Bad Day; Poor Customer Service- The World's Collide

Mauree Miller

               Today just wasn’t my day.  It started around 8 this morning, when the dental office called to tell me that the hygienist was sick and they had to cancel my appointment.  This wasn’t a dental emergency, but I had no time to re-schedule in the near future. (I then worried about my haircut scheduled for later in the week—which is an emergency-- hoping that this wasn't the start of a pattern.) 

             The dental receptionist thought for a minute and then said they were trying to get a temp and she could see me in an hour if I could be patient about the temp getting the “lay of the land”.  With some trepidation, I said ok and went off into the great unknown.  I was greeted by a sweet but timid, tentative, tepid little lady, who clearly hadn’t gotten the “lay of the land”. She couldn’t find anything, didn’t seem to know how to take an x-ray, and very gently cleaned my teeth.  My usual hygienist, Ham Handed Hannah, usually makes my gums bleed.  I don’t like bleeding gums, but this time, when I spit into the dental sink and saw nothing but water and tooth polish, I wondered if this woman had really cleaned my teeth or whether they would rot in the six months until my next visit. To bleed or not to bleed—which is the correct way to take care of  teeth?  I don’t know, but I walked out feeling as if something wasn’t right.

             After the dental appointment, I had a series of small irritations—the supermarket was out of some things I needed, so I had to go to another market.  The freezer was showing frost, so I needed to call for repair again.  There was the usual attempt to dodge all of the bumper car drivers in the local farmer’s market parking lot, and I tracked leaves into the house—lots of leaves after yesterday’s rain-- which tells me that summer is over.  None of this amounts to anything major.  No one’s dying, and life is fine, but the irritations of the day were getting to me.

             Finally, I went to the last supermarket on today’s schedule.   There, I found the straw that broke this camel’s back—a customer service problem.

             When I went to check out, I asked the clerk to pack with paper in plastic, not too heavy.  She told me that there was no paper.  I had several cans and bottles, and wasn’t in the mood to see them rolling under the car as they fell out of a flimsy plastic bag.  I told her that there are usually paper bags at some cash register or in the office—the voice of experience, here.  Her deadpan look was unpleasant as she insisted that there were no paper bags.  I asked her to please check with the management office.  She responded with “I don’t have to”.  Did this mean “You can’t make me” or “I know everything” or “I’m just not going to accommodate you”?  Either way, this was poor service.

             At that point, all of the day’s little irritations came to a head.  Two managers, whom I knew, were at the next register. I left my check out lane, went over to them, and in a forceful way, told them what had happened. When I told them what the clerk had said, they both winced.  One of them went to the office, and sure enough, came back with paper bags.  This only fueled my fire.  Trying to be reasonable, but having difficulty controlling my fury, I asked them to recognize that this was significantly poor customer service.  They got it.

             As I went to leave, I thought about the service lapse.  Why did this lapse feel different than the last customer service issue at the ATM?  As I re-visualized the supermarket clerk’s flat affect, and her whole demeanor I realized that she didn’t understand how to deliver good customer service.  I could see that she was thinking very linearly and rigidly—there were no paper bags at her station, she couldn’t see that there were any alternatives, and went forward from there.  Was this acceptable?  No.  But was it the same as the ATM clerk’s issue?  No.  The ATM clerk knew better, but chose to be obnoxious.  This one didn’t know how to interact in a customer service friendly way. Although both issues are company problems and they need to be addressed in different ways, management is still responsible.

             I went back to the managers after I finished checking out.  I felt a little bad about my rant.   I told them that this was not a good day, but that it wasn't their problem; it was mine.  One of them did say, “You came on a little like a wild monkey, but we know that you’re not crazy.”  I’m not sure if the trump piece is the “wild monkey” or the “you’re not crazy”.  But I appreciated that they understood and I still had credibility.  We discussed that this clerk needed mentoring, more than training, and someone to help her to look at ways of interacting and to model the appropriate behaviors for dealing with customers.  They agreed on this.

             What are the lessons in this little anecdote?

1)    Poor customer service is never acceptable.

2)    Sometimes, as the consumer, you have to look at the big picture in order to deal appropriately with the problem. Not all customer service problems involve the same approach.  It was appropriate to let the managers know that this occurred and that they needed to deal with it.

3)    Being in a bad mood is not a reason to go nuts.  If you’re having a bad day, keep it to yourself, but quietly and reasonably address the problem.

4)    Make sure that the management knows that you’re having a problem but that you’re a reasonable person, so you have credibility and can partner in addressing the problem.

5)    Management, take responsibility for the service atmosphere in your domain.

             I think that I’m going to listen to Frank now. (Sinatra, that is.)  “Music hath charms to sooth the savage breast.”  And, as Scarlett O’Hara said (not that I want to emulate her), “Tomorrow is another day”.