How a Weekend of Bad Customer Service Experiences Enlightened Me about Our Economic Woes

Last weekend I had two disappointing customer service experiences. Both enlightened me about a potential factor that is dragging our economy down.

The first experience was at one of my all-time favorite French restaurants in Washington, DC. I was visiting with my girlfriend (update: ex-girlfriend) and two members of her family, and we ordered a variety of hors d’oeuvres and main dishes. The waitress seemed pretty impatient from the very moment she took our order, then forgot to bring us silverware, did a miserable job at timing our entrees, and thus made us hurry through the hors d’oeuvres to ensure our main dishes were not too cold by the time we tasted them. Annoyed that I might have disappointed my companions to whom I had spent a whole day recommending that restaurant, I complained to the waitress. Unfazed, she simply brushed us off and referred me to one of the owners. The owner was a very sweet lady who had seen me previously in the restaurant and rushed to assuage the situation. She promptly sent the main dishes back to the kitchen to be reheated, and personally served us wine and desserts for the rest of the evening. All in all, the owner’s quick intervention had made me and my companions almost forget the bad start of the dinner; indeed we were truly having a great time towards midnight.

The second experience took place the next day when my girlfriend (update: ex-girlfriend) and her sister decided to go shopping for shoes in Alexandria, VA. I courageously endured a full hour of their trying countless pairs of shoes and changing their minds more than a few times about whether to buy or not. When, finally, my girlfriend (update: ex-girlfriend) went to the cashier and wanted to pay for one of the pairs, she was told in a pretty disparaging manner that she could not buy the shoes because their original box had been misplaced. She asked if the store associate could use the bar code from another box with the same model, but was told that would be impossible. Instead, she was advised to spend some time looking around the nooks and corners of the store for the so important, misplaced shoe box. At that moment my blood started boiling (I guess that could be expected from a guy who had just spent 1 hour in a store with 2 girls trying on dozens of pairs of shoes) and I demanded to speak to the manager. I asked her a simple (and pretty much rhetorical) question: “If retailers keep complaining about tepid consumer spending in this economic downturn, is it wise for a store to lose a sale due to the store associate’s laziness and unwillingness to look for a misplaced shoe box?” I also asked her if it was really expected from a customer to look for that box by themselves. The manager seemed to start getting where I was going with my questions and offered to scan another box’s bar code and let my girlfriend (update: ex-girlfriend) purchase the shoes. We did so and happily left the store to go on with our nice walk down King’s Street.

Now, you may be wondering what exactly those two experiences had told me about our economic situation. I’ll tell you… The great insight for me was that many businesses may be suffering from a job malaise among their rank-and-file staff. The employees that face customers on a daily basis may be too demotivated, or lazy, or simply indifferent to provide adequate service. The managers above them have gone through those same positions but 3-5 or even more years ago — at a time when the working values were different. The managers/owners of the businesses know what a good service means and respect the age-proven rule that the customer is always right. However, the employees below them have joined the workforce more recently — at a time when values have started shifting toward nihilism and cynicism. For them, their work is just a boring job; they’d rather spend more time tweeting, following their friends’ locations on FourSquare, and checking the latest gossip about the Kardashians.

So instead of obsessing about fiscal policies, stock markets, exchange rate currencies, tax rates, and the poor state of our educational system, we had better start rediscovering our inner passions for work. If we all commit to improving our work ethic and becoming more motivated at what we do, the quality of output in our economy (in the form of both physical goods and services) will improve. Then maybe we all will have a greater propensity to buy more of this output and, thus, prop up our economy.

Until then, I will continue to think twice before I spend my hard-earned money on products or services whose price is not justified by the customer experience provided. And I am sure many other people would feel the same as I do.

What are your thoughts? Have you recently felt the same after a series of bad customer experiences?

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2 Responses to How a Weekend of Bad Customer Service Experiences Enlightened Me about Our Economic Woes

  1. Boyan says:

    With the current economic situation, retailers should be going the extra mile when it comes to customer services as oppose to going the other way. I think that the lack of passion for serving the client is partly due to management not being able to motivate associates. However, the bulk of the issue is deeply embedded in the way of life. With the otherwise great technological innovations, people are interacting less face to face. In the same token, when associates are confronted with a challenging situation they naturally turn to googling an answer or moving away from the problem to twiting/facebooking.

    • Emil_M says:

      That’s what worries me about all this talk of intelligent answers and discovery, especially with the new SIRI iPhone functionality… I’m going to write on this topic a bit more in the next few weeks. And you’re absolutely right about people losing their skills to interact with one another. It’s much easier for some to tweet or text, than to express themselves in a coherent way when they speak face to face… Sad but true…

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