I had some errands to run today. So, I got the kids off to school, made myself pretty and went out into the world (the light stung my eyes a little…you know how it is when you get sucked into a project and forget what daylight looks like). The day started out great…and then I began to experience capitalism at it’s greatest. Allow me, first to chronicle the particular customer service experience I’m talking about and then I’ll explain why this is important (and how it relates to authorship).
I pulled into Church’s Chicken (618 North Alexander Avenue Port Allen, LA 70767) and up to the drive through window. I was greeted with a pleasant greeting: “Hello” and so I replied…”Can I have just a moment to look at the menu, I haven’t been here in a while”. (In fact, it’s been 6 years and the reason I haven’t been to a Chruch’s Chicken in 6 years is [ironically] bad customer service). “Yeah” was the reply I received.
It took me about 45 seconds to narrow my choice between two Sandwiches…the Big Tex and a Chicken Sandwich. I was still a little torn so I spoke into the speaker, again: “Yes, I’m sorry but I can’t quite make up my mind. What comes on the Big Tex Sandwich?” The reply I received was “Hold On!” Okay, it’s only fair, really. I made her wait, how can I be upset, at this point. About a minute later, she came back on the speaker and said, “It has mayonnaise, lettuce and pickles. Do you want it?”
“Maybe, which is better, the BIg Tex or the Chicken Sandwich”
*audible sigh* “Just pull up to the window when you’re ready to order”…and silence…
Now, I’m a little perturbed at the situation but I pull up and wait approximately a minute and a half for the cashier to come up to the window. It’s important to know that at this moment in time, I was the only customer in drive through and there were a total of 4 cars in the entire parking lot…the lobby seemed pretty much empty…
When she opens the window, she doesn’t say anything so I smile at her (to let her know I’m friendly) and I say, “I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be difficult but I haven’t been to Church’s in a very long time. I was just wondering which sandwich is better?” At this point, she’s looking at me like I’m from some foreign land and she doesn’t understand a word I’m saying so I clarify, “Which one would you choose?”
“I don’t eat the food, here. I don’t like chicken. Which one you gonna get?” (Really, you think I want anything from this place if the employees wont even eat this food?)
“Just give me a large Dr. Pepper and a Macaroni and Cheese.”....and she took my money and walked away from the window. That should have been it but I couldn’t let it go. When she opened the window to hand me the Dr. Pepper, she was yelling back to the kitchen about my macaroni and cheese. I asked to speak to a manager.
The manager gave me the same “you’re an alien look” as I began to speak. I said, “You have a real problem with professionalism, here. Your cashier was rude to me and she told me that she doesn’t eat here, when I asked for a recommendation, which I KNOW is a big no-no. I know there are corporate standards in place and they’re obviously not being adhered to. I expect a better experience.”
“Yeah, but she doesn’t like the food…You want her to lie to you? Here’s your macaroni and Cheese.” and so I gave up. I wasn’t surprised that the manager didn’t care about the cashier being rude or see the problem in the way she handled the situation. I won’t ever go back to that location, again, and I likely won’t ever eat Church’s Chicken again.
…but that’s really not enough. Because, as a customer, I am exactly how they see me…just a number. At the end of the night, when they pull the reports from their register, I am just one of x amount of customers and I contributed to an average $ of sales. That number is put into a report and corporate receives it but they wont know anything about me and the experience I had. They have no real idea about how the restaurant is performing in the areas of customer service. Some companies do…(the smart ones, do)…the companies that have online surveys set up As far as I can tell, Church’s Chicken does not. I didn’t receive a receipt so I can’t be exactly sure but the website only has an address and a generic form on the “Contact Us” page…that says, very clearly, that corporate doesn’t really want to hear from customers…it says that they don’t care how their restaurants are performing, outside of the numbers that show up on the reports at the end of the night.
Now, let me digress a bit, so you understand where I’m coming from, with this. I’m not a customer service Nazi (or maybe I am…I don’t know…I do tend to be critical of the customer experience). I have a lot of really good reasons for actually caring about customer service….and I’m not just complaining because I want to be treated like a queen whenever I step into a restaurant or store. In this instant, the cashier did A LOT of things wrong. Mostly, I was aggravated because she made it clear that she was annoyed by the fact that I was asking her questions. The customer service experience is supposed to make the customer feel like they are valued and respected. Obviously, I was a pain in the ass to the cashier…the opposite of being warm and welcoming…and she was obviously above me and couldn’t be bothered to give me a suggestion or even really care about what I was going to eat. All this, really says nothing about the cashier…she’s just a worker, doing her job…but what it says about the restaurant is that it has, obviously, low standards…it was clear by the way the cashier was talking to me…and by the way that the cashier and manager both looked and carried themselves…it was obvious by the fact that the cashier didn’t care enough about the brand to suggest a product…a really strong brand would train a cashier to handle these situations, whether or not they actually eat the food (using metrics and basic product knowledge). She could have said, “Most customers prefer” or “We sell more of….” I was annoyed, not because this was a huge problem, but because it was a simple problem which could have easily been resolved with the slightest knowledge about to handle customers…literally, half an hour of customer service training and a restaurant culture which backs up the importance of providing great service to every culture, is all it takes to turn around even the worst establishments around.
