There is a real customer service problem in this culture. Service workers hate the customers they are serving, and as a result, give them terrible service. Rude attitudes, poor communication, inattention to detail and delivery of inferior product make it clear that the person who is supposed to be helping you is not interested in helping you at all. They are only there for the paycheck, and to get a paycheck they just have to show up and clock in and be a body. But where is the spirit of service?
Last night I went to what used to be my favorite grocery store, for the last time, after the third negative experience with them within a month. The first time I brought home a packaged salad greens mix which turned out to be slimy. The second time I brought home a package of raw cashews, supposedly good for another six months – when I opened them they were rancid.
These are minor items, but they are also a quality control issue, and unfortunately they are not the only instances I’ve experienced there. It’s actually happened quite a lot over the years – the berries turn out to be moldy or the peaches shrivel and never ripen.
In the past I was willing to just let it go, thinking it’s probably too much for their staff to keep tabs on it all. Then I started bringing the spoiled food back, thinking it would at least help them to know about it, so they could pull it from their shelves and prevent other people from buying it. I also really hated to waste money on spoiled produce, which is really too expensive to just write off. It was $8.51 for that box of rancid cashews. Am I just supposed to lose that?
Sometimes it does feel like that. For all I know, they don’t pull the spoiled product from their shelves – maybe they *want* people to keep buying it, knowing that most people aren’t going to bother returning it. If the store doesn’t sell it, then the store loses, so better to push those losses onto the customer, right?
Where is the spirit of service?
Last night was the last straw. I went to happy hour at the store’s tavern, a pint of craft brew and an artisan slice for $6. Maybe I shouldn’t have been doing that in the first place, it’s not in line with my health goals, which are necessary to achieve my life goals, but sometimes I still like to think I can do normal things, just have a pizza and beer while I am composing my grocery list. It seemed like a nice idea.
Apparently that really isn’t allowed though, because I felt sick all night after. Or maybe I felt sick because of the bad vibes from the service worker, from the moment I arrived at the counter. He delayed acknowledging me, even though he wasn’t doing anything else. He seemed like he didn’t know what I was talking about when I mentioned happy hour. When I told him what I wanted, he brought a sample of it instead of a pint, and then proceeded to wait on the next person in line – who was also an employee. He had to be reminded to ring up the employee discount for that guy (yes, it was another employee that was cutting me off, why am i not surprised). I waited through that, then when it was finally my turn again, I too had to coach him how to ring up the items correctly.
First he rang up just the pint at full price. I mentioned the happy hour thing, so he took a dollar off. I asked if that included the pizza (which is what the happy hour thing is – a pint and a slice), oh no, then rang up a slice at full price. I asked why the total was so high, it’s supposed to be $6 for both, he then said it was tax! Even though I could see how he rang up the items on the screen. I am slow at math, but I knew it wasn’t “tax”, unless it’s a stupidity tax. Finally he got a woman who may have been a manager to ring it up instead, correctly, though she looked just as annoyed. He also motioned to throw away my receipt, which I had to further correct him by taking it from him – I would need something on my side in case the next employee, who would be getting my pizza, turned out to be just as uncooperative. Indeed he was almost as rude as the beer guy, and i finally rushed away to find a seat.
The things tasted good, but at that point, enjoyment was gone. It was not a happy hour (or ten minutes) at all.
I briefly considered sending a message to management about what I experienced, but something these “I want to talk to the manager” people don’t realize is that the manager is just as bad. It’s one place where the playing field is level, and manager and employee are equals – they all talk shit about the customers. The manager hates the customer just as much as the counter service person does. Attitudes are contagious in a culture. This is a company culture problem, and its epidemic in corporate America.
I don’t know why it’s allowed. Even though they are a local, family owned grocer, business has really boomed in the past ten years. They’ve expanded the store with many additional more, including the tavern. So maybe they are just too big. Maybe they are just hiring whoever will show up, whoever needs the paycheck, regardless of whether they actually earn it by providing good service. Or maybe the company doesn’t treat employees any better than the customers. Maybe they have lost sight of the customers as people, and now just see them as a sea of faces (and dollar signs). Maybe they don’t notice losing one or two.
