Whoops, They Did It Again

Like many, lately I find myself waxing nostalgic for “the good old days”. With all of the chaos and uncertainly that is surrounding us with the economy, healthcare and politics, is it little wonder we want to slip back in time a bit, and we “Try to remember the kind of September, When life was slow and oh, so mellow.” (Many of you are far too young to remember that song from Tom Jones!) We’re so tired of the lackadaisical disregard that’s out in the world, and it’s really become so commonplace for us that we almost don’t see it for what it really is anymore: Customer Service EPIC FAIL.

I’ve said this before, but unless you are going to make sure your department does it’s job well (I’m talking to you, Best Buy) you really need to rename it Customer Dis-Service, so that in fairness to your customers, they truly know who they are working with. My husband and I were lucky enough to buy a new washer and dryer recently. Our old set was mismatched, here when we bought our house, and about 15 years old, so when the dryer went for the third time, that was all the reason I needed. I ordered what we wanted from Best Buy online and set up delivery. 16864721353_dc47ce9c27_zBefore it was all said and done, the tally was 2 trips from the installers, 1 from the plumber, 6 calls to different people in customer service, at least 2 hours combined hold and talk times with customer service, and over 2 weeks without a washer and dryer. Plus a whole lot of misinformation and frustration, all of which was completely avoidable.

You’d think I learned my lesson after that debacle, but since I’m a slow learner, I didn’t. I went back to Best Buy, this time to the store, as I was trying to buy some Bluetooth speakers for my mom’s computer for Mother’s Day. I really wanted to hear one particular brand, but couldn’t get the store display to work. I asked one of the staff about it and here was the response: “I’m sorry, that unit isn’t working, and hasn’t for a few weeks.” That was it. I said, “Can you try to fix it? Get a different one? I’d like to hear it, and I won’t buy something I can’t hear” and the response was “no, we can’t”, and he just stands there smiling and looking dumb.  Seriously?  That’s the best you can do?  So I left and went next door to Target and they had a couple of young kids working in stereo. (You know the kind, the type that have “rule bender” written all over them, and I immediately know this will work to my advantage!) I said to them, “OK, here’s the deal. Best Buy was less than helpful, and I’m really hoping you’ll be able to help me. I need to hear this thing, because I want it for my mom and she has a little trouble hearing so I want to make sure it isn’t too tinny and has good base sounds. Is there any way you can open the package for me so I can try connecting it to my phone, since you don’t have it as a display model?” and without even hesitating, they said “sure, we’ll give it a try”. Bless their hearts, they did, and I’m so grateful for it, because I really didn’t like the speaker at all! But I was able to find something I liked later with my husband’s input, and mom was thrilled with what we bought for her.

I guess I just don’t get it, why is customer service such a thing of the past, such an exception instead of a rule? Part of the problem where Best Buy is concerned, is that for those of us in the Twin Cities, they’re kind of the only game in town for some things. We no longer have Circuit City, and we don’t have stores like Frye’s or other electronics competitors, which is really unfortunate. I think it’s allowed Best Buy a degree of complacency and they’ve become really second rate. I do shop my dollars elsewhere when I can but sometimes they really are it.

On the other hand, our local hardware store (yep, I’ll name it, Pellici Ace Hardware, and they have several locations) consistently falls all over themselves being helpful, courteous, kind and downright awesome. I might have to pay a little more for things there, but it’s worth it. If I need something they don’t have, they will go into their online catalog with me and find it, but honestly that’s only happened one time. Generally speaking, if they don’t have it, you probably don’t need it. Everyone should run a business like Pellici.

Even Best Buy.

You Don’t Know It’s There Until It’s Not

Eight little words that are pearls, words of wisdom from my mother regarding salt in cooking but applicable to so many things in life. As I was learning to cook when I was quite young, I had asked about salt in particular one day and I can still hear her voice so clearly saying to me, “you don’t know it’s there until it’s not”. That resonated with me then, and stayed with me all these years (and don’t ask me how many years that is, I shan’t tell you!)

The inverse is also true about encounters and experiences that we have, we often don’t realize something was missing until we’ve seen it, heard it or felt it. Where we live in the Twin Cities we got a new chain of Hy-Vee grocery stores last year that brought some much needed competition to our cities. From the incredible variety of types of produce, fresh artisan breads, cheeses, an incredible specialty bakery, to fresh, onsite fast food and a restaurant, shopping there is nothing less than an event. Going there one needs plenty of time, because you’ll want to browse and browse and browse…it keeps going on and on and it’s just plain fun.

