Archive for the ‘Service Personality’ Category

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 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 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

Service of Exemplary Service

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

APlus

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

Cleanup

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 Matching a Person to the Job

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

job-interview

In a response to a previous post, Mervyn Kaufman explained inadequate service by retail staff by pointing to lack of motivation, inexperience, poor pay and/or little to no training. He especially resents  it when sales associates don’t know their inventory. Mervyn also blamed a store’s cynical management that believes it can get away with such poor performance and maintain business levels. I agree with him.

Short of asking each person who provides lackluster/inadequate service at retail or in a service job or restaurant, it’s impossible to know all the reasons. In some cases the reason is as simple as the wrong person has the job.

office-lobby-reception1In the New York Times “Social Q’s” column, columnist Philip Galanes advised a Houston man who staffs the desk in the lobby of a big building. The receptionist, Joseph Z, told Galanes that it was exhausting when he had to smile, nod or wave back each time someone who’d just passed his desk did so again within minutes. “I’m sure it’s annoying to be cheery all day, but short of a large ‘One per Customer’ plaque, I’m afraid that smile fatigue is simply a peril of your profession,” wrote Galanes. I asked the guard/door person in the lobby of my office building whether it annoys him when people say “hi,” “bye,” wave or smile at him even if it happens within minutes. He said he liked it. I think that Galanes might have told “Joseph Z. in Houston” to get a job better suited to his personality. Maybe he could ask for the night shift.

In another instance, I dropped by a high-end deli near my office to buy a pound of ham. I wanted it cut very thick and held up two fingers, at least a quarter inch apart, to illustrate just how thick. The ham here is baked with bone in and is unrelated to the lumps of pressed meat you see at many delis.  My heart sank when the counterman turned in my direction to weigh a pile of very thin slices. He’d used the slicing machine, not a knife. Did he hear me? Did he understand English? Listening carefully and giving customers just what they ask for determines the success of a place that sells special things and charges appropriately-i.e. plenty–for them. Did the manager check for this trait when he hired the guy, even if he’d had umpteen years experience at a supermarket deli counter?

turkish-food1New York has great ethnic restaurants and many are value priced. I’ve noticed no relationship between the level of service and the price. I’ve enjoyed the most elegant and cheerful dinner service where grilled chicken shish kebab served with rice costs $12. Imagine being a waiter here, standing and walking all day long with enough energy at night to be pleasant when tips, based on a negligible total, won’t stretch far?

Can you think of instances where a person’s personality, rather than or in addition to skill, determines their success or failure at a job?

good-personality

Service of Nonchalance

Monday, March 7th, 2011

indifference1

Cool and calm under pressure is great. But indifference is off-putting. In addition to being unhelpful, the attitude is disrespectful verging on insulting. Nobody expects a sycophant with unctuous manner and nauseating phony smile to direct them, but indifference and lack of concern is equally inappropriate in business as it is in a hospital, library, restaurant, post office, retail establishment, school, airport–anywhere.

A client, I’ll call him Jake, a reasonable, patient, no-nonsense person, described a recent incident that perfectly illustrates nonchalance. I’m thrilled to say that he was not in New York City when this happened.

On signing in to a major show where he was an exhibitor, Jake asked the clerk where the press room was so he could drop off his press kits. The fellow looked totally blank and Jake asked if he’d please find out. He placed a call on his walky-talky. Nobody responded.

noproblemJake got the impression that the sign-in clerk was hoping he’d shrug, say, “No problem, I really don’t need the information,” and go away. Instead, Jake said, “So where can I go to find someone who will know where the press room is?”

Jake followed the complicated instructions to find a show office in this huge conference center–down vast tracts of show floor to a staircase, which he mounted–and eventually he saw signs for the office. He entered. There was a man sitting at a desk, behind a computer, with a walky-talky on a desk. Their eyes met for a second and the clerk’s eyes returned to the computer. Still no greeting or sign of recognition: Total silence. So my client said: “May I ask you a question?” and did.

duhThe fellow still didn’t say a word. He looked at his computer and fiddled with the walky-talky and eventually told Jake that the press room was “down one level to the right.” But these fuzzy instructions in this huge edifice were useless. Jake asked for clarification. In a condescending voice, the clerk repeated what he’d first said adding a tad more directive.

