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A THING OF THE PAST
13 November 2005
It will probably come as no surprise to anybody, but I am finally resigned to the fact that customer service is a thing of the past.
While I have long suspected it, what with voice mail hell and outsourcing jobs to people in India, and hiring phone bank operators to handle calls for you, but it was brought home to me in an even more concrete way when I was going through some of my WordPerfect files and trying to organize them.
While it may be that my physical surroundings are in chaos most of the time, I do occasionally try to organize things on my hard drive in order to be able to find things again.
I have huge books of carbon copies of letters from the days when I used a typewriter and kept carbon copies of the letters I sent. So it's a shock to discover that so far in the year 2005, I have written...the print on paper/stick in an envelope kind of letter...only sixteen letters (in pre-computer days it would not be out of the realm of believability for me to write sixteen letters in a day!). Of those letters, four were to my doctor, because it was easier to ask him things by mail (and I don't have his e-mail address) than to try to get through Kaiser's voice mail hell.
Only two were actually personal letters, one to an old teacher and one to Walt's mother's cousin in Ireland (neither of whom have access to or interest in a computer).
There was one letter to the editor about the Marriage Equality Bill here in California. (The letter was printed in the local newspaper.)
That left 8 letters which were written to businesses. Of those nine, I received a response from one only, a letter written to the Carlton Hotel in San Francisco, commending them on their staff and on the good service I received and the good impression I took with me when spending the weekend there in June. I received a thank you note from the manager.
There was a letter to Apple with a complaint and question about QuickTime Pro, since I was unable to find the proper way to contact the company with this particular issue on line.
There was a letter to Applebees restaurant on the terrible service and food that we received.
There were two letters to Home Depot, one a thank you for the good service we had received when we dealt with the flooring department, and one in complaint to a political issue which had come up regarding the politically incorrect language used by their staff. (I resented it that one of the clerks used the phrase "That's so gay" when she was obviously disgusted about something.)
There was a letter to a motel in St. Louis, commending a woman who worked in their breakfast room, had given us exceptional service and who, I felt, needed to be recognized for the pleasant ambience she created for guests.
There was a letter to the manager of the local supermarket complaining about the lack of attention on the part of the clerks to a problem I was trying to solve, and how angry I was that I was forced to go to another supermarket to get my needs met, because they were so unwilling to help.
Finally, there was a letter to the manager of the local Office Max complaining about false information that one of the clerks had given me, information which caused me to spend $40 at a different store for something Office Max did not carry, but which I was told that I needed in order to connect my new camcorder. (I only found out later that this information was incorrect)
As you can see, the letters are equally balanced between acknowledgement of good service and complaint for not so good service.
I have had very good luck with letters to managers of companies in the past. It was a joke in my family, but one which has been borne out time and time again. "Never go to the foot when the head can be had." My godfather said that frequently, but it was true. The low man on the totem pole has no invested interest in keeping the good will of customers, but the man at the top does and if you have a valid complaint and present it in a respectful, fair manner, you have a better chance of having your views acknowledged and some manner of attempt to solve the problem or reverse the bad impression the customer formed if you go to the guy at the top.
I generally send letters to the manager of the local office with a carbon copy to the head of the corporation, in the case of a large nation-wide chain.
I remember complaining about problem with a Hartz Mountain product back in the 1970s which resulted in a representative showing up at our door with an apology and a box of Hartz Mountain products.
I remember sending a poloroid photo of the lump of sugar I found when I opened a bag. It was essentially the entire bag of sugar all lumped together. I sent the photo to the C&H company, which sent me an apology and a couple of coupons for free bags of sugar, even though they pointed out that the problem was probably improper storage conditions by the supermarket.
I wrote to a local restaurant some time in the 1980s after an absolutely disasterous night in which every single thing all night long went wrong. The head chef sent me a gift certificate for $100 off on our next meal.
But such outreaches to customers to prove that the managers really do believe in their product or are proud of the service they provide are now apparently gone.
Even the manager of the local supermarket does not feel it important enough to placate a regular customer and s/he did not acknowledge receipt of my letter.
Office Max never acknowledged receipt of my letter either, much less apologized for the lack of information on the part of its employee which cost me $40 I did not need to spend.
Applebees should have, at the very least, offered us a discount on another meal rather than risk the loss of a potential customer (which has now happened. We will not return.) But I guess that the loss of one customer in a nation-wide chain is a drop in the bucket, so there was no point in apologizing for our very bad experience at the restaurant. Except, of course, if that customer has a journal which is read nation-wide... are you listening to me, CEOs...?
APPLEBEES GIVES ROTTEN SERVICE
OFFICE MAX EMPLOYEES DON'T KNOW
NUGGET SUPERMARKET EMPLOYEES
(So there! I feel better now.)
Maybe I'm just living in the past, but I have come from an era where "going to the head" really meant something, where the heads of companies valued their customers and wanted to be sure that they had good experiences and a good impression of the company itself.
I am afraid that along with a lot of the niceties in life that no longer exist, the attitude that the customer is always right--or that the customer at least needs to be made to feel good about his/her experience with a company--has died the death.
I hate to sound like an old fart and say "In my day things were better...." --but they were!
Please read this excellent article on the marriage equality debate.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
The Chinese Pistache is in bloom all over Davis