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"The customer is always a pain in the ass"

Every now and then, a local talk-show host holds a "tell your customer service horror story" segment when callers can regale their tales of being abused, mistreated, neglected, or just plain ignored by businesses.

I've been tempted to call in. There is a certain national chain of auto service shops (affiliated with a very large retailer whose former full name might or might not rhyme with "Tears SoSuck") that will never get my business after I spent 15 minutes being utterly ignored while standing at their desk.

I don't get it. I don't talk much about my Day Job, but there is an element of the retail to it. (There's also a very large part that is not sales or service as well.) And one thing I've always gotten good marks on is customer service. My customers are MINE, and they often insist on dealing with me only because they are comfortable with me and that I'll make sure they get what they want.

The attitude I have is simple: I've been with my current employer almost nine years. The way I see it, the company stopped paying my salary about two months after I started. Ever since then, I've been paid by the customers; the company just does all the paperwork. And I am NOT going to tick off the people who pay my salary. I'm going to keep them happy and satisfied so they keep paying me.

Sure, there are some customers I don't particularly like. I even give some of them derisive nicknames. But I keep them to myself, or carefully shared with colleagues out of customers' earshot.

I was once in an auto-parts place with three other customers standing at the counter. The guy behind the counter was on the phone. When he peppily hung up, he turned to his colleague and said "you ever just wanna take a customer's head and just slam it on the counter?" and then turned to us as if we could not possibly have heard a thing.

Another time, in a donut shop, there were two teenage dunkwads working behind the counter. One of them looked up, saw a somewhat obese young woman approaching through the windows, and told his buddy "hey, there's your girlfriend." The other guy looked up, saw who he was speaking of, and said to his friend "aw, up yours, man!" and then turned to those of us in line as if personally insulting customers in front of other customers was perfectly normal and acceptable.

Something I read a long time ago has stuck with me. One person refused to do a job, saying it was beneath them. They were told that work doesn't care who does it; if something needs to be done, it doesn't really matter who does it, as long as it gets done. And if you're going to do something, do it right -- if you're only going to do a half-assed job of it, don't bother even starting.

One time, I worked for a new boss who was brought in to cut the staff drastically. Some he fired outright, some he made work so intolerable they left on their own. I was on the second list. He micromanaged me and assigned me the most menial tasks he could imagine. For example, I was assigned to mop the bathrooms every single day I worked. No one else ever did it; over a course of a month, I did it five days a week and they were untouched the other two. Also, before I could leave, I had to have my immediate superior go over my list of such duties and personally verify that each had been done to their satisfaction, signing off on each. (Luckily, the supervisors were nowhere near the dicks the boss was.) I resented the hell out of it, but I sucked it up and did it until an opportunity to transfer away from the dick opened up. Right up until my last day there, though, I did exactly what I was told and refused to give him the satisfaction of knowing how much I loathed him. When I heard that he had been shown the door shortly after I left his department, I did a little dance of glee -- I had outlasted the prick.

So, why does my attitude seem so unusual these days? I freely admit I often lack in common sense, but this seems like basic common sense to me. Why does everyone have so many customer-service horror stories?

I just don't get it.

Comments (16)

Houstonkeys and I are think... (Below threshold)

Houstonkeys and I are thinking of doing a Carnival of the Crappy Customer or something like that.


I can't figure it out eithe... (Below threshold)

I can't figure it out either. It has to be the training.

When I call any large company anymore with a problem, they begin by assuming it's my fault. That's very annoying.
I pay my bills on line but I don't allow them to do it automatically, I had a serious problem with a former monopoly about that once so I'll never do it again.
In July I paid my electric bill online once and I distinctly remembered un-clicking the "auto-bill-pay" option that they helpfully automatically clicked.
Sure enough, they took money the next month. I called up and told them to stop. Okay.
Next month, same thing. I called up and the person automatically assumed that I was wrong. Until I asked if they had records of my phone calls. "Oh........ I see you asked last month to have it stopped."
At no time did I get an apology. So I sent an email to every email address they had, including investor services and other corporate offices. It was very rude and obnoxious but nothing over the top. I made it clear that they were dishonest and I called them that repeatedly and noted that since they were a monopoly I was stuck with them so, "Think some obscene words at yourself for me."

Somebody responded and once again, acted as if it was all my fault. I kept responding noting where she kept acting as if it was my fault and noting that if it happens again I'll take legal action. After a series of emails they wrote off my next month's bill.

If the first person had only said, "Oh, sorry. I'll fix that. Is there anything else I can do?" That would have been that. Instead, they got nasty emails to everybody and paid my bill.

I was in the service industry for close to 20 years. I had over 90% customer satisfaction while selling used cars.
The first thing you do when there's a problem is apologize and then ask how you can fix it. That's it. I can't figure out why nobody does that anymore. It's weird.