When he entered what seemed to be the right place Jake called out, “Is this where I leave off my press kits for the show?” and immediately, someone came out from behind a curtain and replied, “Oh, I’ll take them! I help with the press.”

Jake observed, “Clearly, this was a PR type,” [Yay!] “She knew how to speak to people.”

I blame the show manager for not telling the sign-in staff where the press room is. How is the press going to find it? It’s tough on staff when they aren’t given the information they need to succeed. I bet that the incommunicative creature in the upstairs show office was the one who didn’t answer the sign-in clerk’s query. Think of the time and energy he’d have saved. I wonder who his model is and how he keeps his job.

Where and when have you encountered such service-killing nonchalance?

so

Service of Anniversaries II

Monday, November 29th, 2010

second-birthday

I’m almost a month late in recognizing the second anniversary of The Importance of Earnest Service, November 5, 2008. There have been a few guest posts among the 213 covering 183 categories and 1,429 approved comments.

blueribbonWhile I’ve interpreted the service concept broadly in these 24 months, I’ve chosen to celebrate this anniversary with a traditional case history to describe the exemplary service of a young man and woman who secured the entrance to my client’s November craft show/art fair at the Javits Center. They are worth celebrating.

They perform a physically punishing task. You try standing on cement in a drafty hallway for hours on end, checking every ticket and pass, answering the same questions about rest room and water fountain locations or whereabouts of an artisan or artist’s booth or “have you seen Gina or Joanna?” Think you’d keep your sense of civility and humor?

Adriana Rodriquez and Edward Cruz of the McRoberts Protective Agency did, graciously, becoming a seamless part of the producer’s team, swept up in the enthusiasm and celebratory feeling of the event, echoing the mood and energy of the craft show/art fair staff.

I was in and out of the show floor and up to the registration desk to meet press countless times daily. I heard Adriana and Edward say to departing visitors, “Hope you enjoyed the show! Thank you for coming!” That’s when I asked Richard Rothbard, the producer of the American Craft Show NYC and Contemporary Art Fair NYC, if they were his employees.

1876The security company they work for was founded in 1876. I’m not surprised it’s lasted this long. When I mentioned to Adriana and Edward that I write a blog about service and that I’d like to write about them, a very few minutes later, on my way past them yet again, they handed me a sheet of paper on which they’d neatly printed key information: the McRoberts and their names, along with the title of the event. Pleasant, cheerful and smart too!

Can you share an encouraging service story from an unexpected source to help extend the positive vibes of this great service experience and to help me celebrate The Importance of Earnest Service’s second birthday?

positivevibes

Service of Details

Monday, April 26th, 2010

dirtystreet

Every business involves hundreds of details. I often think that one of the clues to Martha Stewart’s success is that she is said to be a micromanager and detail-obsessed. Time permitting, so am I, revising and editing copy until the moment I send it to a client or post it here.

Many businesses succeed regardless. A mystery.

Details be Damned

After a tasty lunch as a guest at a white tablecloth level restaurant near our office, a PR colleague and blogger, David Reich, My 2 Cents, mentioned something that I also notice when I walk by it several times a day: The street outside this place, that makes an effort with its food and décor, always looks fiercely skuzzy. Nobody polices the sidewalk and curb during the day to pick up what people toss, nor does it look like they ever scrub the real estate around them. It always looks dingy and dirty. It’s not the case with any of the other [food] businesses around us-including the Chinese [largely] takeout spot with the $1.85 wonton soup I mentioned in “Service of How Do they Do It?,” an earlier post. The takeout place is just 300 paces up the street and around the corner.

Irony: The restaurant has plenty of customers and doesn’t seem to suffer from what for us is a turn-off.

drwaitingroomI went only once to a particular blood test mill. Why? There was no soap in the bathroom and when I inquired, the woman who took my blood shrugged. The waiting room was standing-room-only.

sundaynytimesIt drives me nuts when I get home and realize that my Sunday newspaper is missing a section–usually a favorite. I blame myself for not carefully vetting the stack before heading for the cashier. At $5 to $6 [upstate surcharge], I expect the assemblers to take care. The paper is usually a sell-out at the grocery and convenience stores, gas stations and pharmacies that carry it.