I’m also fascinated by the attitudes there. First, the store motto is “there’s a smile in every aisle”, and while it’s a little corny, it’s also true. Every time I’ve been there, I’ve been greeted warmly and multiple times in the same visit, people always asking me if there is anything I need help finding or have questions about. The second thing was the one that really stood out for me, which was it almost felt like the team members were trained in the art of people pleasing, or anticipating needs. One day I was in line to buy groceries and noticed a bag that was designed to stand up in the trunk of the car. I asked the checker if it was designed to hold 2 grocery bags side by side when open. He didn’t know, nor did the young lady bagging my groceries (yes, they bag your groceries there!!) I went ahead and bought it anyway, and turned back to the register and ran my card through to pay for my groceries. Suddenly the young lady bagging them said “yep! It does!” I turned and she had opened up the bag and filled my paper sacks then put them both in the new trunk bag to make sure they easily fit in there, so I would know right then and there. She didn’t need to do that, but it was really nice that she did, and it really made me wonder, “do they teach ‘Never miss an opportunity to delight a customer and try to anticipate needs’ as part of new employee orientation? “ I’ve had other unexpected experiences at the store as well. When I haven’t been able to find something I’m looking for, they don’t tell me where to find it; they bring me to it (“Here, let me show you where that is.”)  If they don’t know where it is, the staff will look it up on the computer and then come back to where you are to update you (“If you wait here, I’ll go and look that up for you and I’ll be right back.”). I’ve never had such a complete and satisfying experience, and didn’t realize it until I actually experienced it. I figured that wasn’t happening by accident so a few days ago when I was there I stopped a manager and asked about it. He confirmed it for me and said that yes, they train all employees that way, to basically “fall all over themselves being helpful” (my words, not his, but the intent is the same) and that they have secret shoppers who actually come in watching for it. I told him it’s why I kept coming back, that I loved being treated like that and really appreciated the service. He thanked me, and his smile really said it all. 

I’ve decided I’m old enough and have paid my dues; I deserve to be treated well. I want to shop at places that treat me as if I’m special, even if I have to pay a little more. (I honestly don’t think I do pay more here, I’m just saying I’m willing to.) I’ll go to a nicer restaurant, go to better retail shops if I’m treated with more kindness, given a bit more help, a smile, or going the extra mile. What I won’t do, is shop at places that treat me like I don’t exist, which is what happened at Sur le table in Edina a few years back. I had shopped at one of their other stores in California in the past and really liked them, and was happy when a new store opened in Minnesota. I went there on a Saturday morning shortly after the store opened. It was quiet; I was maybe the third customer there. If you aren’t from here, you need this for your backstory: Edina is a ritzy, wealthy suburb and the local rumor has it that the letters stand for “Every Day I Need Attention”. While that isn’t really true, there certainly is plenty of attitude there to go around. So I walked in in jeans, a flannel shirt and baseball cap – and after 20 min not one sales person had greeted me, made eye contact with me or approached me in any way. So I walked out, walked a half block down the street to another kitchen store called Cooks of Crocus Hill (where they are MUCH nicer), was immediately greeted, spent a lot of my hard earned money and told them how much nicer they were. The saleswoman replies and said they heard that a lot. As I left it was all I could do not to walk back to Sur le table and walk in like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman “you know, I was in here a little bit ago and you wouldn’t help me, big mistake. HUGE.” But I figured I’d be the grown up and go home.

That’s the funny thing about customer service. We all recognize really lousy service when we experience it, because it unfortunately slaps us in the head and it makes us want to tell everyone about it. So-so customer or adequate customer service, that’s not so simple. Perhaps we’ve become complacent, or have adjusted, even lowered some standards a bit, but whatever the reason is we are no longer bothered by middle of the road because we didn’t realize it wasn’t there, until it something truly stellar comes along. 

Customer Dis-Service

Most of the time folks who are out on the front line of customer service do a wonderful job. Their work is mostly thankless, and they really are the unsung heros out there, dealing with crabby customers, screaming kids, rude people, the winkers and grabbers, you name it, it’s probably happened. But every once in a while I just run across one that makes me see red.

We had stopped in the CVS near our house to pick up a prescription, and on the way out after paying for that, I saw something I decided to get as an impulse item. I brought it to the counter, and decided I didn’t feel like paying for this item with my credit card so I was going to pay with Apple Pay, as I could see the symbol on their card reader that indicates they have payment through Near Field Communications. I pull out my iPhone, put my finger on the home button and it registered the transaction with a check mark and a buzz on my phone. Just then I hear the teenager behind the counter. “Ahem. That doesn’t work. Those aren’t set up to work”. I look up and this kid is indicating that I can’t use my iPhone and Apply Pay. When I said quizzically, “but it buzzed like it registered the tranaction” he said “yes, but it won’t send it to our register, so it won’t count as a sale.” I asked if they were going to get that updated so it worked, and he said “well, I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so.” he paused briefly, then said “but it works with the Samsung phone”.

