a conservative heretic commenting on hypocrisy and stupidity in a world with too much of both
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Service Me, please?.

The other day, Maggie and I stopped at one of our local grocery stores to pick up a couple of items on the way home from work. It took only a couple of minutes to get the items and almost 30 minutes to pay for them. The line-ups at the three open cashes were so long, they flowed back into the grocery aisles and interfered with people still shopping. The wait was more than 20 minutes. How can store management not see that? Or if they see it, how can they not recognize that they are inconveniencing their customers, the very people they rely on to stay in business.

It’s a situation that isn’t unique to this particular store. Everywhere we go now, the concept of customer service is degrading. Retailers and businesses talk about customer service all the time. Even the government talks about it but that’s all it is. Talk! Either they don’t understand what customers want in the way of service or they understand but don’t know how to deliver it. Perhaps it’s that they try to save money by hiring fewer people or perhaps it’s  because they just don’t care. Whatever it is, I’m fed up with it and I’m not alone.

I’m fed up with standing in line because there are too few cashes open even though there are plenty of cashiers standing around talking to each other on the sidelines or sitting outside, smoking, at a picnic table near the entrance. I’m fed up with asking for assistance in an aisle only to have the store staff member look at me like I’m an idiot.

I’m fed up with paying for the bags I need to carry the stuff I just bought from them and I am definitely fed up with being asked for my postal code, my email address or my phone number. I’m not in the store to get connected, I came to make a purchase. Stop wasting everyone’s time asking for contact information, swiping rewards cards and pointing out additional specials we can consider buying. Just ring up the purchases, take the money and put what I’ve bought in a “free” bag”. Is that really asking for too much?

Sticking a greeter at the front of the store to shout “Welcome to……” doesn’t cut it either. I’m not here to make friends and your welcome doesn’t mean anything if we’re going to be treated like a herd of cattle lining up for the evening milking once we get inside. Use the greeter to open another cash and get the bloody line moving.

I’m also tired of having stores assume I am going to rob them blind when I drop by. I appreciate that shoplifting is a serious problem for retailers but it is pretty well established that most of that shoplifting is done by store employees. Why don’t you try higher levels of pay to attract better employees and training programs that go beyond how to scan the price of an item and process payment? Why don’t you put security in place to monitor your staff instead of installing anti-theft devices that trigger alarms that go off even though I’ve paid for the stuff? Is it really necessary to make entrance and exits to the store difficult and convoluted? It’s not like everyone has to be like Ikea (Ikea’s entrance and exit strategy borders on pyschopathic, doesn’t it? You need to pack a lunch just so you won’t starve in the time it takes to get out of the store…and that’s if you didn’t even buy anything.).

But poor service isn’t just the province of retailers, it’s everywhere. I am tired of being called guy at restaurants, as in, “Hi guys, welcome to….” Whoever came up with the idea that this was somehow an appropriate form of greeting for a waiter or waitress to use obviously suffered from a limited vocabulary and poor social skills. Forget trying to come across as a friend and try acting like an efficient server. Bring my drinks in a timely manner and please get the drink order right. When I ask for a rye and coke with a slice of lemon, I don’t mean rum and diet coke with a chunk of lime or orange.  I’m tired of lukewarm food, undercooked meat and over-cooked vegetables on fancy plates with servings that are so small even Jasper would be discouraged.

But the best at it are the banks. These guys combine the best of the worst practices of government and retail together. It is unbelievable! I was at a bank not so long ago and the line up stretched from the counter right out into the mall. There were only two tellers open but no less than 8 people standing around behind the counter. In exasperation, an older gentleman standing in front of me finally yelled out, “You, young lady. Get up here and bring your friends.” It worked, the head teller suddenly became aware that there was this big long line up of “customers” and opened three more teller stations. Why should we have to create a ruckus (although I’m happy to do that if called upon) just to get a level of respectful service? That’s our money in your bank. You’re not doing us any favours by giving it back to us when we show up, so stop treating us like you are!

I used to enjoy shopping but I am frustrated by it now. Everything is slower, my time is wasted by businesses who seem blissfully unaware that they actually rely on me and others like me to keep them in business. The real tragedy is that there are few alternatives. Poor service is becoming a Canadian epidemic (or tradition) across almost all lines of business. Small wonder more and more people prefer to buy online or make the trek to northern U.S. cities to do their shopping.

