Saturday, February 28, 2009

How may I provide you with excellent service?

Though not yet extinct, exemplary service is irrefutably waning. With less to spend than ever before, I find service more often than price to be my determining factor in where those greenbacks end up. Regardless of the great deals offered, I will not shop at a store that employs obtuse amotivated drones, standard issue for stores that make me feel as though I need to don a trench coat and sunglasses before entering, lest I bump into anyone I know. Though I like to think of myself as an egalitarian, I am decidedly snobbish on this issue. Wait, I guess that's issues, as I am dissing both obtuse amotivated drones and cheesy discount stores.

Working in hospitality my entire life so far, I'm critical when it comes to service expectations. My response to bad service is less based on the degree of the infraction, rather it varies greatly depending on fluctuating hormone levels, fiscal balances, and food and alcohol consumption. In most cases I'll look stern but keep my mouth shut, at least as long as I can. For example, a scenario which I encounter frequently is when a cashier of some sort does not greet you, nor sometimes even look at you, until it's time to announce the fees due. If I've managed to keep my mouth shut until that point, I'll pay up and with as much exaggerated saccharin sweetness as I can muster chirp off "Have a great day!" brandishing a wide, forced grin. I'm sure the lesson is lost on most, and I just end up looking look like a crazy person.

I've never been what you'd call an extremely patient person, but it wasn't until about 7-8 years ago that I began to inwardly boil on this issue. Though I'm sure it wasn't the first occurrence, I mark the beginning of my 'Albert Finney ala Network' exasperation with inferior service with 'that Burger King experience.' My two kids and I approached the counter. "Hello" I said. Still she said nothing. "Here's the part where you say hi back" I said. Still she said nothing, though she did shift her weight to her other hip. I placed my order and paid my money, but vowed to voice my displeasure with bad service going forward, much to my children's chagrin. I think that might have been the first time they murmured to me "we'll be in the car." Perhaps that's why it's my kind of poor service talisman.

My daughter says I care about such things because I'm turning into an old person. She offers as her evidence my recent mumbled whispering of an expletive rather than my characteristic firecracker volley. I tell her that it was because "it was only 7:30 in the morning and I really try to hold off on the F word until at least 9." I tell her that good service is a combination of courtesy, common sense and a true desire to want to help people, that it has nothing to do with my age. "Really mom, only people your age or older care." I go on a verbal rampage about the loss of civility, blaming it on a mulitude of things - cell phones, crackberries, drugs, guns, materialism, computers, trash TV, internet porn, your basic old person social diatribe. She rolls her eyes and leaves the room to go check her MySpace page for the third time in a day. Once again I'm reminded of my favorite line in Ferris Bueller's Day Off - I weep for the future.

For Your Consideration - my most recent brushes with horrific service.

A sale at PetCo went something like this. "Hi, how are you?" I said. "Well, I'm here, aren't I?" she replied, taking a long drag off her soda through a straw. "Well, at least you're working" I said. "Yeah, well I'd rather be somewhere else" she said. She dropped her soda. "Crap!" she cried and bent over a microphone to call for 'clean up up front' and went back to taking my money, looking more disgruntled than previously.

When shopping for jeans at Macy's I asked the girl if she had any recommendations. "I usually wear Lucky's, but would like to try another brand" I told her. "Not too low, not too high." She walked me over to a table laden with dark ring spun designer jeans. "Well this is a popular brand with ladies" (meaning old, I reckon). "They fall below the waist, but aren't real low, nobody will see your coin slot or anything." I stood silently trying to decipher what she had just said. Believe it or not, I hadn't heard the term, but now it made sense, the time I'd seen a gal sitting in the bleachers ahead of me at a basketball game displaying her butt crack when someone behind me had said "wish I had a quarter." The Macy's girl must have registered my look of shock as the realization of what she meant occurred to me. "Oh sorry" she said. "Yeah, you probably shouldn't use that kind of terminology with someone whose old enough to be your mother, it's not very professional."

I called the John Ash Restaurant to inquire about the dress code for some people I was making a reservation for. "Oh you know, it's wine country casual" the man who answered the phone said. "So long as the men aren't in sideways ball caps and the women in hoochie momma shorts or belly shirts, I'm sure they'll be fine." This is John Ash we're talking about. Not Tex-Wasabi, not Applebee's, John Ash. Mucho inappropriato.

I walked through Tiffany's San Francisco in search of their repair department. I came upon a solitary woman reading a ledger in what I surmised was the engagement ring arena. She took a full minute before she looked up to address me with haughty disdain. "Where is your repair department located?" I asked her nicely. "Up the stairs, to the back left" she replied brusquely and immediately went back to her ledger. As in The Two Mrs. Grenville's - NOCD, Not our class darling...

I'm not suggesting that all people who work in the service business use overtly obsequious albeit insincere pat phrases they've been coached into reflexively delivering such as 'my pleasure to connect you' when transferring a call, but for goodness sake, if you don't like people, go get a job where you don't need to be hospitable, like in some nice factory.

The antithesis of these experiences can be just as bad. While dining at the French Laundry every time I took a sip or two of water some neatly dressed man in the wings would quietly scuttle up, fill my glass again to the top, and scuttle back. Don't hover! I wanted to shout. If I want you to come to the table, I'll let you know. Meanwhile, buzz off busboy! Spoken like a true egalitarian.


  1. Found your blog today. I love it!

    Coming from the hospitality industry also, we are the same in this school of thought. I won't stand by either and just not say anything. I've been known to embarrass my entire family.

    Co-workers deep into converstation. "Hate to interrupt your important coversation but could we get some help here."

    CSR just standing around when I know they see that I need help. "Are you on the clock? Then let's come and do our job. Shall we? Thanks."

    Hateful or attitudey CSR. "Well I certainly hate to be an inconvenience by requiring you to do your job, and all."

    I'm highly confrontational, except at restaurants. I don't want anyone spitting in my food!

  2. Summer,
    Totally agree with you on the restaurant thing. I worked in restaurants for years, so I know. I never did anything, but saw folks who did, ew...

    Thanks for reading. Love your blog, too!