Because they have lost me. I don’t know how much money I have spent there over the years, certainly thousands, and I was happy to. It’s such a quirky cute store – colorful painted murals on the walls, a greenhouse full of flowers when you first walk in. Mexican stockboys who sang “you are so beautiful” once when I was drifting through the produce aisles late one night. It’s close to my house, too. I didn’t mind if all that meant sometimes I also had to wait ten minutes at the chocolate counter before someone showed up to help me. It was just one slightly annoying quirk of an otherwise delightfully quirky store.
But seriously, that guy was an asshole, and there’s no accountability for it. The manager only bothered enough to ring up the transaction correctly, but she wasn’t any nicer about it than he was.
And you know what, I get it. It’s Monday at 5, and they’re still at work. They don’t want to be there, it’s no one’s dream job, it’s not even an ideal job. They are there because it’s what they have to do to make money, to get by, but their heart isn’t in it. In that way, the economic system is a disservice to them, so no wonder they pass on the disservice to those on the other side of the counter.
We are all service workers in some capacity, whether we are serving customers in the public or private business clients – whoever we interact with and exchange with, we are providing a service to them, for which we are paid. That is part of the system we live in. The challenge is to really embody the spirit of service – to be treated the way you would like to be treated – not only because your life depends on it, but also your LIFE. We are all customers too; the customer is *you*.
This world is all about give and take, finding balance between the opposite polarities. The yin-yang – but they are mirrors of each other, and together they are one whole cycle. And even though it may seem like the customer has the power, “the customer is always right”, because they have the money, in reality the service worker has the power, too.
Oftentimes the reason a customer is irate is because the service is poor. The customer feels uncared for, or worse yet, ripped off. This is usually due to a simple miscommunication, but it really can be true that the service worker just doesn’t care and has let the ball drop. At that point, some motivation for caring has to be infused into the service worker, before it turns into a vicious cycle, where the customer reports on the bad service, fueling the employee’s hatred of the customer and giving even worse service in response.
The bigger a company gets, the greater the chance of this happening, as the people working with customers are now employees who are not personally invested. The company I work at now started very small and personal, and had a personal connection to everyone they did business with. That’s why people liked them, and the company grew.
But then, the personal connection was dropped. In fact the company just changed its name to something generic, losing the personal name that was part of whay attracted people in the first place. There are now many employees, and not everyone shares the same values. But those values are key. They are what built the business in the first place. A business is not in business without customers. Making your customer’s day better is going to make your day better too.
I work the phones in customer service, and people are always remarking how good I am at it, and I always joke in my head, “it’s because I have phone sex with them.” No really though, i become one with them. When they call, they know they have someone here who’s on their side. I’m listening to them – sometimes for very lengthy diatribes, though not often. But I will listen. I also respond in a way that inspires confidence. I speak with an authoritative, yet bright and friendly voice. They know they are going to be taken care of. I can feel their energy shift, when they start out angry and ready to launch an attack, and I’ve effectively disarmed them just with the right words and tone. I can hear their smile by the time we hang up, and they can go on with their day, and hopefully it’s a bit better. That ripples out into the world.
That is what I enjoy, that is the pleasure of giving good service.
And what a pleasure it is to receive, too.
For example, I also got pizza for lunch today, opting to walk around the corner instead of driving home like i usually do. With another polar vortex obliterating the roads and a mild hangover, it wasn’t a hard sell. Especially when i walked in to Russo’s and it was staffed by a guy who has always been friendly to me. A chat about the roads, and i had to correct him too on my order (this must be a test for me to speak up) but it was nbd. When i was leaving he called me “honey”.
I loved it. And i loved every bite of that pizza. I felt good again. I was more than just another customer to him. He definitely didn’t hate me.
I wondered if maybe the rude worker last night was secretly doing a service to me, by scaring me away so that I never return, because pizza and beer are not in alignment with my life goals. Maybe. That’s how I’m taking it anyway, to get to the next level.
I’ve decided to start going to Harvest Health for all my groceries from now on instead. It’s more expensive, but it’s also all organic. It’s still local and small, and I’ve just moved into a house that’s closer to it.
Best of all, there’s a cashier there that is always laughing at me. I think it’s because the first time he saw me is when I tripped walking through the door. He hasn’t stopped laughing since. But you know what… it makes me laugh too. Last time i asked him what’s so funny and he said he’s just smiling. That’s good, i smiled too.
I’ll pay extra for that. ❤