What in the World has Happened to Customer Service?

What in the world has happened to customer service?

Customers are Ignoring You
Customers are Ignoring You (Photo credit: ronploof)

It used to be a high priority for the service industry to ensure that customers were satisfied with products and services in order to ensure they would come back.  Nowadays it seems that businesses have thrown away the mantra that the customer is always right and instead are content if each interaction between customer and customer service representative ended in conflict.I think customer service representative are going that extra mile to prove they are right, instead of taking a step back, hearing what the customer has to say – removing them if there is a scene being made – and resolving the issue.

In times of recession, especially now that we really have a global economy, it’s even more crucial for businesses to retain customers instead of trying to get more of them.

I have 2 recent examples of horrible customer service which I will outline, then I will describe how I feel it should have played out, according to my beliefs and experiences and according to how we were taught in graduate school.

Example 1)

I was standing in line at Old Navy in the Promenade mall with about 8 other people waiting to pay – there were two cashiers – and an obvious delay.  The manager arrived and suddenly the line went quiet to listen to an exchange that went something like this;

Manager: “What seems to be the problem?”

Customer: “I’m trying to return these items I bought at Old Navy in the States”.

Manager: “We don’t accept items bought in the United States!”

Customer: “When I bought them, I specifically asked if they could be returned or exchanged in Canada and the cashier said yes they could.”

Manager: “They can’t.  We don’t.  We cannot sell items bought in the US”

Customer: “Well, then can you please exchange them.”

Manager: “No.  It doesn’t matter if we take them back or exchange them, it still results in us taking in products which were bought in the US and we cannot sell them, so no, we cannot accept these items.”

Customer: “But I would not have bought them if I knew that was the case.”

Manager: “Well, they shouldn’t have told you that…”

Customer: “So you expect me to go back to the US to return these or leave the store with them and never come back?”

Manager: “You know.  I’ll take them this time only.  But items bought in the US can never be returned or exchanged in Canada.  They should not have told you that…”

Manager now walking away: “… and it says so on the bottom of the receipt!”.

So now after this played out in the store in front of a good 20 customers I wondered the following.

1) Would it have hurt for the manager to accept the items before irritating the customer and explaining that it is not policy to accept items from the US.

2) Once it escalated why didn’t the manager take the customer to a different station so as to not draw attention to this conflict.

3) Why was it necessary to add – when walking away – that it said so on the bottom of the receipt.  That was a low blow and very unnecessary.  Instead of having to prove herself right this manager should have ended with something along the lines of; “Sorry for the inconvenience”, or “Sorry for the misunderstanding”.

How many people in that line up left the store wondering if they should be coming back?  I’ll bet there was more than one of them and that is one too many when there is so much choice for the consumers dollar.

Example 2)

The Pickle Barrel at Yonge and Eglinton.

We had an early dinner with family and family friends at the Pickle Barrel and Berry and Linus really wanted the chicken fingers and fries.  (Since I know you wanted to know – Stewie ate an adult hamburger which he felt was overcooked, dry, and all his fries, his Grandpa’s egg and then his sister’s chicken fingers).

After a couple of bites of her first chicken finger, 2-year-old Berry held it up to her mummy and said, “spicy”.

We sluffed that off as meaning hot, as in temperature hot.

She took another bite, drank some water, ate her fries, nibbled a little more, then started peeling the batter off and trying to eat the chicken.

With 3 children, we assumed she was just playing, she was not complaining and we finished dinner.  We also saw that she ate very little so we figured we would have to feed her at home, as happens quite often with her and Linus.

But Linus, still hungry, wanted to finish her food, and he took one bite and said, “Wow.  This is spicy”.

I took a bite and my wife took a bite and were overwhelmed with the taste of black pepper and the longer the food was in my mouth the spicier it got.

Whew!  My tongue was tingling.

We called over the manager, and explained to her that we did not feel that chicken fingers from the children’s menu should be laced with black pepper and we asked her to remove these items from our bill.

The first thing out of her mouth was “I’m sorry”, which we appreciate, but then she said, “I’m not sure I understand.  No other kids complained that they were spicy and none of the other orders of chicken fingers were returned tonight.”

I think she was calling us liars…

“You can go to the kitchen and try one for yourself”, I said.

“Well, I will go back and talk to the chef”, she said.

“And take it off our bill” my wife reminded her.

Here’s my issue here…

We told her they were super peppery and that the kids couldn’t eat them, and that we tried it too, so we had 5 people taste these and they were still sitting on the plate.  It’s not like we were making this up and yes, she should have taken away the plate without question, brought it into the kitchen and asked the Chef to try it before passing judgement.  She was apologetic, but too little too late.  It left a very bad taste in our mouths, especially in light of the fact we told her we would need to feed the kids again as soon as we got home and they were exhausted and really needed to go to sleep.  She dismissed that and wanted to make the point that no one else returned their chicken fingers.

The whole concept of customer service is to provide the best possible service to your customers so they will return, tell others and tip well.  IT’s getting lost on people in the service industry who do not know how their actions impact the organization as a whole.  If each person in a customer service role were able to see the dollars attached to their actions they might react differently, I believe.

This hits home to me, as I personally feel giving quality customer service is one of the most important things an organization can do to stand out from their competitors.   I often find there is a fine line between explaining and making excuses and when someone is asking you to explain your decision or actions they cannot accuse you of making excuses.  Making excuses is telling a customer that the other store should not have told you that information or that no one else returned their chicken fingers.  Explaining is what customers are asking of customer service representatives when they are met with resistance trying to do what should be a normal transaction.

I recall many years ago making a decision on how to solve a problem dealing with the government and my manager asked me to explain why I took the path I did, and I began to explain in detail what I was thinking.  I was interrupted and asked why I was making excuses, when in fact I was just responding to the question about how I came to this thought process.  Yes, I admit the desired actions were not met, and I was hoping that by explaining my thought process that I would learn a different way and succeed on my future attempts.  If I were making excuses I would be blaming others and not takingresponsibility for my actions.

All I wanted was to provide the best customer service possible… Something I think is a lost art nowadays.

How do you feel about customer service?  Does exceptional customer service change your mind about an organization.  Does it even exist?


4 thoughts on “What in the World has Happened to Customer Service?

  1. Rachel July 29, 2012 / 11:03 pm

    Had a similar experience at a different Pickle Barrel. Server was more interested in being right than making the situation right. We wound up happy in the end and the attitude we were given cost the server approx $5 in tips. The manager did offer the proper customer service, though.


    • Urban Daddy July 29, 2012 / 11:21 pm

      Hi Dan,

      I just read that post about the boots. That was an example of fantastic customer service! It is out there.,.. :O


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