True tales of customer service

Did you know... a question is typically asked to gain info that you lack?

One day, my boss emerged from the workroom, waving a piece of paper in her hand. She demanded, "Why do I keep getting these [error messages] when I try to send a fax? Is the paper loaded wrong?" (Knowing that boss, what she meant was, "What have you done to mess up the fax machine?"] I replied that since the error message - in her hand - said that there was No Answer, it means that the problem is on the other end and the fax machine she is trying to *send* to is Not Answering. Apparently determined to make it be a fault of mine that needed correcting, she immediately dismissed my solution with a, "No, that cannot be it." WHY does she even ask me when she is just going to argue with my response?!

» Lesson Learned: Sometimes people really do know what they're talking about.

Did you know... coffee isn't radioactive?

I would often carry the coffeepot around the restaurant's dining room and pour refills. Sometimes snooty customers would look condescendingly at me and reply, "I would like some more, but I'll need a fresh cup. This is cold." Their tone conveyed their accusation, "Because you brought me this cold coffee!" It is hot when served, but it isn't radioactive. While they sat and talked nonstop, the coffee cooled. I would have been happy to bring more, but must they sound so belligerent?

» Lesson Learned: I should not blame my server for the laws of thermodynamics.

Did you know... even so-called menial tasks deserve your attention?

One morning, I had received an email from the boss asking me to check some numbers in a report that the Human Resources guy had put together. I thought, "Gee, talk about pointless extra work. I mean, just how much double-checking do we need?" I briefly considered just saying, "It looks okay." But then I thought, "What if HR Guy or the boss deliberately put a mistake in just to see if I'd catch it?" So I skimmed over it, and indeed, there was a number that didn't match the ones I had. I wrote to tell the boss about the discrepancy, and the boss wrote back that it was a change he had made, but "Since you caught this, you passed the test with A grade." (Yes, that's exactly how he wrote it, too.) My initial reaction was to be angry that he'd resort to playing games like that, but at the same time I was*so* glad that I'd done the work.

» Lesson Learned: Even if the boss doesn't say it, you can bet that he's watching your work effort.

Did you know... it's not all about you?

While working as a bagger at a grocery store, my sister helped a lady carry groceries to the car. As they arrived at the car, the lady suddenly declared, "You don't say anything to me. I've been here before and you *never* say anything to me." What she said may well have been true, but how is anyone supposed to respond to such a confrontational statement? Obviously, this person doesn't understand that some of us are simply quiet people. And attacks such as that seem to justify keeping to one's self.

» Lesson Learned: I shouldn't take someone's silence personally. Other people do have things in their life besides me. (Hard to imagine as that may be.)

I've read in articles (and seen in real life) that there are certain orders servers dread simply because they take time to make. And while I do understand that - knowing from experience how those things can eat up precious minutes on a busy night - those things are also valid choices. While a handful of people are intentionally difficult, that's not the case when a customer sees hot tea (as one example of a Dreaded Order) on the menu, and says, "I'd like a hot tea, please." They just want a hot tea -- and whether the server feels like getting it should not be a factor in their decision.

» Lesson Learned: I shouldn't expect sympathy for having to work at work.

One of the training manuals for the restaurant where I worked dealt with customers who have special requests. The book (respectfully) referred to them as "finicky guests" and explained that they may have medical conditions or some other reason for requesting their food a certain way. I thought the best advice from that section - no matter what prompted the request - was, "Don't take the guests' behavior personally."

» Lesson Learned: Not every request is a complaint.

Did you know... people can't read your mind?

The man in line ahead of me at Wendy's ordered a plain hamburger for his wife. He took their order to the table and I moved up a step in line. Before my order was completed the lady brought that hamburger back and snapped, "I need some mustard or something for this *plain* hamburger." He ordered it plain! I thought it was beyond rude of that lady to act as if the store employees cheated her when the food was exactly as requested.

» Lesson Learned: My "plain" does not equal someone else's "mustard only."

My officemate was getting frustrated (again) with the amount of work he'd been assigned. Part of it involved having to type up a long list of questions to answer about a project. I suggested that he ask the secretary or the file clerk if they have time to help him with the typing. He immediately dismissed that by saying he doesn't have the authority to give them work to do. I reasoned, "What have you got to lose by asking? If they have time, I'm sure they'd be glad to help." As luck would have it, minutes later the file clerk arrived at our door to talk about the upcoming company picnic. OfficeMate says in a joking way, "Anne says you need to help me with this stuff." Understandably, the clerk is not at all clear what he's talking about, and he continues to skirt the real issue by rambling that he has to answer all these questions about a job. But he never actually asks her to help type them. The subject changes to the picnic, and she leaves. Then he grumbles to me, "What did I tell you? THAT went over well." I explained, "The way you said it, she thought you were kidding, like you tend to do about things."