On the most basic level, I care about customer service because I spent the greater part of my late teenage and early adult years working in public service. I have worked in multiple areas of customer service (restaurant, retail, telecommunications, ect.) and I have worked in multiple levels (front of the house, back of the house, management, ect.). I have a great respect for the art of customer service and I know how important it is to the success of any brand. I know that most customers, upon having a bad experience, will never complain and will just give up on a location, or even a brand, without hesitation. There is always another grocery store just a few miles down the street…customers don’t have to put up with bad service and low standards
I think what really bothers me about it is the fact that customer service workers have no pride in what they do. I don’t know any other industry where it is so acceptable to not give a shit about the most basic tasks of your job. I understand that these jobs barely pay the bills and that sucks…but where I come from, you have pride in WHATEVER it is that you do. It doesn’t matter if you dig ditches for a living, you do the best you can at it and you don’t complain about it. That’s how I was raised and so when I got my first job (at a Hardees restaurant), I made up my mind to be the best little drive through cashier on the East Coast….and I was good…I was real good (at the customer service part, at least).
But things are different, here in the south. In my hometown, there were only a handful of restaurants and stores nearby and the workers consisted largely of adults who had families to support. The customer service experience there is so different than it is here and I find myself looking for a higher standard than customer service workers in the south are able to provide. More importantly, I find myself asking why is it this way? Why can’t I just get good customer service. I don’t want things to be perfect…you can mess my food up—I’ll either eat it or have it remade….you can spill my drink on my lap—-I’ll just laugh it off…it all comes down to how the cashier or waitress handles themselves and interacts with the customer.
It can’t be that a large part of the American population simply don’t know how to talk to people….or smile….or have pride in themselves…It can’t be that a certain dollar amount is required for an individual to actually care about their job….It can’t be that customers and cashiers alike, in certain areas, lack the skills necessary to show basic respect and decency….or maybe it does mean, exactly that.
Perhaps that is what bothers me so badly about the whole thing. If a cashier and a customer can’t show the most basic levels of respect for one another, I don’t want to live here anymore. The eroding of customer service in America is indicative of a much larger problem…the eroding of respect, dignity and tolerance in America. Where is the kindness and warmth that I knew as a child? I don’t want to live in in a cold, dark world and I don’t want to raise my kids to live in that world. I want better for this country….We don’t all have to be assholes, you know…It’s not a competition….
But I digress…because I’ve been rambling on about this, in my mind, for months now…and I finally have a solution. I’m going to write a book about it. I think it’s about time that somebody address these issues. I’ve been thinking on a new project to start in November for NANO, anyway, and I think this would be a good fit. It will be my first nonfiction work and it will be the first time that I’ll be using Social Media and Reddit to write a book (actually, it will be the first time I’m using Reddit, period so wish me luck).
I’ve started a subreddit: /r/CustomerSatisfaction and I will be using it (along with Yelp! and Google Reviews and personal experience) to build a profile of the specific complaints and praises that people have about Customer Service. During Nano, I will build the framework for the book…I’ll work on blocking out specifically what I want to cover and write a lot of the framework text. It’s kind of a different way to do Nano but I’m really excited about the project…It will be fun to examine customer service and how it relates to the human condition….at the very least, we have to let corporations know that it is acceptable to us to be treated as just another number…and we have to let customers know that, in order to demand respect, you have to know how to give it. We have to set a new standard for human interaction and, since money talks, there is no better place for the revolution to occur than the customer service industry.
…and even if you don’t want to take part in my project, don’t forget to put your own experiences on blast (good or bad)….because the only way that corporations will change is if they get the point that everything that happens at every location will be reported…use Yelp!, Twitter, Facebook, Google, WordPress, Tumblr, ect. to send the message….Bad service will not be tolerated and good service will be celebrated. Corporations will eventually have to invest in better training or pay their employees more…If enough voices are raised, things will have to change.