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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Customer Service Rant

And now...for the "completely lost my Zen" portion of my day. If you haven't read the previous post, you should. Or maybe it would be a better idea to read it afterward, to purge your mind of all of the vitriol I'm about to spew, so you won't get up from the computer and kick the dog or something.

After we returned from the zoo and my darling husband arrived home from work, we drove to Max & Erma's (McMurray location) to meet my mother for our birthday dinner. (Hubby's big day was last week and she's all about efficiency, which I love about her.) It was fine. The menu was significantly smaller than I remember, but then I haven't been to a Max & Erma's in almost 7 years, so that's hardly surprising. The food was good, our waitress and her trainee were pleasant and competent, and the kids totally loved the build-your-own-sundae bar.


My younger stepson had ordered a meal that included a big cookie. Since he was also ordering the sundae bar, he asked to have his cookie "to go". No problem; they delivered it in a takeout container. Some time later, we actually placed our order for dessert and went up to the bar to start building our dream sundaes. When we returned to the table, it had been bussed. Well, mostly. The busperson had taken all of the full drinks and the cookie box, but left the empty glasses and a bowl of barely-touched soup. Weird. At any rate, the cookie was gone.

When our waitress returned with the check, I informed her of the error. After all, we had *paid* for this cookie and certainly intended to enjoy it at some point. She went white, and dashed to the back to see what she could do. When she returned with our receipt, she apologized and handed me a gift card for six free cookies.

If I stop the story there, it sounds awesome. But wait! There's fine print!

The gift card was for a free half-dozen of cookies "with purchase of a dinner entree".

Are you feeling what I'm saying, here?

So wait. Let me get this straight. You're going to fix the problem of "I paid for a cookie and yet do not have that cookie" with "We'll replace the cookie you already paid for (and give you five more cookies) if and when you buy more stuff."

That is not fixing the problem that I have today. All I want is the one cookie that I paid for, today. And without having to give you even more money for the aggravation.

At this point, my husband started the "let's lighten up" uncomfortable laugh and said helpful things like, "It's just a cookie!". No. It wasn't. It was the principle of the matter, and as both a consumer and a person with a working brain, I was offended. Do not pretend to address a problem that you caused by offering me a conditional solution at literal expense to me. What do I look like, an idiot?

So now I was annoyed with two people: the busperson, and the manager. I am certain that even if the manager wasn't the one to make the direct decision on this specific incident, (s)he is surely the one who gave that to the staff as their option for customer service. And it's bullshit.

After some ranting to my family (and a refusal to short the tip, because none of this appeared to be within the server's control), I decided to beat them at their own game. I went up to the front desk and explained that I had already purchased SIX dinner entrees tonight, and wanted my cookie card redeemed now. Naturally, I got the run-around. "Well, can't you just get them next time?" By this point, I was so fired up with righteous indignation that I just started lying. No, I am from out of town. "Isn't there a Max & Erma's near you?" (Whew--regional loophole!) No, I am from out of state. "Well, we'll have to put some in the oven, if you don't mind waiting..."

Fine, I will wait.


Still waiting. (These are TollHouse style, folks. 10 minutes in the oven. And I'm sure theirs come from a tube, but even given mixing time, we're way over estimate. And no, they were not at all busy.) The hostess has asked me three times if I need to be seated. Seeing how there were NO other customers in the waiting area, one might expect that she'd remember that she'd spoken to me before. Several times. But no. I finally chased down the staff member who had promised to fetch the cookies and she gasped, "Oh! I forgot!"

No! Really?

She brought out the box of warm cookies and offered a half-hearted apology and damn it, yes, I snapped at her. And she got all lippy with me. And the details of THAT don't matter at this point.

Nor do the stupid cookies, which despite the yummy aroma I refused to try, as the Pyrrhic victory had already soured in my mouth.

The point is...well, it's still my original point. If you (or your staff) screw up and it results in an unhappy customer, you should try to make that customer NOT unhappy. Because even if they never come back to your store (and let's dream of future earnings and build that relationship!), they have the power of word-of-mouth. And unhappy customers talk a LOT more about their experiences than happy ones.

I understand the trick of offering a benefit to the customer that forces them to visit the store again. I do. I've worked in a service-type retail establishment, and it was encouraged because people are often so happy with their coupon or discount or whatever that you actually *do* ensure that future revenue, at least from one more visit. However. At Family Video (former employer)...if the "on your next visit" Band-Aid didn't satisfy the customer, staff members had the power and the latitude to offer a direct and immediate benefit instead. You don't want a free rental next week? Okay, I will take the extra time to void the transaction and refund your money right now. Because I want you to come back. And I don't want you walking out of here ranting to everyone in earshot about how you feel we screwed you.

THAT is good customer service. Not just for the customer, but for your place of business as well.


  1. its amazing how many managers of establishments do this kind of thing. I remember when I was a waitress at Applebees, I came to have dinner in my restaurant on a night I had off. It was kind of on the late side- like 10ish- but they were still open for another hour. And the manager working that night (who was a total dickhead and everyone thought so) starts giving me crap about coming in at that time. But here's the thing: yes, I was an employee- but I only got an employee discount when I was WORKING. So coming in when I was off meant I was a normal, paying customer. So, he starts giving me crap, and I walked right back out, telling him, fine, I will take my business elsewhere. I told basically everyone I knew- and they all stopped going there.

  2. Followed your link from your comment on my blog (and yes, the tutorial is coming soon, I promise!!) ...

    Back to your post - I would've been even more pissed and unforgiving than you. And I would've been mad at my husband too if he even dared to suggest "it is just a cookie." LOL! But that's me. I have no patience for stuff like this. Yes, mistakes happen. But something like this is easily fixed without too much bother on anyone's part.