be enough for other customers.”

Paul continued, “Didn’t the owner register that we were giving him business too? He opened a bag—instead of a box–and threw them in, one by one, while continuing to seethe. I was close to telling him to keep them. Fred also controlled his anger. But we were stuck–we’d been asked to contribute these favorites.”

Photo: marthastewart.com

There’s a bakery on First Avenue and 57th Street in NYC—Andres–that sells amazing palmiers, aka elephant ears, which I adore. If for whatever reason they don’t have any when I drop in, I’ll go another time or I’ll remember to call first!

What does it matter who buys what you’ve made as long as you have no leftovers at closing? If a bakery’s logistics are faulty it’s not the customer’s responsibility. If you’d been Fred and Paul, would you also have held your tongue? Good bakeries are few and far between in rural areas. If you had walked out of this bakery without the brownies, what would you have told the hostess and what would you have brought instead?

Photo: pinterest

Service of Good and Bad Surprises at a Cash Register

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

Rude

You find rudeness and grace in unexpected places.

I giggled at an outrageous comment a friend shared because it caught me by surprise. It was made to her by a snarky makeup sales associate for a major brand at a world-famous department store. She approached her counter with a friend and prospective cosmetics customer. In greeting, the sales woman turned to her and said: “I know you. You buy a lipstick from me once in three years.” It was rude and inappropriate and it sounded so New York-y yet it happened in New England.

Cosmetics in dept storeSeveral years before my friend asked this sales associate for a product she’d run out of. It was part of the brand’s new, luxurious line that she clearly didn’t carry. The saleswoman insisted on arguing that it didn’t exist, insulting her–even screaming. My friend concluded: “And the saleswoman has remained entrenched in her position for years.”

In a far less elegant place dealing with items at much lower price points–a supermarket—I had just the opposite experience. On either shoulder I was balancing two giant tote bags filled with my usual zillion pounds of stuff and my handbag. I’d come in for cider and noticed Bonne Maman jams on sale, two for $6. There was a “Closed” sign at one register so I stood in line at the next counter, juggling my heavy cider container, apricot and blueberry jams with my belongings that began to slide from my shoulders.

supermarket checkoutThe cashier on the “Closed” line, who had just finished with a customer, smiled and waved me over. I thanked her profusely, commenting that she was probably worried I’d drop the juice and jams causing a huge mess. “No,” she said, “I liked your face.” Made my day!

Don’t you wonder how the nasty woman in the department store keeps her job? The cashier at the supermarket had been standing all day in far from glamorous circumstances and was cheery nevertheless. How does she do it? Have you similar experiences to share?

 Gracious

 

Service of Unexpected Outcomes: Shout-out to Chase Bank & Morton Williams & a Dud

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Surprise

There’s a surprise associated with an unexpected outcome, mostly happy, but not always.

Juicy

I am grateful when a grocery store cashier gives me the discount Morton Williams logowhen I buy only one in a promotion offering a fantastic price if I buy two. It happened when I bought a giant Tropicana OJ at Morton Williams this week. I didn’t want, nor could I use, two. Her decision put me in a good mood and the store on my “I’ll be back” list.

Check it out

I put a stop-payment on a check when I learned that a hefty May payment never arrived. The USPS let me down. I went nuts. When I arrived at Chase Bank in Pleasant Valley, N.Y. the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, I was rattled. I saw my stellar credit rating going up in smoke.

Chase Bank LogoStacia Zimmerman, bank manager, greeted me pleasantly and was sympathetic. She made a copy of the new check and late notice for my records and gave me an extra copy of the stop-payment confirmation to include with the check. She even gave me an envelope so I could go immediately to the nearby post office to zip the replacement check by Priority Mail! To my astonishment, she waived the $30 stop payment fee as well.

I also noticed that Ms. Zimmerman called almost every person who entered the bank by name. She merged a charming, small town feeling with the benefits of a very big bank.

Dining Disaster

Bad restaurant serviceThen there was the dinner that we’d happily anticipated at a restaurant we’d visited for brunch and lunch, marveling at the food and cheery service. When we arrived the place looked fairly full but not jammed, however there were only two waitresses in view. We were seated  promptly by a pleasant server—the older of the two–and then ignored. We waited and waited. Eventually, after perhaps half an hour, the other waitress took our order. Then we waited again.