» Lesson Learned: As Buffy once said, "A cry for help is when you say 'Help!' in a loud voice." But try asking first in a normal tone.

The boss, another co-worker, and I were involved in a project. The co-worker and I had summarized the details in a report, and the boss had reviewed our efforts and given me some feedback. However, as I listened later to the boss "explaining" to the employee, the boss was trying to be so nice that he wound up rambling a string of generic comments, and the co-worker was left clueless that his work needed specific improvements. Heck, I knew what the boss was trying to say, but it wasn't clear at all in the way it came out!

» Lesson Learned: By all means, be nice, but make an effort to communicate clearly if you want your words to be effective. (Feedback from a third party might be helpful.)

Did you know... seasonal merchandise is, by nature, for a limited time only?

An after-holiday experience at the card shop: This guy came in on December 30th and asked if we had any Christmas cards left. Well, before I go on, let me explain something: our boxed Christmas cards were on sale, but the individual cards don't go on sale. So the individual cards had been boxed up and put in storage. Okay, this guy wanted an individual card. I told him the only cards we had left were the boxed cards. He looked perturbed and said (in that condescending tone I hate), "I don't understand why you just don't wait until after the new year to pack your cards away." Hello?! Christmas has passed!!

Thanks to Michele for this one!

» Lesson Learned: Lack of planning on my part does not constitute an emergency on someone else's part.

Did you know... sometimes even adults need a reminder of the basics?

One of my pet peeves when it comes to the customers at the card shop (and this happens quite a lot) is when I'm waiting on a customer, and someone else marches up and asks, "Where do you have..." or "Can you show me a...?" Um, hello?! Can you not see that I'm waiting on someone at the moment? I just think that is so incredibly rude!

Thanks to Michele for this one!

» Lesson Learned: Wait your turn!

My boss was on a flight that was preparing for take-off. The flight attendant gave the announcement that cell phones must be turned off and put away, but a certain man kept talking. When the flight attendant walked by, she again told him to put his phone away. He kept talking, and when she saw him, she told him a third time, this time more sternly. However, he still kept talking. Finally he complied on the fourth request, when the flight attendant threatened to put him off of the plane. What a shame it had to come to that before he listened!

» Lesson Learned: The rules apply to you, too, Captain Special.

Did you know... sometimes there is a method to the madness?

During a conversation about my days as a waitress, my office co-worker asked if we had been allowed to take home food that hadn't been sold at the end of the day. I said that we weren't, and this actually irritated my co-worker, who couldn't see any harm in it when said food was just going to be thrown away. I would've liked to have joined him in his indignation, but I'd been told the reasoning behind this decision. I shared it with him: previously, the restaurant had allowed people to take the leftovers home, but then some cooks began deliberately making too much. At that, my co-worker could see the other side.

» Lesson Learned: There may be a reason -- even if I can't fathom what it is.

Did you know... store employees really aren't trying to tick you off?

During our busy after-evening-church-service rush, I observed that the couple I was greeting wasn't in the best of moods. I was about to cheerfully try to lighten the mood when the woman started barking out what she wanted "... with ranch *and* honey mustard dressing on the side." I placed the order, but as I waited for the kitchen to fix the food, a fellow server told me that the couple was complaining about having to wait. The food still wasn't ready, so I went to talk to them. Right away, the woman informed me, "We sent someone else back to get it." As if she thought their food was ready and I just wasn't bringing it or something. She had it figured out! As a tipped employee, I made most of my money by upsetting the customers! (Sarcasm there.)

» Lesson Learned: Dining out isn't "Waiters versus Customers." Sure there are bad apples, but most waiters want their patrons to receive the service they expect. After all, the waiter's tip depends on it!

Did you know... there is a limited supply of mac and cheese in the world?

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.

Did you know... you really do win more flies with honey than with vinegar?

One customer became very angry with me because we didn't have a big selection of Hanukkah merchandise. Why do people get mad at me? I'm a cashier who has nothing to do with choosing what the store stocks. Plus, do they really think that getting mad about it will make the merchandise magically appear? "Oh yes, ma'am. I can clearly see that you're upset because we don't have what you're looking for. Let me just wave my magic wand and *POOF*! Ah yes, here we go!" Even if I did have a magic wand, do you really think I would help someone who was nasty to me? I don't think so!

Thanks to Michele for this one!

» Lesson Learned: A little bit of respect will get you further than a lot of attitude.

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