Customer Service, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"

Mauree Miller

          This week, I experienced “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” of Customer Service.   Customer Service is a special issue for me.  Whether you are the CEO of a large corporation or a store clerk in a local bank, attention to customer service is always important.  Why?  This is the path for businesses to lose or keep customers--which creates broad implications for success or failure.  And customer service is one of the foundations of civilization.  Not to aggrandize the issue, I really believe this.  If people aren’t treated respectfully, and with logic and efficiency, we become an uncivil society. It is just as easy to be nice and accommodating as it is to be a stonewalling drone.  My father always said: “If you’re going to do something, do it right”.  I live by this credo.  While this doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect in everything that you do, work towards that goal and good outcomes fall into place.  (There are exceptions--I like to sing, but can’t carry a tune—my kids say that I’m only allowed to sing on my birthday because I’m that bad.  I still try to do my feeble best—alone in the shower or on my birthday.)
            There is a mini-branch of my bank in my local supermarket.  Several years ago, I found there were stacks of forms available, but no money envelopes.  I began a little ritual with the clerk.  I asked for an envelope.  She went behind the secret locked door to hand me one.  I asked why there wasn’t a stack for customer convenience and to avoid making people wait in line for such a small item.  She replied that people would take too many. Funny, I had never seen people running around the store with fistfuls of envelopes.  I tired of this game and after finding that she was never going to place them in the open, I contacted the branch manager of my full service bank, who gave me the contact information for the Regional Manager in charge of this mini-branch.  I left a message. No contact. I left a few more messages.  No call back. While I don’t like to go to higher escalated contacts for minor issues, the poor customer service from the clerk and from the Regional Manager was unacceptable and therefore a bigger issue.  So, I did call my Executive contact.  The result—the Regional Manager called me back, apologized for her lapse, and made sure the envelopes were available at the ATM.  For several years, I never experienced this problem again.  I couldn’t help smiling when I saw the envelopes there—I accomplished this through persistence and getting to the right people.  Most importantly, I addressed a ridiculous customer service lapse on the part of the Regional Manager and the clerk.  So, training occurred, and problem solved.
            Over recent weeks, the envelope supply had shrunk to the point that this week, there were none.  I went to the clerk, asked for the envelope, and expected her to put a bunch into the supply area.  Didn’t happen.  She went back into the secret locked room and returned with a few envelopes that weren’t what I wanted.  When I explained that the regular money holders were supposed to be there for customers, she gave me a withering stare and said that she would “try” to order them.  “Try” implies the concept of failure or lack of follow through.  Her response and her attitude were unacceptable.  I told her that I had arranged for a continuous supply through the Regional Manager years ago, and this shouldn’t be a problem.  She looked at me like I had 6 heads.  I asked her (more like told her) to lose the attitude, and asked for her name, so that I could go back to the Regional Manager to make sure the bank went back to status quo and the customer service problem would be addressed.  She refused to give me her name.  If you do a job, you own it—I wasn’t going to tolerate her attitude.  I made a mental note of her description and the time, so that the Regional Manager could identify who was working then and do some customer service training, and to also get the envelopes back into place. 
            I continued my supermarket shopping. When I reached the aisle near the ATM, I noticed that another bank staff person had arrived.  I asked him if he was the manager.  He was.   I explained the problem. Little Miss Obnoxious walked into our discussion and tried to justify her behavior.  To his credit, the manager politely told her to be quiet and assured me he would address the issue with her and would make sure that envelopes would be available as they had been before.
            Is this a minor issue? Yes and no. I’ve had worse problems than lack of envelopes, but it is a convenience issue that slows me and other customers down. In terms of the customer service issue, that’s more major.  This drone could have gone on abusing customers and in a weird world, gone on to other jobs where she would have more power and set the stage for ongoing bad customer service.  This is the height of catastrophic thinking, but with the service problems I’ve experienced, it was not implausible.
            Later in the day, I had the opposite experience.  I went to the drugstore to buy vitamins and there was a “But One Get One” sale.  For the vitamins I needed, they didn’t have my usual sized bottle, only the ginormous size.  I didn’t need 2 ginormous bottles. The bottle was so heavy, I barely had the strength to lift it.  I guess this means that I really do need the vitamins. 
            Since the BOGO promotion translated to half price per bottle, I told the clerk that my regular size was out of stock, and asked if she would charge me half price for the bigger bottle, since I couldn’t buy two of the smaller ones.  She agreed that this made sense and went to her manager to override the pricing.  I had a reasonable request, and she responded appropriately.  If you don’t ask, you won’t achieve an outcome. Great customer service!  I told the manager and clerk that I appreciated their service (Always recognize and acknowledge excellent service—it’s the kind thing to do, it goes a long way for morale, and it translates to a path for the good ones to mentor others and to do the same when they move into other settings. In other words, a path towards a civilized society.)
So, now, armed with the strength from my vitamins and with a supply of money holders, I'm off to leap tall buildings in a single bound!