Service of Businesses That Forget Who Pays the Bills

January 28th, 2016

Categories: Automobiles, Customer Care, Customer Service, Service, Service Personality, Technology

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?

I 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.

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?


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12 Responses to “Service of Businesses That Forget Who Pays the Bills”

  1. David Reich Said:

    Jeanne, this has become the norm… miserable customer service.

    I’m sure everyone has stories like the ones you cited.

    I grew up with parents who had a mom & pop retail store, selling children’s clothes. Serving the customer was always foremost. In addition to seeing them tolerate all kinds of craziness for a 59-cent pair of socks, I also learned to say “thank you” when a customer paid me at the cash register. It’s a habit I still have, as I often will thank a clerk when they give me change from my purchase. Most of the time, sadly, I don’t get a thank you from them as I hand them money.

    My parents did so much for their customers… giving them store credit (before the days of credit cards), gift-wrapping free, and even delivering purchases to customers’ homes, free.

    I saw how loyalty meant nothing in the late 50s, when the discount stores and big department stores opened in nearby shopping centers and strip malls. Customers flocked to those stores for not-always lower prices, while waiting in long lines, having to fend for themselves because salespeople were hard to find, and even paying for gift wrapping, shopping bags, etc.

    So I am rarely surprised by poor customer service. We’ve brought it on ourselves.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your comment makes me so sad as does every story about people who should be rewarded for exemplary service yet are not. I remember stories my mother told about our neighborhood candy store owner Mrs. Jensen, [she no doubt sold lots of other things but I remember the candy]. She would report to parents funny conversations she’d overhear between kids as they chose a treat. Small retailers were the heart of every community–this was in Manhattan. Pretty sure Mrs. Jensen was also the neighborhood gossip.

    As time becomes increasingly precious to people who are expected to work harder and longer, here’s hoping we support our neighborhood stores once again and that people take the risk of opening them.

    I, too, expect some kind of response, if only a grunt or a smile, when handing a cashier money and after I thank for packing my purchase. It feels like a misstep or missed heartbeat when I hear nothing–it happens in taxis as well. I often wish I could ask for some of my tip back in the latter case. There are some stores at which 89 percent of cashiers are always cheery and responsive. One is Trader Joe’s on east 14th Street.

  3. hb Said:

    On a macro basis, the answers to your questions will be found in the profound demographic changes which have occurred in the country since the Second World War.

    On a micro basis, the answers can be found in what the entities involved have in common — largeness and minimal competition.

    The Wall Street Journal is unique and now completely outclasses its nearest rival, the New York Times, which has lost its credibility, at least for readers like me, due to its no longer subtle political biases.

    To the best of my knowledge, there are no automobile dealers, except perhaps Rolls-Royce and Ferrari, that offer customer oriented service in New York City. They don’t have to.

    Were that Boston dry cleaner a one shop, ma and pop operation, it could not afford to keep a rude employee on the payroll. By having four shops, it is diversified and able to tolerate the occasional rotten apple.

  4. Martha Takayama Said:

    The Toyota incident is representative of a national epidemic. The concept of working while on the job is interpreted very loosely today in many service and other positions. The idea of actually making work functions a priority while on the job is not particularly popular. The self comes before all! I once spent half an hour looking at merchandise with a friend in one department of an iconic department store while 2 sales persons blithely talked among themselves!

    The Wall Street Journal, like the New York Times, and the Boston Globe all suffer from failure to distribute and deliver efficiently. Most efforts to get help lead to voice mail dead ends. An editor of one of these papers stressed print brings in income as opposed to digital versions. Apparently there may be a major investigation into the ongoing mega- snafu resulting from delivery shifted to an understaffed, incompetent company. Major loss of home delivery subscribers have been accompanied by rumors of sabotage!

    The behavior in your last episode is in part similar to the Toyota incident, incompetent, and rude. There is a total lack of awareness of what the “service” in customer service means. When I worked in a luxury department for a brilliant manager customers had to be treated with maximum respect, and were essentially always right. Good manners and tact were required even in awkward situations.

    Current political behavior is both a manifestation of all the faults described in this post and an endorsement of even more outrageous behavior. After all Donald Trump claims there are no possible consequences even to his committing a murder in public!

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I can’t argue with your first two points, but they generate a question: What happened to personal pride? David wrote about his parent’s store. They went to bed every night knowing what a good job they’d done. Doesn’t an employee seek praise and gratitude anymore?

    It’s a chicken/egg discussion in that I don’t know which came first but writing has gone the way of service–downhill. Few know the difference and executives accept poor to horrendous copy just as the public accepts subpar courtesy and service.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’ve too often heard the department store saga which is why I don’t feel sorry for them in the face of big boxes. My heart bleeds for small businesses and boutiques though.

    Our Wall Street Journal is delivered to midtown–to the office. On a Monday, sometimes we’ll get the weekend copy and nothing for Monday. At the apartment I see newspapers waiting outside the doors of tenants on our floor but can’t report on the service.

