Service of Annoying Customers

November 4th, 2010

Categories: Accommodation, Annoying, Attitude, Customers, Dissatisfaction, Tone of Voice

I was in line at Sam’s coffee cart on 44th and Third Avenue and the man ordering his Joe ahead of me was the kind of customer who’d drive me nuts. It’s not that he wanted anything exotic. But I could tell that he was someone I’d never want to share a restaurant meal with-or to serve.

He asked for two Splendas in a medium size decaf and a large coffee with skim and three sugars, and then he changed his mind on size or sweetener and….Sam was his usual cool, calm, pleasant self and didn’t skip a beat. [This eavesdropper was ready to scream.]

I’ve eaten with people who have nary an allergy but want to know every ingredient in each of six dishes before they will commit to a main course. Three minutes after they’ve ordered they wave wildly for the waiter because they’ve changed their mind.

And it’s not just the questions that get me, because maybe the person loves to cook and is curious about how the chef prepares short ribs; it’s the selfish demand for attention and time without regard to companions who might have places to go and customers at other tables who need wine, water or song.

Most of the posts on this blog are written from the customer’s viewpoint. What do your friends, colleagues and strangers do to aggravate staffers in retail or food businesses? If you’ve had one of those jobs, how do you handle these annoying types or don’t they bother you?

12 Responses to “Service of Annoying Customers”

  1. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    The grimmest moment in my memory occurred when a demanding dinner partner asked our waiter, “Can you bring us some water?” the moment we sat down. When the harried waiter didn’t respond immediately, the man summoned him abruptly, restated his request (in an angry voice) and began counting to ten. I was mortified.

  2. Nancy Farrell Said:

    This isn’t a retail or food business story but it is something that gets on my nerves. I’m annoyed by passengers on my commuter train who give the workers grief because the conductors ask to see the passengers’ tickets. This is a simple request and I can’t think of any transporation company in the world that doesn’t want to see proof of payment each time you ride. Even if a person has a monthly ticket, how is the conductor supposed to remember your face when there are hundreds of passengers on dozens of trains every day? I want to yell at them to grow up but my favorite conductor smiled at one of these annoying customers one day and said, “Hey. If I don’t ask to see your ticket and there’s an undercover manager who sees me doing that, I’m going to lose my job. If I lose my job because you have a ticket but don’t want to show it to me, then my wife and kids are going to have to move in with you. Trust me, you don’t want my wife and kids living with you.” The passenger silently produced his ticket. What could he say?

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Mervyn,

    You reminded me of the time I was on a business trip in Atlanta working on a project in the suburbs, staying at not a fancy motel that had a coffee shop. I was there with two other women, one of whom was a spoiled, whiney, difficult type who wanted everything in a moment, demanding cold milk and hot cream for her coffee that was to be half decaf.

    The place was full at breakfast, the waiter rushing as fast as he could and doing well under the circumstances. At one point in a very loud voice with an accent more New York than anything else she hollered, “No wonder they lost the war.”

    The next morning I got up especially early so I was sure to be first at the coffee shop and apologized to the waiter for the conduct of this adult brat. I could just imagine the locals thinking, “I wish they would go back where they came from!”

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Nancy,

    Conductors have it tough, that’s for sure, asking surly passengers to lower their voices when hollering into their cell phones for extended conversations; distinguishing between the ones who wanted to get a free ride to 125th Street and those who really got on the wrong train and handling drunk customers as well as those whose feet and/or bodies and belongings are all over the seats when folks are standing for long rides. Some of the toughest conductors on Metro North who accept no nonsense are women. I’ve not heard comedians like on your train!

  5. Simon Carr Said:

    I find I am embarrassed when an unpleasant fellow customer becomes excessively demanding, and I feel quite powerless because there is no easy way one can intervene to correct obviously unacceptable behavior in a situation, which really has nothing to do with you.

    Having worked and lived abroad all my life, I’d like to make the following observation: How customers treat vendors or service is rendered, is very much a matter of the cultural context in which a transaction takes place. In certain cultures, you loose respect (and money) when you say too many “pleases” and “thank yous.” I’ve been further told that you can tell who is an American in a crowd by how polite he is to a server. Often in New York, given its multi-cultural make up, behavior can vary widely given the background of the customer. Sometimes rude customers here are not really being rude, they are just “doing what comes naturally.”

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Simon,

    You make a valid point.

    But just as you know not to say “please” and “thank you” too often when you are in a country where this is inappropriate or is misunderstood as weakness, foreigners should try to pick up some of the ways in which we conduct ourselves here.

    And like you, when someone acts badly in a public place, I find it embarassing, especially if I am sitting next to the person who is being loud, overly demanding or rude.

  7. Anonymous Said:

    Oh, it’s so refreshing to hear some complaints about customers! When I go out to eat with my mom and her side of the family, I cringe at their demanding imperiousness. Their attitude is defensive and kind of cruel, and it always angers me when I see it in other customers.

    The attitude of customer service is very strange here in central TX, where one is supposed to be at once the customer’s best friend, neighbor, servant and parent, I think. I haven’t cracked the code yet, but it’s very different from the customer culture of the NY area, where I didn’t even have to smile, as long as I was courteous with customers.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Anonymous and Simon–

    You both note how the served and servers act differently in different cultures, even within one country. Just think what fun a national service company must have when planning its training.

    Whether I am in NY or anywhere in the world, if I greet the person helping me with a pleasant expression and demeanor, I expect to be treated and served well.

    Back to the challenge of a national training program: I would shoot for pleasant and efficient service as the goal, nothing gushy or over the top.

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    One of the most annoying things a customer can do to a retailer and/or restauranteur, is to linger after closing hours. The staff doesn’t get overtime, and such behaviour is mean spirited, inconsiderate and out of line, but it happens every day. There are times this can’t be helped, and the customer is profuse in his apology.

    A beauty salon owner told me of the time she had to tell a customer not to return. Said customer, a mutual acquaintance, had been a pain for years, rarely tipped but was extremely generous with disparaging remarks for all the staff. The day came when she attempted to publicly humiliate the owner, who by this time, had more than enough. Bravo for Mme Beauty Shop! If more retailers had her nerve, disagreeable clients might think twice before throwing their weight around. Rudeness is often a power play and should be squashed. Everyone benefits.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    Some grumpy people get the best service, is the trouble, because they intimidate staff and especially in this economy, people don’t want to get fired.

    Kudos to the owner of the beauty shop who finally said “enough and out.” It’s a brave move but no business can be better than bad business, especially from a person who can jeopardize the reputation of an establishment or make it so uncomfortable for both staff and patrons to have to witness that they all go.

    One of the best bosses I ever had was president of one of the largest PR firms in the country at that time who firmly backed his employee when the largest client complained about him. The president knew that the man’s work was tops and he would not allow the client to tell him who would and wouldn’t work for him. President gave the man other work to do and he lost that division of the business but gained the loyalty and respect of the staff and my bet, the underlings in the client’s PR dept.

  11. Patty Raddock Said:

    On Facebook, Patty wrote: “I have a rule that I figure most sane people share–no matter how annoying or inept a restaurant employee may be, I continue to grin and bear it until tip time. You never know what bodily fluid may end up in your food.”

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Patty,

    Excellent advice!!! Very important to remember at all times.

Leave a Reply