True tales of customer service


You've probably seen her at the restaurant: that waitress who can't seem to do anything right. Why, the last time you were there, you had to wait an hour for a table. It took another forty-five minutes for your food, and when it arrived, the waitress had forgotten the ketchup. Plus, while the waitress was nice enough, she couldn't keep your drinks filled. You were furious and your evening was ruined.

However, let's rewind and re-evaluate that restaurant visit. You could tell that they were busy when you arrived and saw the full parking lot. Waiting an hour to be seated was not the fault of the wait staff but a by-product of the Friday-night dinner rush, as was the food taking so long to come from the kitchen. "Forgetting the ketchup" was actually a case of "no one at the table ordered fries or anything that typically gets served with ketchup." (How could she have known that you wanted ketchup for your beans?) And as for the drinks not being refilled, well, the waitress is human and gets overwhelmed - or just plain messes up - just like the rest of us do. Certainly, it wasn't the dining experience you'd hoped for, but getting angry didn't help matters at all. If you had been a little more patient, you probably would've found the evening considerably more pleasant.

The players change, but it's the same old story, and it plays out thousands of times a day. Whether it's your waiter, your coworker, or your friend, miscommunications will happen, people will fail to meet your expectations, and circumstances will try your patience. You simply can't eliminate every problem. What you can do is choose how you will respond.

What Not To Do

Don't be like these guys. Don't become website fodder!

A fellow server, Cathy, told me that a couple had come in for dessert, and they ordered blackberry cobbler. When she told them we were momentarily out, the man slammed his hand on the table and shouted, "That's the only reason we came here!" He then pulled his wife out of her seat and toward the door. Cathy thought he was kidding at first. (He wasn't.)

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Spare the Tongue and Save the Crow*

* That is, the crow you'll have to eat later. Avoid that sinking, sheepish feeling you get when you mouth off only to be proven completely and utterly wrong.

While selecting the vegetables with her entree, a woman ordered the boiled cabbage. That wasn't available, so I told her, "Today we have lima beans." Trying to be very sarcastic (and thinking me very ignorant, no doubt), she declared, "It says right here Sunday's vegetable of the day is boiled cabbage." I responded as politely as possible with, "Today's Saturday."

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Did you know...?

Could it be that some people are unfamiliar with the finer points of the laws of the universe? For example...

I was waiting on a grandmother, her daughter, and the daughter's toddler son. They ordered macaroni and cheese for the son; I told them that we only had mac and cheese on Wednesday. Upon hearing that, both the mother and grandmother put their elbows on the table and put their forehead on their hand. (Talk about drama queens! It's not as if I said we were out of chocolate.) They took the menu and very solemnly asked the little boy what he wanted. Without the fuss the ladies were apparently expecting, he chose something else.

» Lesson Learned: sometimes you have to pick another vegetable.

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Honorable Mention

Because some people do get it right!

I was living away from home for the first time, and I stopped for a few groceries at a store near my apartment. I selected my few items and headed for the checkout. When it came my time to pay, the cashier greeted me with a friendly and familiar, "Hey, girl." I was truly touched; I'd only been there maybe twice. Kindness from a stranger can really make a lonely student's day.

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In a perfect world, restaurants would never be understaffed, stores would never run out of things, every product would work perfectly, and everyone we know would say and do the right things. Alas, ours is not a perfect world. Bad things really do happen -- and no one is saying that you should suffer in silence. However, in light of these examples, maybe you'll agree that there is a right way and a wrong way to respond. Whether it's correcting a mistake in your order at a restaurant or clearing up confusion with a co-worker, sarcasm, attitude, and hissy fits only break down communication. So next time, why not try some patience and respect? What have you got to lose?

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