By ROBERT JUMPER
One Feather Editor
I am old school. No doubt. I have been in the service industry for going on four decades. On top of that, I can be a real grouch. Just ask anyone who knows me. I have a t-shirt that proudly says “Old Man Club” on the front and back. I am, as the old restaurant slogan used to say, a person who likes to “have it my way”. I know that flies in the face of the current times of compromise and complacency, but I can’t help it. It is DNA driven.
So, I am a little more than frustrated at how many corporations and business owners absolutely ignore many of the fundamentals of customer service in their businesses. Back in the day, owners and managers would drill into their associates’ and employees’ minds two simple rules; Rule 1: The customer is always right. Rule 2: If you think the customer is wrong, see Rule 1. And back in the day, if you broke one of those rules, the owner or manager would set you free to find work in another vocation.
I can feel you getting worked up as you read this. “But I am in the service industry, and I can tell you there are some pretty terrible customers out there!” Yes, indeed there are. And yet, even those terrible customers are putting food on our tables and roofs over our heads. One should never be subjected to anything that is criminal like physical violence or the like as a public servant. And by the same token, a service industry worker needs a thick skin and a positive attitude when dealing with negative conversations with clients. And if we can’t handle verbal negativism from a client, then maybe we should set ourselves free to find work in another vocation.
Customer service, by and large, has gotten sloppy and downright non-existent. Here are a few examples:
I was in a bank recently drawing some funds out of my account for a purchase. The teller was very courteous and attentive to my need for the transaction, and she was moving through it efficiently. As I am waiting, I note the teller at the drive-through. No one had pulled up for assistance, so she was sitting at the window, popping her chewing gum, and looking very attentively at her cell phone, obviously flipping through some social media or text conversations. You might say, “Why not?” After all, she had no customers in front of her.
I am here to tell you that good customer service goes beyond the customer in front of you. Every second you are in front of the public as a public servant should be represented professionally. If there is a client within eyeshot or earshot, your behavior should portray the integrity of your profession. She was not directly engaging a client, but I and other people there to do business were near her. And the message she communicated through her actions? “Welcome to our bank. We have a gum-popping good time, and we always stay in touch with our buds. At our bank, you come second.” Probably not the image her bosses at a financial institution would want their clients or even her coworkers to come away with.
You see, customer service acumen extends into your work team. Many times, employees assume that they owe courteous behavior to the client, but they do not feel the same about the person who works beside them. “I am here to draw a paycheck, not to make friends.” That may work if you’re a lifeguard, but that is about it. Most jobs require cooperation and teamwork for the work to be done with excellence. Owners, managers, and companies who subscribe to a silo mentality, where workers are encouraged to work within a box and to “stay only in their lanes” have sacrificed morale and productivity to that stricture. Personally, I like as many heads in the game on my projects as I may possibly get. I want old and young, traditional and liberal, tried/true, and new/innovative. Those are just a few important ingredients for success. And a fun, functioning team will outperform a gloomy, siloed-up disorganization every time.
I mentioned fast-food restaurants a moment ago. At their drive-through window, they have installed a recorded message that says “Welcome to (our restaurant), where you rule every day. Go ahead with your order.” Kinda neat and makes you feel good, right? Me too. But…having been through a few of the restaurants drive-through’s at different locations, I have experienced that message being followed by the live order taker saying, “We will be with you shortly”, “Hold on and we will be with you” or I hear a pause so I answer the automated voice with my order and moments later get, “Now what was your order again?” And many times, going through those drive-throughs you can forget that you are ruling because the tone and facial expression don’t always represent their happiness with your kingdom. Some look downright mad that you are there. And, finally, there is nothing more frustrating to a ruler than leaving the restaurant, driving miles to your home, and sitting down to your fast-food feast, only to find that half of your order is missing or instead of the big cheeseburger that you ordered is actually that scorching-hot pepper burger that the doctor said your tender bowels would not be able to tolerate.
Some company managers have settled for “sweet-talk” training instead of true customer service training. I am not sure if it is a function of not having enough time or even if it is giving in to a certain segment of the work culture, but true public service has been replaced with “sorry honey” and if the interactions go for long, you will get, “I am sorry but that is all we can do” (even if they haven’t done anything to resolve the situation). Accountability to the customer has been replaced with platitudes.
Either by choice, necessity, or a combination of the two, companies are working with several fewer workers than they had before the pandemic struck. There are still restaurant dining rooms that are either closed or have reduced capacity due to a lack of cooks and wait staff. Automotive repair shops have arm-long waiting lists, as do dentists, doctors, etc. Try to book a dental cleaning and you could be looking at a three to six-month wait. I feel like telling them that hey, I am on the tail end of life here, I really don’t have time to wait. But I know many of you share the same boat and so I patiently wait my turn. Just another compromise in life.
From parcel delivery workers not taking the time to bring your package to your office (laying them in a common area of the building and checking them off as delivered to you) to companies misrepresenting their products, saying and showing pictures implying the item is as big as a watermelon, but when you order it and it arrives, it is actually as big as a peach pit (this happened to me on a recent drone shipment, long and ugly story), customer service just isn’t what it used to be.
Even store owners are losing touch with customer service norms. A widely common practice among business owners is posting restrictive signs. In some store fronts, there is more signage prohibiting prospective customers than inviting them in. At one local business, I found several handwritten and factory produced signs; Two security company signs, letting people know that they are not to be trusted and are being watched, a note to keep your bodily functions in check unless you buy something (“Restrooms for Customers Only” or “No Public Restroom”), a note requiring people with children under twelve-years-old to “accompany them at all times”, and don’t be caught eating food while you are in their establishment. Two other signs communicate exactly what the owner thinks about, and it is not the customer. “Ask about Financing” and what bankcards we take signs let the prospective customer know that it is all about the Benjamins. Do you really need customers if you put up more signs on your front door to deter people from coming in than making efforts to make prospective customers feel welcome?
And before your britches get all bunched up, I know that not all workers are poor purveyors of customer service. There are those who continue to go the extra mile and present themselves professionally, that check the order before they hand it to you, and that make every effort to provide quick and courteous service. Thank you for being there and setting an example. I just wish more of your coworkers would follow your lead and more owners and managers would insist on your behavior as the standard and not the exception.