What the hell Jay? Didn't ... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

What the hell Jay? Didn't you know that the American work ethic was just another inconvenience that was done away with by the secular regressive socialist revolution that was started in the sixties?

Tom Peters, Peter Drucker, ... (Below threshold)

Tom Peters, Peter Drucker, Zig Ziglar, Harvey Mackay, if you recognize the names then you know why.

Harvey MacKay made his salespeople "memorize" a list of personal things about their contacts.. He wanted them sending birthday cards, holiday cards, know the names of dogs-children-wives... etc. Personal!!! KNOW your customer! He buys the beer.

That's why Toyota, Honda, etc.. have taken over the market in US and A.

People of our grand nation don't know which 'hand' is actually feeding us. It may not happen today, or tomorrow, or next month.. but someone will come along and find what it is the 'customer' wants... and provide it.

An NTB just opened up in ou... (Below threshold)

An NTB just opened up in our area. I went for an oil change a week ago. I asked how long it would take. "No more than 30 minutes," I was told.

When I screamed at 65 minutes that the fool was now playing with my tires, I announced that I would never do business with them again.

Yes, I am sure they spoke about me after I left. Good help is hard to find, but if one continues to frequent these places, weare doomed.

As a customer, I am exquist... (Below threshold)

As a customer, I am exquistely polite to whoever is helping me, including using "ma'am" or "sir." If I'm upset about the problem, I say so at the start and emphasize that I'm not upset with her or him. When the problem is resolved, I ask to speak to the supervisor to praise the person to the skies.

Only once did I not receive stellar service. I hold that he was being rude to me and that I would not stand for it (hoping that the call was being recorded). I called back, got another associate, and had the problem taken care of. I asked for the supervior, praise person #2 and told of person #1 and that he needed remedial trainng--that's even better than getting him reprimanded.

Tea,First Attitude... (Below threshold)


First Attitude can be learned but it can't be trained. Till the person internalizes the importance of Attitude no training can take care of it. I point your attention to the afternoon Disney channel on any cable network. What I have found is a general snarkyness in the characters. Couple that with such winning fare as 'JackAss II' and you get the type of attitude you see from the some of under 30 crowd. Ironically though I still enoucourage our business to hire teenagers. They have to learn to work for they all become taxpayers someday hopefully.

But you know what? Some of this is our own fault. As good consumers we always try to get the best price on stuff. The best prices come from those firms that can push the highest volumes to get the top discounting from the manafacturers. That generally means you are dealing with some retail chain. To keep unit costs down the chains are generally treating employees as interchangable parts. A few slaps from a bad manager and an environment that does not foster customer realtions pretty much soils the employee attitude.

Persoanlly I have gotten out of the chain store rat race as much as possible. When I can I work with local Mom & Pop stores. Bob brought up NTB. I have had the same experience 10 years ago. Never been back. I deal with a local now. I may pay $5 more a tire as he can't the same volume discounting as NTB. But in return, being a steady customer, my car is always done on time, they call if they find something else, if there have been an error (rare) they fix it right then, no run around. He treats his employees like humans and I have never had a bad experience with any of them.

Get away from the chains and there is a whole new world that treats their customers right. But you have to look for them. Do a little research then stick with them. A regualar customer to them is gold, and they treat you accordingly.

Just my experience.

I think that the poor custo... (Below threshold)
Mighty Dwight:

I think that the poor customer service is more a "sign of the times". It goes deeper than lack of training or attitude problems. I think the answer lies in the growing secular progressive trend towards moral relativity. Something (an attitude or action) is only wrong if the person committing or perceiving the action deems it to be wrong. There are no moral absolutes. We don't respect each other. Look at customers. Not just service providers. The poor actions/attitudes are just as prevalent in those purchasing the product/service as they are in those providing it. It's only going to get worse as the politically correct trend of explaining away bad behavior becomes more popular.

Customer Service was always... (Below threshold)

Customer Service was always more art than skill. It would be practiced by good managers and salespeople who learned mostly though experience and having a good disposition towards others.

However, the "customer is always right" attitude created a problem over time. Most customers learned how to abuse the system and extort special treatment from managers who no longer had staffs big enough to get the work done. It frustrated the good managers. When ou add in how retail managers are now more commissioned than salaried, and you have people who have a built in reason to hate customers who come in with problems. (I'm an ex-retail manager, so I am speaking from experience here.)

The smaller "mom & pop" stores to give better service. They have a reason to want happy customers. Where the big retail chains are so cookie cutter that there is no incentive to work hard to please customers.

Seems its human nature to c... (Below threshold)

Seems its human nature to complain.

I owned a restaurant for years - told my staff no one would ever compliment us for clean, well stocked restrooms - but I expected high standards. One day a lady did seek me out with positive praise about the bathroom. Nice to be wrong every now and then.