An hour after we had arrived, having asked three times for two glasses of white wine, only one arrived half full in a diminutive Champagne glass and the second, 10 minutes later. Meanwhile, staff was handing out beer and wine to those waiting for a table.

Did I mention that the AC wasn’t on and it was 80+ degrees outside? People tend to eat–and order more–when not roasting.

Our main course and one of two appetizers arrived together half an hour after the wine. They tasted fine, but still. We never saw the bread; no spoon came to capture the sauce in one dish. We’d given up by then.

The course we didn’t get remained on the check. My husband had to send it back a second time so the tax reflected the reduced total. He’s a generous man, but he was irritated.

At the next table when food arrived for a graduate and five celebrants, there was nothing for one in that party. She slapped her head in exasperation. Once they’d eaten the grandmother said, “The food was good but the management severely lacking.”

What had happened? The restaurant didn’t realize that it was graduation weekend for a local college, [a waitress admitted], and wasn’t prepared. By not turning away the unexpected  customers to handle only the number they could manage, they ruined the evening for everyone.

Can you share unexpected outcomes, both good and bad? What else might the restaurant have done to salvage its disaster?

Bad restaurant service 2

Service of Sharing

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Half a portion

While some remember every course they ate at a remarkable restaurant, I tend to recall details of fabulous or lackluster service and that I liked the food.

Years ago I invited someone to lunch to thank them for a kindness at a lovely, now defunct, midtown restaurant. We decided to split an appetizer and each ordered a main course. When the appetizer arrived I was mortified: There was one scallop in sauce, hardly enough for one much less two. The waiter hadn’t said a word.

Cafe FiorelloRecently I was with a guest at Café Fiorello, across from Lincoln Center, and benefited from the opposite experience. We both had a yen for lasagna. The waiter asked if we were planning to split it, which we hadn’t considered, and having once been burned, I asked him about portion size. Satisfied, we followed his suggestion, shared a salad as well and when the lasagna came—expertly divided in the kitchen and artfully plated–we were so grateful. The portions filled each plate and after eating far too much of the bread and salad, neither of us could finish our half.

I’m always delighted to observe anyone do their job both well and beyond the call. Have you experienced a wonderful meal thanks, at least in part, to the wait staff? Have you run into a snag by sharing a portion that was far too small to split?

Waiter at table

Service of Businesses That Forget Who Pays the Bills

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

Paying the bills

Here are three businesses or employees who forgot that it’s through customers that they earn their salaries.

Face the Music

I read this on a friend’s Facebook posting: “I liked TOYOTA MANHATTAN until today. I had a 9 AM appointment for my car which I bought there at A VERY inflated price 1 ½  years ago and waited in line an hour and was told by an employee to go to the front since I had an appointment, only to be told to go back in line and by then, I’d lost 5 spaces. ANGRY. And the fact that 3 people were on their personal phones when I was waiting for an hour makes it worse!”

How do I know?

Newspaper delivery truck vintageI notified The Wall Street Journal, online, that we didn’t get our issue and received two automatic notices: 1) that they’d told the distributor and would credit us for a copy and 2) was a request to evaluate the service.  The wanted to know if I was  __ Delighted; __Fairly Satisfied or __Not Satisfied.

I clicked “Not satisfied” and because they asked respondants to explain, I wrote “How can I be satisfied when I don’t know when I will receive the missing copy?” We never got it as that is not an option when you report a missing copy online which was strike two. Further we have no idea if we were credited to receive an additional copy. My advice: Call, don’t report a missing issue online.

A Loyal Customer Left High and Dry

Employees [and policies] cause problems not only at world-renown brands. A follower of this blog, frequent commenter and friend called about a recent incident with a service her family has used extensively and loyally since the 1950s. Last summer she estimates that she spent $500 on dry cleaning at this suburban Boston company. Given their history, the company, that has four branches, has always billed her.

Dry cleaner in 1941

Dry cleaner in 1941

She was dealing with an employee, not an owner, when picking up clothes this week. She’d received a notice that they had some of her belongings that she might have forgotten. The young staffer insisted that the clothes might not be hers and said that in any case, she couldn’t take them unless she paid $103 on the spot. He presented no bill.