Detail Delights

Twenty blocks north of the restaurant-with-the-dirty-sidewalk there’s an indoor parking garage–on East 63rd Street off of Lexington Avenue. I’ve joked for years that I should have a picnic on its shiny, freshly painted gray floor. I’ve never seen such a remarkably clean garage entrance–or business–open to the public, anywhere. I’ve also never seen anyone drive in nor have I parked there-my car isn’t clean enough.

hairsalonWhen I get my hair done, Stacy gives the woman who washes it some of the shampoo and cream rinse she buys because she doesn’t like what the salon owner supplies. I’m not there often enough to tell whether she has more clients than the others. She’s always busy when I come.

I admire well-made clothes, and price doesn’t always enter in. I’ve been appalled at the lousiest construction and sleaziest fabrics of clothes hanging in some of New York’s trendiest boutiques while finds in favorite discount haunts feature the finest cotton, silk or linen with well-finished seams and detailing. Go figure.

My dentist, Kenneth Hochman, “Service of Assistants,” makes me laugh [and not just to show off his handiwork].

Sam, the coffee-cart man on East 44th Street, “Coffee Service with More Than a Smile,”  knows my name, how I take my coffee and waves at me as I walk by.

What details do you appreciate most and which missing ones annoy you? Do you think the omitted ones affect business success?

 threads

Service: Genuine vs. Groveling

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

West Mountain Inn, Arlington, Vt., from the side

West Mountain Inn, Arlington, Vt., from the side

Two recent experiences help describe the intangible difference between genuine and groveling service. The authentic kind makes you feel welcome; the unctuous, uncomfortable.

We had dinner at an attractive restaurant in Dutchess County, New York last weekend. The food was tasty, the prices reasonable, the courses came quickly and were served efficiently, but the waitress turned us off. She acted as though she’d known our friends for years-which she hadn’t-and as though my husband and I were invisible. The next morning we chatted about the otherwise wonderful evening and agreed that while we liked the food and ambiance, the waitresses’ tooth-achingly saccharin chumminess was unattractive and made us squirm. We don’t plan to return in anticipation of either being ignored or fawned over.

You know you’ve arrived in a special place when you drive by the planters filled with impatiens before climbing the hill to the inn.

You know you’ve arrived in a special place when you drive by the planters filled with impatiens before climbing the hill to the inn.

If your room doesn’t overlook the majestic mountain view, there’s a row of Adirondack chairs from which to enjoy it.

If your room doesn’t overlook the majestic mountain view, there’s a row of Adirondack chairs from which to enjoy it.

It was a different story entirely at the West Mountain Inn in Arlington, Vt.  Amie Emmons made us feel welcome in a quiet, natural, understated way from the moment we arrived. Amie’s son, Owen, who is four years old, greeted us as well. He was charming, articulate, smart and endearing as he punctuated Amie’s welcome tour of the public rooms and bedroom suites (we could choose from) with appropriate comments, warnings and instructions.

It may be unfair to compare an innkeeper to a waitress, but Amie also served our dinner the first night. When she was away the second night, her staff echoed her composed, unhurried, gracious yet efficient and engaged approach. One of the dinner guests who said he knew Amie’s mother, Mary Ann Carlson–the previous innkeeper who shared the role with her husband, Wes–teased Amie incessantly. She remained unfazed and friendly, never familiar.

Chiselville Covered Bridge, East Arlington, Vt, a short drive from the inn.

Chiselville Covered Bridge, East Arlington, Vt, a short drive from the inn.

A word about the inn on the Battenkill River, which started out as a farmhouse some 160 years ago, became a gristmill and a lumber mill before, in the 1970s, Wes and Mary Ann Carlson transformed it into a  classic Vermont inn. Each room is lovingly decorated with country antiques; guests leave with a potted violet to remind them of their stay along with a remarkable sense of calm and peace. Guests prefer board games and chats with others over watching TV in the bar. For breakfast and dinner there’s hearty, plentiful, honest American fare. Always on hand is coffee, tea, homemade cookies and during our stay, muffins too.

We can’t wait to return to the West Mountain Inn. Can you tell us about a similar oasis–whether restaurant, inn, hotel or spa–where the art of service equals the surroundings?

This pocket garden is outside the dining room on the path to the inn's front door.

This pocket garden is outside the dining room on the path to the inn's front door.

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