I'm like most folks - I spend my money where I get value. Too bad I sometimes have to exercise my choice the second time around.

Another poster said she gets what she gives. That's a good message for me to remember.

Years ago I was in a restau... (Below threshold)
Ruth H:

Years ago I was in a restaurant for an early dinner with my husband and our children who were teenagers, you know they embarrass easily, and the owner of the place came in and reamed out a young pimply faced employee for his looks. He was neat, clean, but he did have an infected face and she didn't care who she berated him in front of. I reamed HER out and told her we would never eat there again because I knew a rude inconsiderate person owned the place. My kids were embarrassed but they did learn that when people are inconsiderate, employer or employee, you stand up to it. That's what I would have done to the donut folks, ya know, you just don't need sugar enough to put up with rudeness to you or someone else.

We lived in New England jus... (Below threshold)

We lived in New England just before and after the closure of Pease AFB. Before, it was hard getting good service at restaraunts. 2% unemployment. After Pease closed, many mom & pop places closed and unemployment went way up. Service became first rate at almost any restaraunt we ate at. Amazing what competition for jobs can do.

Jay says:The wa... (Below threshold)

Jay says:

The way I see it, the company stopped paying my salary about two months after I started. Ever since then, I've been paid by the customers; the company just does all the paperwork. And I am NOT going to tick off the people who pay my salary. I'm going to keep them happy and satisfied so they keep paying me.

I believe that this is the essence of the entrepreneurial spirit; but also the essence of any personal service business, be it medical, legal, accounting or consulting.

I've been in the business of lawyering for over forty years. From brand new lawgrads to big firm partners, that is the one thing that is often missing from their service arsenal. Brains and education take you only so far. From there, you must want to satisfy your client-customers. If you don't your career will be hollow.

I remember going to Tears o... (Below threshold)
retired military:

I remember going to Tears once. As I had about a video camera from them. Two weeks after I bought it it stopped working. I went at lunch and there was noone at the customer service window. I rang the buzzer (I heard it from the walled in area).

Two minutes later no CS rep.

Rang the buzzer again

Two minutes later no CS rep

Rang the buzzer again

Two minutes later no CS rep.

So I rang the buzzer and held it down so it continued buzzing (as I said it was a nice loud sound that I could hear through the wall.

About five minutes later an employee stuck their head out and said "Could you please stop ringing that?"

I said "I will gladly as soon as somoene comes out to take care of me"

Amazingly enough about a minute later a CS rep came out and helped me. They also noticed me writing down everything in a notebook as well and I asked them for the manaagers name, store number, employee number , etc.

I had zero problems when I got my vidoe camera back.

There are jobs that are don... (Below threshold)

There are jobs that are done right in front of us that we may notice or even ignore as part of background scenery. One of them is to do an ATM repair. In essence, my new job (12 weeks and counting ) is to work on repairing broken ATM's in the field. What amazes me is that when I was not one of them, I would see the techs but never notice them. I just would think DAMN now I can't get my cash.... but I would mostly ignore them. When I was hired, it wasn't for my tech skill. I am ok but not specificly training in mechanics. The interviewer told me that wasn't important.. We can teach you how to build and repair any part and we have manuals and help desks and tools ETCETC. What we want are people who know how to deal with customers,..This really surprized me, but I said NO problem. JT would back me on my customer service skills since we was my supervisor for quite sometime .

Following several weeks of training and apprenticing on the job. I was sent out to do my first assignment. Walk into the bank and fix it. I approached, introduced my self to the manager, presented the ID,( decent pic for a change) and then was presented with a freaked out frantic persone whinning about everyone complaining that the ATM was down .. In a bank. with tellers, People fussed about not being able to go to the atm. ( oh well...) so I went to work.. and I realized I was same as that kid who passes the basic swimming test with a couple of floaties.. who is just tossed into the deep end and told SWIM. but then adversity does make for wisdom. it took me several hours but I did fix it. During which time.. I heard many opinions on both sides of the counter from whinning tellers to fussy customers.

This gave me an insite that comes even as I type it. It isn't a lack of training, it is a lack of patience. From all of us. We all know what it is to have to Submit to the whining and fussy behavior of someone ( insert reference to parents with crying baby ) but it just seems like no matter what side we are on of the desk, phone, or teller line, We all want the same thing. Smooth transactions that make us able to go to the next obstacle in our lives. Break one, and the stress comes out.

If you made it al the way to the end of this parable, you are patient and if you are dissapointed by the resolution of the story, Ask yourself, why be upset. Sometimes Things just happen different from our expectations. we can either complain or just take it as it comes.

Speaking of restaurants and... (Below threshold)

Speaking of restaurants and bathrooms. I always consider a clean restroom an indirect indicator of the cleanliness of the kitchen. If the owner allows a slovenly approach to the customers' bathroom, what is he doing about unseen kitchen conditions?






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