Customer service crank

I’d generally consider myself a patient man, but one of the things that makes me cranky is customer service that doesn’t live up to expectations.

I don’t expect shopkeepers to grovel to me or anything, but I do expect them to at least attempt to make my shopping experience as smooth as possible — or if they can’t do that, then at least recognise that things aren’t going as well as they should be.

My sister keeps recommending a particular local greengrocer, so I went there last night after getting off the train. It was on my way, and I was in a hurry. I wanted spinach leaves (about the only “greens” the kids will eat without question) and a bag of carrots.

What I expected: To be able to find what I wanted quickly and easily.
What I got: No problems, found them easily.

Being after 5pm, it probably wasn’t their peak time. Of the four registers, only one was in use.

What I expected: If a queue developed and more staff were available, they’d open another register.
What I got: A customer with a fair amount of stuff was in front of me, and the lady was moving slowly through it, continually querying the price (“Was this from inside, or outside?”) Other staff members were standing around doing nothing. Maybe they were hanging out for home time. Another customer behind me asked if they could open another register. Grudgingly, it seemed, they did.

I should have switched queues, of course. But others jumped over before me, and soon there was another customer buying a fair bit of stuff who I’d have to wait behind, so I stayed put. The lady had finished tallying up the items for the guy in front of me, and he gave her his card. He had to tell her twice that he wanted it on Credit. She wrestled with the card machine, and it spluttered forth a tangled receipt. She called to someone else to see if it was all right, and the receipt was taken for examination.

What I expected: While we waited, that either she or another staff member would offer to ring up my items on another till, such as the one right next to her.
What I got: I stood there. She stood there. The other customer stood there. After half a minute I asked if she could use the other till so I could pay. A light went on, and she realised that would be a good idea, and she did so.

My items came to $2.80. I handed over a $5 note. She scrabbled around in the till, and, finding no bigger coins, starting counting out 20 cent coins.

What I expected: Some kind of acknowledgement that she was weighing me up with my bodyweight in silver. Seriously, the people in most other shops that I’ve encountered always apologise if they’re giving you a lot of coins.
What I got: 11 x 20 cent coins to stuff into my pocket. No acknowledgement.

And I was on my way.

Was it bad service? Perhaps more like mediocre service. None of it seemed malicious, but it was neglectful enough to ensure that given the choice I’ll go to one of the other local greengrocers in future.

Which is a shame. None of this is rocket science. It just takes a little vigilance to see when there’s a problem, and fix it if possible — rather than having it pointed out to you by your customers.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

20 replies on “Customer service crank”

I’m with you on customer service, Daniel. Tho having high standards and expectations is probably just a route to increased stress that we could (both) do without? :-)

I think that some folks working in the service industry do not realise that that is what they do, provide a service to others. I think that some may just see it as a job. Possibly a not very well paid and tiring one. And one that does not required shows of initiative.

Apparently it’s hard to get good staff these days. Imagine what it must be like in WA!! :-)

That’s the problem with recommendations. Often you don’t get the same experience as the recommender. Years ago a friend of my wife’s spoke in glowing terms of a building company. We hired this building company to perform a major renovation and extension to our cal bung. What a nightmare it turned out to be. Shonky tradesmen, shonky supervisor (who was sacked whilst on our job) terrible customer relations, and on and on etc. I now have tradesman phobia. Every time I get a tradesman to do something it all turns pear-shaped. I’d rather not get stuff done.

At a bar the other week
Me: Can I get a light beer and a vodka lime and soda?
Bar chick: Would you like a pot or a stubby?
M: Stubby
B: Sorry, we’re out of stubbies
M: Pot then
B: Fresh lime in your vodka?
M: Sure
B: Is cordial ok? We don’t have any fresh lime

Also, I spent an hour on the platform at Southern Cross last Friday evening waiting for a Frankston train. Absolutely no announcements or anything. I was having a grumble to myself, wondering what Daniel Bowen would say if he were here, and lo and behold, you walked past me right at that moment.

Peter, for what it’s worth, the quality of the produce was fine.

Liz, I was grumbling about the trains. Got there in time for the 6:15, but didn’t get away until at least 20 mins later. But why didn’t you say hello?

Sadly poor service is becoming the expected norm and those who give customers poor service expect nothing better when a customer themselves.
It’s like they’ve been dumbed down to know and expect nothing better.

I’ve just spent 10 mins and counting) with the phone stuck to my ear waiting for someone at Officew#&ks to tell me whether they have a certain printer in stock. Gave up on the Doncaster branch after 7 minutes and now waiting on Nunawading.

Apparently I’m waiting for someone in technology on the shop floor to take the call. How come no-one can just check the code from their retail system? I looked it up on the internet from their website. But I don’t get to ask that question because the receptionist knows/has only one way to deal with the enquiry.

At last – call was answered. Phew.

I live in ‘the customer is god’ land. Service is nearly always at a very high standard, and the manner in which you are spoken to is rarely less than extremely polite. This is a place where the checkout gals bow to you after you purchase something, and McD’s staff cup your hand as they pass over change.

However, sometimes this faultlessly mannered approach drives you a bit batty as it is enforced by management to a ‘T’ and can be very robotic and forced. And try engaging in chitchat with the staff – they are flabbergasted when someone ‘breaks script’ and actually talks about something! This type of exhcnge is not in the manual and gets the staff flustered. I have to admit, many Japanese customers do not say *anything* to the staff – no please, thank you etc – but they would be furious if the staff did’t grovel to their every whim.

So, when I’m back in Aus I truly enjoy a genuine ‘how are you today’ from a cashier, and I love having unrehearsed banter with someone in a shop. However, surly service is far more the norm back in Aus, and there are times that I really wonder how people can work in a store/shop etc with such a poor attitude.