I kid you not.

Say what? It was all I could do not to fly over the counter to choke the snot out of him right then and there. Have you ever seen the movie True Lies?  There is a scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger as Harry is test driving a Corvette with a car salesman/con man named Simon played by Bill Paxton. As Harry is driving, Simon is going on and on about a supposed con job he is pulling off with a woman, who is Harry’s wife. Harry has this mental movie of punching him in the face while he’s driving, hitting him so hard his nose bleeds and Simon is knocked out cold. I had a mental movie too, coming over the counter and grabbing the kid by the shirt, screaming “Does this look like a Samsung phone? Did I even ask about a Samsung phone? Arrggghhhh!”, all of which happened in my mind in a millisecond. What really happened was me choking out “Well that doesn’t do me a whole lot of good now, does it?” all the while doing my level best to inject the appropriate amount of sarcasm for the occasion, knowing full well that my razor sharp wit was no match for his lack thereof. Futility, thy name is wasted zingers.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this happen to me either. A couple of years ago, I was at Best Buy, a big box retailer for stereo and other home goods. I’d gone there to get an amplified FM antenna for our stereo. I asked the first person I could find – who seemed to be working in the stereo department, incidentally – he had no clue what this was. So I explained it to him, thinking perhaps it might be known by another name, and a description would help. (“Well, you know the blue things that squeak and serve no valuable purpose except to make a dog nuts?” “Oh of course, we sell doohickeys.”) So I explained it and said “it allows you to get better FM reception when you have trouble, say with a stereo in the basement.” After a second he shook his head and then said this: “No, but we have an open box reciever I can sell you.” Huh? WTH.  Did I ask for a receiver? Did I, in any way, suggest I was here to buy one because mine was broken?  That one I literally said to the guy, “I don’t need a reciever. That’s not why I came in here. Is there someone else that can help me?” He found a young woman, and I repeated my question to her. She also didn’t know what it was, but at least helpfully led me to where it might be. Together we looked around the items hanging on the display wall, and then I spotted it. When I showed it to her, she said “Oh that’s what that is? I always wondered.”  I started instantly chewing on my tongue to keep myself from saying my first thought out loud, which was, “Really? Then why didn’t you look it up?” But since I was already skeeved at the first guy, I figured silence would keep them from throwing me out of the store.

I sometimes feel like I’m the only curious person left in the world. I like learning, knowledge and information. Not so much that I want to go back to school again, been there, done that and have my advanced degree, thank you very much! No, I’m talking about random stuff that you never know when you’ll need it, like knowing about presidential line of succession, or did a small private plane really crash in a Minneapolis suburb in 1973, or why am I getting an error message on my camera with a particular lens, or what’s the history of Bikini Atoll? screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-4-46-03-pmAnd how about  knowing how to fix things? There is very little in my house that I won’t try to repair, just ask my husband. I’ll install lights and new outlets, fix plumbing (although I don’t like it much), can handle an impact wrench with confidence, and wield a mean caulking gun. Most of what I know how to do, I’ve learned from my home repair books (for you kids, that’s what we used before the internet!) or by looking it up on Google and YouTube. I hate paying someone to do what I can figure out myself. I mean, why the devil should I pay an electrician $150 to install a new light fixture, when I can do that in 20  min?  Full on disclaimer inserted here: don’t take this as instructions, but it’s really not much more than “Turn off the breaker, then white to white, black to black, ground to ground. ” (If you did take what I just said as instructions, and anything bad happened, I hereby declare I told you not to take it as instructions, and it’s your problem, not mine. If I checked with my lawyer, I’m pretty sure she’d make me say that.) But I have to say I continue to be amazed at the people in my life who aren’t the least bit curious about anything. It’s not that they don’t have the ability to find the information, every single one of them owns a smart phone and can look anything up at any time. They just don’t, but instead sail blissfully through life, uncurious and unquestioning. I’m not even talking about the ones who are so buy with 2.6 children, they get a small amount of Papal dispensation. I’m talking about the rest of them that have the time and still aren’t curious. That’s so far outside of my level of comprehension.

Perhaps I’m the anomaly. I can accept that, if that’s the case, but I’ll warn you, I’m not likely to change. Oh it’s not because I’m too old to do so, but it’s because I like me like this. It’s fun! My husband and I find out the coolest stuff. Yes, there really was a private plane crash in Richfield in 1973, along with a B-52 that crashed in Inver Grove Heights in 1958, among others. I did figure out what was wrong with the camera and fixed it. Bikini Atoll? Well, there is a ton of information on the internet, and you can get a soul jarring documentary from Netflix called Radio Bikini and if it does it’s job correctly it will both break your heart and scare you to death.

And I still don’t much like plumbing.