So I finally started my Christmas shopping this past weekend (so much for having it done by the beginning of December, which seems to be annual promise we fail to keep) and it occurred to me after that not one single sales clerk at the various stores I visited wished me so much as a "Merry Christmas," or even "Happy Holidays." Granted, it's hard to get into the Christmas spirit when it's 10 C out and there's not a flake of snow to be seen, but it seems to be yet another facet of the customer service experience that has gone by the wayside. That, and the very notion of actually serving the customer, it would seem.
Nowadays, you're lucky to even get eye contact -- more often than not, it's more of a sneer of contempt/disgust with nary a crumb of actual social interaction. Having worked at both restaurants and retail for many years myself, I know from firsthand experience that it can be a thankless task. Let's face it, nobody deserves to get talked down to by rude and demanding patrons, but it seems that decent customer service, something as simple as a friendly smile and/or salutation and a positive, helpful attitude, is often the exception to the rule, and as consumers, we're often taken aback when we actually receive decent customer service.
The irony is that in today's age of instant communication, pissed off punters are likely to voice their displeasure while they're still sitting at their table, steaming about their waiter's lack of attention or surly demeanor. In a modern twist on the "waiter, there's a fly in my soup" scenario, the reaction from the server often involves a disconsolate shrug and a mumbled excuse. In short,"Whatevs, dude, it's a fly... get over it." So @DisgruntledRestoPatron whips out his iPhone, snaps a pic of the culinary interloper doing the back stroke in his Mulligatawny, and tweets his disapproval to his 456 followers -- who now know that the staff at their local curry house don't give a flying fig if your appetizer comes with an unwelcome guest. (I myself, under my Twitter guise of @Skully2001, had a little Twitter hissy fit of my own a while back, when I learned of TD Canada Trust's lovely new policy of charging their loyal customers $1 if they want an account activity update, either at the ATM or at the teller. I let my followers know, in 140 characters or less, exactly what I thought of TD's new service charge, which quickly caught the attention of TD's crack Twitter team of customer service reps. And of course, to placate my ruffled feathers (Twitter pun intended), they waived my bank fees for a few months, but regardless, I still think it's an outrageous fee. Hey, maybe this blog post will score me another few months of no service fees?)
Another customer service pet peeve of mine is when two employees, whether it be the retail or food service industry, are so deep in conversation that they simply cannot pull themselves away to deal with this pesky customer who has suddenly appeared at their bar, counter, table, etc. Don't they know that their discussion about Tiffany hooking up with Brad at Taylor's party is way more important?! Sorry, but you'll just have to wait, and yes, we're not even going to acknowledge that you're standing there. Whatevs, mister!
How about when you ask an employee at one of Canada's largest home renovation superstores where a particular item is located and they tell you, point blank, that they simply do not know, sorry. Sometimes they'll go on to further explain that this isn't even their section, they're only covering for the regular employee who called in sick; or that this is their first day, they literally just started 10 minutes ago; or that they're pretty sure they don't carry that item and that you should probably go to their competitor. A particular favourite of mine is when they walk up and down the aisles, customer in tow, looking for said item (exactly what you just spent the last 20 minutes doing, without success, which is why you asked the employee for help in the first place) and it soon becomes apparent that they have no idea where the item is either. But hey, at least they're trying, right?!
Customer service is a remarkably easy thing to deliver on. If you don't know, simply say "I'm sorry sir, I don't know but if you give me five minutes, I'll find out for you." Look a customer in the eye when they approach you and greet them with a "hello" -- don't make us feel like we're keeping you from something more important. And most of all, if your restaurant's soup has a fly in it, or is cold (but isn't meant to be a gazpacho), apologize, take ownership of the problem and as Mike Holmes says "make it right." Chances are, your customers will appreciate the effort and will be more likely to return.