    I sometimes think that when a person is hired the business owner or boss is so focused on the procedure–how to accept credit card payment, work the computer program, find clothes on the motorized rack–that they don’t even address attitude and service. They are happy that someone shows up.

    The Donald Trump comment about not losing followers even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue only shows the disregard and contempt he has for these followers. The sad thing is that they don’t get it. I wonder if the answer to this post is that similarly, the public is held in contempt by the people who serve it. Instead of being grateful for a salary and for exhibiting pride in a job well done, the tables are turned. People who are dumb enough to buy/service their car here; have their clothes cleaned here etc. aren’t worthy of my respect. As you wrote, “The self comes before all!”

  7. EAM Said:

    Often, I think that the food service industry just suffers. And, generally, it’s because owners don’t want to pay top dollar to keep their people. There was one NY restauranteur (woman) interviewed who had a great allegiance among her staff because she cared and paid them well. And, her wait staff stayed. She said she made more money because of the lack of turnover and had her loyal customers.

    When I go out for dinner, which isn’t too often, I will thank the person for their service, if they’ve done a good job and tip them well. But, this also brings up the point that we should pay the staffers in this industry well. Some people enjoy being a professional server/waiter.

    I’m with you, whatever happened to giving someone the extra bit of service? This is actually referred to in Randi Bale’s blog, The Extra 5%:

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You have ESP. Someday I plan to write about restaurant staffing and tips. I keep putting it off.

    I agree that people who pay well show respect to their staff and imagine that the price point of the food must be fairly high or the volume incredible for this approach to be viable. We used to stop at a takeout hamburger/hotdog joint on Rte. 22 in Brewster called the Red Rooster that had the best milkshakes and French fried onion rings and regardless of weather, was jammed whenever we’d stop by. Staff moved like lightening and was always nice. I have no clue if they were paid minimum wage. Most seemed like school kids. Atmosphere was cheery nonetheless.

    I’ve not always worked at places that paid well but I never made my clients or my employer suffer. I felt if I didn’t like it, I should leave, but as long as I was there, I had to do my best. That’s why I don’t buy the argument that someone who isn’t well paid should do a lousy job.

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    It’s not all sunny out there, but it’s not as bleak as pictured either. Ongoing dissatisfaction
    eventually brings down businesses. Unfortunately, many also go under because of a rotten economic climate.

    While it’s not fair to blame the victim, all too often the offended customer fails to reach levels where his voice makes a difference. Just as frequently, it’s the tone of an aggrieved customer which determines the outcome of a problem. Remind an overworked employee of your importance, throw your weight around, roar, and expect the minimum. There might be understanding, but no sympathy.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Another chicken and egg situation: How far must a pleasant person be pushed before they blow? They might not be haughty or arrogant, just frustrated at paying full freight for super discount service or snippy attitude. I’ve found far too many businesses and services are unconscious when it comes to wasting other people’s time. They give you a 9 a.m. appointment and you’re lucky to be taken by 10:15 or if you wait at home, best bring work home with you as you might be there all day with plans to stay home another when nobody shows. Both small and big businesses share in this. Same thing holds true when being pt on hold. If you’ve ever fallen for “leave your number and we’ll call you back,” you might still be waiting.

  11. Lucrezia Said:

    There may be something amiss if one is taking so much heat from every direction. Who hasn’t a merchant/doctor/corporation from hell story to tell? But if all entities appear to be ganging up on one poor soul, it may be wise for said soul to take a good look at his approach.

    One way to avoid frustration is to allow a reasonable window for tardiness (which is not always avoidable) and then cancel and reschedule. This sends a polite but firm message which is usually respected the next time. Being put on hold is easier. Merely use the speaker phone and go about your business. Another strong message sent, and no time wasted listening to elevator music!

    All too often anger and frustration get in the way of profitable choices. One can also see life as a game, which may result in developing sparring skills designed to achieve desired results.

    Life can deal us much greater threats, such as waking up in Syria with ISIS banging on the door.
    As a professional coward, I’ll take being put on hold…….

  12. jeanne byington Said:


    I identified three examples that aren’t meant to represent every business. I’m collecting exemplary examples of service and cheery attitudes for an upcoming post. Unfortunately those instances won’t represent all businesses either!

    To defend the instances here, I see no excuse for a haughty attitude by a counter person at a dry cleaning establishment for any reason. I enjoy visits to my upstate dry cleaner: the staffer there is fun and delightful.

    As for having to wait for over an hour for car service, it’s outrageous. People can lose their jobs by being late for work. They can’t keep returning to a place in hopes they’ll be taken in a timely manner on another day.

    I can think of many worse things than being kept on hold but that wasn’t the point of my comment which was that many businesses and people have no respect for customers’ time. In the subscription example, I’d tried to avoid making a call and learned that the easier option for both the business and me was not satisfactory for me. Yet again the customer did not come out on top which I think is the goal.

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