Subway Staff: Do you want pickles with that?
Alter-ego: Sorry. Do I appear to be brain damaged?
SS: What?
AE: Is there any clue that suggests I’m unable to ask for pickles even if I wanted one?
SS: What?
AE: If you keep saying that this conversation is going to be very boring…

I wouldn’t say that, because I’m not THAT rude…but I’m typically impatient and having seen the best in efficiency in Japan, Australia just seems so slow; so far behind!

The sad reality is that… well… there are some people in this world who are just not very bright. Remember, by definition, half the population is of below average intelligence :)

I’ve worked in retail (casual for about 8 years all up) so I am a fairly understanding customer. If something is not the salespersons fault, and is out of their control, fair enough. But if they don’t acknowledge (and as has happened a couple of times, go so far as pretending everything is a-ok) then I am definitely not going to accept it…

I believe both the store and the customer can walk away happy – neither party needs to *screw* the other… just need a fair and respectful exchange.

Unfortunately there are not many shops (or indeed customers!) that agree!

Also, to follow up on Reuben’s comment, I hate how at Oporto, when you ask for a Bondi Burger, they ask if you want chilli. WTF? The Bondi burger by definition HAS chilli! If I didn’t want chilli, I’d ask for a Norm burger!

anyway, what do you do?

I had an appalling and then threatining experience at Blackburn Nissan this past Saturday. I will try to make a long story short. I saw a used 2007 X-Trail I wanted to test drive. The salesman said to wait inside for him and that I needed a $1,000 deposit to test the car. Inside he tells me that it is non refundable even if I don’t like and don’t buy the car. I told him in America one can drive ten cars and it will cost nothing, only a valid license needs to be provided. He said “well here it would cost ten grand”. I asked is this only done at this dealership or is this the norm in Australia. His reply was “this is how things are done here”.

I did really like this particular car with only 16,000 KM and would consider buying it after my home in Miami is sold this week but I was not about to make such an expensive commitment and I was really put off by such an outragious demand.

I was chatting with a Chinese couple who was also shopping previously while looking at the cars. I went back outside and mentioned to them the $1,000 deposit and how strange I thought it was etc. At that moment the other salesman who was helping them came storming up to me and demanded “stop talking to my customers” in a threating tone. I told him that they were not “his”, he did not own them and that I could talk to whoever I wanted to. He threatened again and seemed angry enough to hit me. I told him that I was a customer too and that if he continued I whold have a chat with his boss. He said “go ahead, he’s right there!” and he pointed to the salesman who had helped me. I told him that I was being threatened and his reply was oh? and something to the effect that this is how things are here. Perhaps they hate and try to scam foregin people like myself and the Chinese couple I spoke to.

As I walked away I told them quite angerly that they can be sure I would not be spending any money at this dealership and you just lost a sale!!

I then walked very angry and very bewildered back to the Blackburn train station.

I do want to report these two and so far I have called Nissan Australia customer service and the lady listened very nicely to me and said she could do nothing and gave me the phone number of the president of Blackburn Nissan. I don’t know if I should call him or contact a consumer protection agency. I have been in Australia only about 6 weeks I really don’t know the best thing to do and I am quite busy with a new job and looking for an apartment. Any suggestions??

Jed: I’d go with Daniel’s suggestion. You’ll probably be doing a favour for future customers at the dealership by reporting them.

And if you’re ever at Blackburn station again, there’s a nice French bakery there. :)

Daniel, Tony, thanks for the suggestions and the link. I will follow up on this. A call from a consumer group whold scare this Nissan dealership much more than a call from me with my American accent and perhaps(I sure hope!)these two salesmen would be fired. I find almost all Australians to be very friendly and very helpful. Bad people and bad experiences can be found anywhere. My application for the apartment was accepted today and I got the keys to my 1 bedroom place on Alma Rd. in St. Kilda East between Chapel St. and St Kilda Rd. I can WALK to work at Glick’s in about 15 minutes! (Thank you very much for the previous link to Glick’s as this is how I found the job.) Windsor station is a 12 minute or so walk. I can put buying the car off for a while and rent one to move and shop for my place. Daniel, if I remember correctly isn’t this the area where you lived when you were younger?

Good Jed; they don’t deserve to get away with that.

Great news about your job and flat. Yes, I grew up in East St Kilda, mostly on Hotham Street. Nice part of the world.

== vaughan Says:
== The sad reality is that… well… there are some
== people in this world who are just not very bright. == Remember, by definition, half the population is of
== below average intelligence.

Take 6 people, 2 have an IQ of 100 and 4 an IQ of 10.
On average they have 240/6 = an IQ of 40.
If only I were that one ‘IQ of 10’ person with a statistical average IQ over 40, I could have a reason to be sad for the 3 really intellectually challenged ones

Jed, you are lucky you got that far when trying to buy a car. Most dealerships that I walked into, I was completely ignored. Ended up buying a new car at Toyota in the city, as the gentleman there treated me like a informed customer, and not as the “invisiable woman”. So now I own a Toyota, which I love, but it was definately not my first choice, and definatley cheaper than I was prepared to pay. But making complaints to Holden, Ford, Nissan, Mitsubitsi made no difference, I never heard from them!

In Alice Springs we have a Kmart that likes to close down it’s registers at 5.40pm when the store is full of people & leave only 2 open that already have long lines into the specails aisles. The cash registers are, no kidding, the original registers that have an apopolexy everytime. They certainly aren’t from this century, or even the last 2 decades. The staff and surprisingly it’s the middle aged women that are the meanest and nastiest. Alice Springs across the board has THE worst customer service because it’s not like you can go elswhere for stuff easily.

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