Archive for April, 2009

Readjusting our expectations: Thoughts on customer service

April 22, 2009

I have noticed as of late (the past six months or so) a marked increase in the level of service I receive at restaurants, stores, and on the phone.  Maybe it’s because I look less like a college student and people are nicer to adult white males then they are to college kids.  Maybe it’s because all the bad employees have been fired.  Or, maybe it’s because everyone is scared to death of losing their job and are working harder than they ever have.  Regardless, I don’t think I’ve had one unpleasant experience with a customer service rep (outside of my cable company) in the past half year – and that is amazing.  I’ll give two recent real life examples.

Story one:

My girlfriend and I were going to see a movie, but figured we would grab some food first.  We were running a bit late and sat down at the table about 20 minutes before the show started (restaurant in same complex as movie theater).  We explained the situation to our server/waitress and asked if she thought we had time.  She said yes, and gave some suggestions as to how to expidite the process (putting in food, drink, and appetizer orders at the same time, advising on which menu items took less time, etc) and promised to let the kitchen know we were in a hurry.  Our food did indeed arrive promptly – and to our pleasant surprise she brought the check out with it.  Needless to say we made the movie and she received somewhere in the area of a 33% tip. 

Story two:

I recently joined AAA  of New England (transferred from New Jersey).  At some point I went to login (for the first time) to the AAA of New England website, and found myself unable to.  I tried to make my user account, but it was taken (I always use a fairly specific user account for these kinds of things so I was skeptical it was already in use).  So, I emailed customer service.  It turns out that each region has its own account database, and my account was in use for NJ.  Because I’m a little lazy, and attached to my account, I asked if my account could be transferred from the old server to the new one.  While the answer was no, she did delete the old account and recreate it in the new database.  I should note that the woman I was in communication with over our few emails was smart, helpful, prompt, and wrote with more clarity then I’ve seen from a customer service rep in –oh—years.   AAA gets mad points in my book for this. 

After both of these instances I was somewhat elated.  Past experiences with asking comparable requests of waiters in restaurants have been met with a shrug and “I dunno if you’ll make your movie on time.  I guess we’ll find out.” Email/chat correspondence with companies had become laughably awful.  The 4 times I’ve used Charter Communcation’s (my cable company) chat based support I have EVERY time “chatted” with someone who was, for all intensive purposes, illiterate.  In each conversation there were times where it got so bad that neither I nor any of my roommates could even understand what had been written (and I do not mean in the technical sense).  I would ask a question like “does channel X come with package Z” and receive some half page gob of text lacking a single capital letter or piece of correctly placed punctuation and containing more misspelled words (to the point that I couldn’t even figure out what word he wanted) then I cared to count. 

I write this article to share my realization that at some point we as a nation collectively lowered our expectations.  The fact that when I get rude waiters and email reps who can’t write I’m not flustered, and when I get nice waiters and smart customer service reps I feel like some magical experience has just happened is, to say the least, backwards.  Shouldn’t the latter be the norm, not the exception?  Why is it that we’ve come to accept and even expect bad service? 

I pose some questions to you:

Have you also experienced an increase in service as of late?

Why do you think we started to lower our expectations?

What can we do to reinforce the notion that service matters to us?