She explained that for decades the owners have billed her and that’s when sparks began to fly. He became increasingly rude to both her and her husband using an elevated, obnoxious tone. [Note: They are an elegant, distinguished couple.] He’s not a nubie: He told them he’d worked for the compay for six years. He didn’t flinch when she told him “We will never come back here. You have no idea how to behave or treat people.” She’s contacting the owners about him.

My questions:

  • Re: the Toyota incident, it’s amazing how employees aren’t embarrassed to take personal calls in front of a line of customers waiting for service, isn’t it? And why bother to make service appointments if you ignore them?
  • Saving itself money was the goal of The Wall Street Journal’s subscription customer service department. The idea was to get rid of a complaint ASAP, not accommodate subscribers. Can you share other examples?
  • As for the dry cleaner, does brand loyalty have no importance anymore? Does the in-your-face political atmosphere in some quarters feed such aggressive behavior?

 Yelling 3

Service of Coming Clean: Verizon and Laundry Card Supplier Make it Impossible

Monday, November 24th, 2014

 smart card in machine

Lots of apartment houses have laundry rooms and before the washing machines were retrofit to accept cards–a blessing–we had to collect countless quarters to wash and dry. It was nerve-racking.

It’s easy to fill the cards. You slip a credit card in a terminal on the laundry room wall, type in the amount of money you want to add to the laundry card and you’ve fed it.

This works if there’s telephone service.

Verizon has been unable to fix the building’s telephone since October 17. On that date building management was told it would be up and running by November 8. Now the fix date is November 20-something. Today is November 24–the building still has no phone service.

laundry smartcardAs my laundry card had run out of funds I explained this no-phone situation to someone at the laundry card company and asked them to take my credit card number and whisk me another card with $25 on it. A very polite person told me she couldn’t take this info over the phone. She said to mail my card to them with a check for the amount of money I wanted on the card, with a letter telling them what to do. Tick, tick, tick [will they wait for the check to clear or until they have 20 cards to make before cutting mine?] and the pile of laundry is mounting.

I know what you’re thinking: “So go to a Laundromat!” There isn’t one in our neighborhood anymore. There’s a restaurant where one used to be.

laundry smartcard 2You might wonder what happened: Did we get back the card? Yes.

Does it work? No. Calling it a smartcard is a misnomer.

We discovered this with three week’s laundry distributed in three washing machines. More phone calls. More time wasted. When I called for the second time on Friday, the voice on the phone told me that they don’t take checks and asked why I didn’t give my credit card.

And now we’re out the money that was left on the card that we sent for refill plus the $25 on the check.

In this day of high speed everything, I find this snail’s pace Verizon performance to repair a commercial line and the confusion, lack of training and inefficiency of the laundry card company incredible. [Do they realize that they are losing money if people can’t store money on their cards and use their washing machines?]

Have you been inconvenienced or flummoxed lately by technology you can’t access?

 piles of laundry

 

 

 

Service of Being a Good Customer

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Demanding customer 3

I imagine that pushy, over demanding customers think that this is the only way to get the best service. The obnoxious approach might work on the spot at retail or in a restaurant because sales and restaurant staff want to avoid a noisy tantrum that would make other customers uncomfortable and spoil their experience.

Demanding customer 2Be ugly enough and the sales person might remember you and see that you wait next time or disappear in the storage room as you approach. The busy restaurant may have a waiting period of an hour for the loudmouth; ten minutes for everyone else.

We’ve all known—or observed–people who feel that they can treat another person abominably because they are paying for a service or because they think that they are important and deserve subservience. In a conversation about such people a friend, with a topnotch reputation in a technical field, said that she wouldn’t stay a half hour overtime for a nasty client even if her boss agreed to pay her a substantial sum. At the same time, she’d stay even longer for a lovely person, even if the boss said that there couldn’t be an extra cent in it for her because he wasn’t charging the customer for overtime, because she was down on her luck.

Demanding customer 1Have you been in the enviable position of being able to give a nasty client/customer short shrift? Do you think pushy, entitled, aggressive behavior wins in the end?

answer is no

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.

Photo: businessinsider.com

Photo: businessinsider.com

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?

Photo: morristowngreen.com

Photo: morristowngreen.com

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