Monday, January 9, 2006

Customer Service

I went to the movies this weekend.  Yet again, I spent too long waiting in line at the concession stand, while the employee behind the register asked each and every customer, "Would you like a large for only 75 cents more?"

I understand this.  I really, really do.  I worked at a movie theater and I'd been directed to "up-sell" as well.  Which I did, on occasion.  But, generally, when I had a long line, I wouldn't.  I thought the customers might: (a) actually know what size they want after staring at the menu for the past ten minutes; and (b) appreciate me not wasting any more of their time while they were trying to get to their movie.  And, oddly enough, I never got in trouble for this.

I am reminded of an incident that occurred at a job I'd held during college.  I worked at a video rental place.  (See, kids, before DVDs, there were videotapes, and before Netflix, you'd have to go to the store to rent them....)  So, here's me, working video rental.  We were all high tech because we had little bar codes on all the videotapes, and little scanning wands that would read them and tell us what the customer was renting.  (This also stopped unfortunate incidents of people being surprised by the wrong tape in the box -- as we scanned codes on the actual tapes through a window cut out of the bottom of the box.  It was only a problem when I had to look my customer right in the eye and say, "I'm sorry, the box says 'Small Town Girls,' but the tape is 'Bodacious Ta-Ta's.'  Do you want to rent it anyway?"  I digress.) 

ANYHOW, our whole system was based on these little bar code scanners -- we would scan a customer's video rental card and their name and address (and whether their credit card was still valid) would pop up on the screen.  And sometimes, a customer would want to change this information.

Well, this was a problem.  Changes -- like credit card expiration date updates -- could only be made by management.  Of course, as far as the computer was concerned, you were management as long as you logged in with a management code.

I was not management.  I did, however, possess a management code, which I had come to acquire in a fairly above-board procedure.  (I can't exactly remember how, but our manager had once asked me to do something on the computer for her, so she gave me her code to type in.  Not my fault if I remembered it.)

OK, fast forward, like months.   I'm working the rental counter.  There's a line.  Next dude in line comes up to me to rent some tapes.  Problem:  His card has expired.  He has the new one, but, y'know, I don't have authority to fix it in our computer.

My manager is in back somewhere.  No one on the floor has a manager's code -- at least, no one on the floor is supposed to have a manager's code.  I give the dude the world-famous, "Hang on, I'm not supposed to do this, but..." conspiratorial fake-whisper, log in with my manager's code, change the dude's expiration date, rent him the tapes, and move on to the next customer in my line.

I did not know this at the time, but a Regional Manager (aka, my boss's boss) had been in the store for inventory or something, and was watching me.  I did not get busted for this, nor did my manager get busted for giving me her code.  Instead, I got commended for doing what I could to help the customer and move the line along -- and I ended up with legitimate management-level-access on my own computer code, because they decided they could trust me with it.

Why is it that so many people working in fields that require them to relate to the public spend so much time sticking to the script, rather than bending the occasional rule in the interest of customer happiness?  Hell, I'm still on a crusade to get my grocery store to stop trying to pronounce my last name.  "Thank you, Ms. ... how do you say that?" they ask.  And I invariably respond, "Don't even try" -- both because they'll get it wrong, and because I don't really see a need for the people in line behind me to know my last name.  And they will always, always, ignore my protestations, and butcher my name anyway -- probably because they've been told to "always thank the customer by name," and they're afraid a regional manager will be looking over their shoulder and will fire them for not doing it.  But if my experience is any guide, perhaps what the regional manager actually wants to see is an employee who respects their customers enough to not thank them by name when they've asked not to be thanked by name.


helmswondermom said...

Great story and great point!  Did you hear about the Sprint customer who tried to get Sprint to give him AND a Sherrif's deputy the GPS coordinates to his cell phone which was left in his stolen truck WITH his baby in it?  They wouldn't do it!!  They had certain procedures that had to be followed and there was also a FEE involved!  Truck and baby were found abandoned not far away, but no thanks to Sprint.

lv2trnscrb said...

Visiting your journal; I liked this entry. I don't like when I am through shopping at the grocery store, having paid by check, and when they give me the receipt they say "thank you Betty". To me that applies a friendship. Although I am sure they are nice people and probably would be enjoyable to be friends with, I resent the assumption that they can call me by my first name.

I'll be back.