Monday, July 7, 2008

Bad Customer Service

Last week I had a conversation with a co-worker and fellow blogger. I would just like to say thanks Mandy! For being very diplomatic and polite when she reminded me that I do have a FEW regular readers out there who are wondering if I remember that I have a blog. (My words, not hers!) No, I didn’t forget that fact. Things have just been hectic. But we did discuss that I had something happen to me last weekend that was definitely blog material. I want to know, though how do these things keep happening to me? Honestly. How has my life become the magnet for weirdness and odd events? (Those are her words, not mine! :-) ) I do have to say, though, that last weekend’s event fits nicely into a set of stories I have been saving up. I couldn’t decide whether they fit into the category of stupid people, or just under bad customer service. Maybe a little of both.

Anyway, this happened to me at a local restaurant. The establishment itself is a national chain, so I won’t name the restaurant specifically. But up until I went to dinner that Saturday night with my husband, my daughter and my in-laws, I really liked their food. That night I ordered a Chicken Thai Wrap. Yum-my! Normally. The wrap is huge, so comes cut in half for easier eating. I was about half-way through one half, and took a huge bite. Suddenly, out of nowhere it seems, my mouth was filled with mud. That’s right, mud. Like straight off the ground after it’s been raining, mud. Only at first, I didn’t know that’s what it was. All I knew is that I had a mouthful of something that was very gritty and tasted like…well…dirt. If you’ve ever had dirt of any kind in your mouth before, you know that the little, teensy, tiny pieces of rock, (which is what dirt is, eroded rock) spread through your mouth with the smallest of movements, and then stick in the crevices of your teeth. And that it takes an enormous amount of liquid to remove those teensy, tiny pieces of rock from your teeth. For me it took an entire glass and a half of iced tea. And later that night I was still getting stray grit sneaking its way around my molars.

So how did this happen, you ask? Well, when I started investigating what the heck I had in my mouth, my stomach was none too happy when I found a small clump of mud on a couple of pieces of shredded cabbage. What turned my stomach was finding out that little clump was only what was left of the mud, and that I had just eaten the rest of it! It appeared that somehow a large amount of dirt had gotten in between the leaves of the head of cabbage. When they washed the cabbage, instead of the water washing out the dirt it simply turned it into mud, which stuck to the cabbage even through its shredding, and managed to make it into my wrap. MY wrap. Again, how does this stuff happen to me? When I reported it to the waiter, he was very apologetic and took the plate away, since at that point, even though I’d dug through the rest of the wrap and didn’t find anything, I just couldn’t bring myself to eat it. The manager also made a visit to the table, and apologized profusely, saying he’d taken the meal off of our bill. They offered to bring me something else, but with the appetizer we’d had, and the basket of breads I’d wolfed my way through, I really didn’t know how I was going to eat the entire wrap in the first place. So I declined and just finished up the bread. It didn’t occur to me until later to be upset that they did nothing else but remove a meal I didn’t eat in the first place from the check. I think they should have offered me something else. I mean c’mon. Don’t you think a mouth full of mud deserves at least a free dessert? Apparently they didn’t think so. To me this is just bad customer service.

And the more I think about it, the unhappier I am. Of course, the more I think about it, the more I realize that the other instances I have to share definitely fit better in the category of bad customer service, though the stupidity is there, too. Recently I was looking for a specific character cake pan. I had no other supplies that I needed to buy, so I chose to call around to the stores that carried these items rather than driving to each one just to find out they don’t carry the ONE I was after. In the course of my calls, I phoned my favorite craft store. A woman answered the phone “how may I help you?” Silly me thought that meant she was actually going to help me.

I said, “I was wondering if you could tell me if you have Wilton’s Princess Castle cake pan in stock.”

Her reply blew me away. She said, “I suppose I could if I looked.” And then she just sat there. Now, in normal circumstances I might take that as smart-ass sarcasm and think the person was just kidding. But in this case there was no hint of a joking tone in her voice, and the fact that she made no attempt to put me on hold to look for the pan kind of tipped me off that she was really serious when she said that. I tried very hard to give her the benefit of the doubt and consider that she may be an extreme black-and-white thinker. Meaning, I asked if she could tell me if they had the pan. I did not ask her “do you have the pan in stock?” or something similar. In the end, though, I don’t buy it. If someone is that extreme a black-and-white thinker that they cannot occassionally see the grey, they should not be in a position to provide “customer service”.

After sitting there in silence for a full 30 seconds, unsure of whether she was waiting for me to say something, I finally got irritated enough to say, “Ok. Look.” She asked me to hold on, and eventually reported that they did have the pan. Now here’s the part that irritates me the most: I’ve been in that store, and I’ve seen where they answer the phone. It’s at the customer service desk at the front of the store. Right across the aisle from where the cake pans are displayed. In order to “look” all she would have had to do is turn her head and, literally, look. Again, just bad customer service.

And it continues. Recently I was in a local fabric store (again a national chain, so no names) looking for a specific type of fabric for my mom. I even had the SKU number of the fabric. I asked the woman at the counter to look up the number to make sure they had the fabric before I had to go pawing through the racks of bolts of fabric. She informed me that they had 8 yards of it. So I asked her where I might find the fabric, in hopes that I didn’t have to search each and every section in the store. She, unfortunately, was new and wasn’t sure, but asked the woman training her if she could give me some direction. Her response: “I’d look in the regular priced items.” Noooo, really? Hmm, well that only limits it to THREE QUARTERS of the store. I stood there and stared at her for a minute like she had mush for brains. Then, without even responding, turned around and walked away. I managed to cut down the time I spent searching by calling my mom and asking her in what section of the store she had seen the fabric, but I was pretty miffed that I even had to do that. Bad, bad customer service.

It doesn’t stop there. In recent months my husband, daughter and I went out to breakfast with my friend who was in town visiting. Again, national chain involved. Sweetpea, like me, is a tea drinker. When it came time to order our drinks, I ordered hot tea, and she asked for “cold tea”. It didn’t occur to me that I should specify to the waiter that this means iced tea. When he returned with our drinks, he had the whole set up for hot tea for me (i.e. cup, saucer, tea bag, lemon, honey and tiny thermal pot filled with hot water.) He also had the same set up for Sweetpea, only the thermal pot had cold water in it. That’s right. He literally interpreted cold tea to mean the same as hot tea, but with cold water. Needless to say I wasn’t able to brew the tea (yes, I tried, in an attempt not to make the waiter feel stupid). When it didn’t work, I broke down and asked him to bring her some iced tea. Again, not sure on this one whether the guy was one of those black-and-white thinkers or just plain mentally challenged.

Along the same lines, my mom had a recent experience at a fast food restaurant. She placed an order for hot tea. The teenager behind the counter looked at her with a blank look. She repeated her order for hot tea. He finally asked her if that meant she wanted iced tea without the ice. She had to explain to him to just put some hot water in a cup and she would do the rest. Luckily he understood that that meant he should use the same cup they serve coffee in, because she had failed to explain that to him. After receiving the cup of hot water (the tea bags are now located in many of these chains at the condiment bar) she asked for a creamer. He again looked at her with a blank stare. Giving a helpless sigh, she asked him for the little white containers of milk that people put in their coffee. That he understood. As he left the counter to get her the creamer, the man standing next to her made a comment about the customer service there. My mom, being the soft-hearted sort of soul that she is, whispered back that she thought he was probably already doing the best he could. How sad is that?

Now this next instance I'm convinced is a situation of extreme black-and-white thinking. A little over a year ago my husband and I went out to a new restaurant for our anniversary. The meals we ordered there included salad with some kind of crumbled cheese on top, Feta, I believe. When the salads arrived, they were covered in crumbled blue cheese. My husband and I both hate blue cheese. When the waiter came back we verified that it was not supposed to have blue cheese on it. He then asked if we would like him to take the salads away. My husband responded that we did. So then we sat and waited. And waited. And waited some more. No new salads. Finally my husband began to get upset and wondered if we were going to get replacement salads. I told him to be calm, and give the guy the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was just a black-and-white thinker. When he asked what I meant, I told him "well honey, you told him you wanted him to take the salads away. You never said anything about bringing new ones back." (Having grown up with a sister who is a black and white thinker, I am fluent in black-and-white.) He informed me that that was just silly, and it was just common sense that the waiter should replace the salads. I gently reminded him that common sense is not so common.

About that time the waiter came by bringing condiments and untensils for our main courses. My husband asked him if we were going to get replacement salads. The waiter responded "Oh, did you want new salads?" I wisely kept my mouth shut, and swallowed the I-told-you-so bubbling to my lips.

In reviewing my blog notes, I find that I have two, very long, whoppers of tales having to do with customer service. I think I will save those for a later post, and instead leave you with what I consider the end all, be all of bad customer service. On a recent trip to visit, my sister and her family were rear-ended. (Big surprise there, had to happen sooner or later.) No one was injured, but my sister called 9-1-1 to request police assistance. She was a bit surprised (mildly put) to find that instead of a 9-1-1 operator, she was greeted with a recording that said “You have reached 9-1-1 emergency assistance. All of our operators are currently assisting other callers. Your call is very important to us, and we will be with you shortly. Please do not hang up and call back, as your call will be placed at the end of the que.” Seriously? She just got put on hold for 9-1-1. She said it was at least five whole minutes before anyone picked up, and made the comment that she was glad no one’s life was hanging by a thread where three of those minutes could have meant life or death. I agree with her. Talk about bad customer service!