(Say what you want about American business, they get the concept of service. I have never seen the lineups in their major department stores that I see in ours even when their stores seem to be busier than ours.)

In the final analysis, I’m not sure which annoys me more; bad service or paying for bad service. Perhaps it’s time to impose a customer rating system that is tied into what we pay at the cash. We’ll knock 10% off the price of what we’re buying for every 5 minutes we have to wait to get served. If that doesn’t get their attention and affect some change in service levels, we’ll at least be paid for the inconvience that poor customer service imposes on us. There is no point in boycotting a particular store and going somewhere else, they’re pretty much all the same. Besides as the saying goes, Money Talks, Boycotts Walk…and as we have already estabished, I don’t walk. I lumber along.

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© 2011 Maggie’s Bear
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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01439444791204784574 bertie

    I find that Walmart bends over backwards with customer service most of the time..The stores that bother me most are the ones where I have to bag my groceries or buy these cheap plastic bags.I am spending hundreds of dollars buying their products and now I have to buy bags to put the products in and then pack the bags myself..To top it off,if you were buying furniture stoves fridges sofas etc…HOW IN HELL DO THEY EXPECT us to get them home..Now they charge an arm and a leg to deliver items that should be delivered free..And don,t get me going on electricity,gas etc..Paying off the GD debt for Hydro Ontario,and paying for delivery of electricity and gas to your house is the biggest GD scam in the world..Have you ever seen a delivery man bringing this product to your house?????These businesses have been stealing billions of our hard earned dollars every year and we let them,and the governments are in on the robbery..We certainly are a nation of suckers and if we continue to let them abuse us with added fees for non existent products we will soon be letting them set out when and how long we should live..Imagine, we are paying for friggin air at gas stations now to fill our tires..What is next? paying for the privilege of entering an air conditioned store? Or maybe paying for parking or the use of sidewalks..Where do we get these fools that seem to be elected in every city across Canada and make up these rules and come up with these idiotic ideas that cost Canadians billions upon billions of dollars…Now in answer to your last paragraph..WHAT TO DO??Boycott each store that is a problem for at least 3 months,1 at a time or until they see the folly of their ways or fix the problem..My personal boycott list would start with the CBC the MSM,then stores that make you bag your groceries,,then stores that charge for these cheap plastic bags.Geez ,the list is too long..HOW IN HELL DID WE EVER LET THIS HAPPEN TO US?????????

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09370981454466239907 Whimzy

    I’ve heard so many people complaining about customer service lately, and I agree. In the past month here are a few examples I’ve experienced:
    1. When out for a special birthday dinner with my Dad our waiter basically ignored us the whole time, flirting relentlessly with other servers and a single woman sitting near us, while complaining loudly about his hangover.
    2. When at the library this week, there were three people behind the check-out counter, two of whom were talking to each other and the third was steadfastly ignoring eye contact with anyone. Someone from the snack bar on the other side of the library had to yell to tell these folks there was a line at the counter, and someone should help us. They all looked at each other, the women in conversation with each other went back to their chat and the third guy heaved such a sigh that it sounded like his world was ending before he finally came to check out our books.
    3. There’s a burrito place in town my husband and I like to visit when we can scratch together the change to go out to eat. It’s a special treat for us, and usually the service is amazing. This week, after a really horrible day, even though we couldn’t afford it we decided to treat ourselves. The two girls behind the counter seemed to think that cleavage made up for customer service, only talking to us when necessary but mostly talking to each other in that annoying “in joke” way that doesn’t make sense to outsiders. The burritos were not nearly as good as usual and I think it’s because we were so pissed off.

    So what to do? Boycott? Draw attention to bad behaviour? I read a Twitter post yesterday saying “If I boycott all of the places that have given me shitty customer service this week, my family will freeze and starve to death.” One would think that in an environment where unemployment is high, that people would try a little harder… I know I would.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16123459288721211812 Bear

    We teach others to treat us the way the they treat us. If we accept poor service or rude behaviour, that is what is offered. With companies, I think creating a ruckus or voting with our wallets and making sure the company involved knows why we’re walking is a good start. I think spreading the word online about a bad experience is also a good place to start. It certainly knocked Verizon off its game plan to charge its customers for the privilege of just paying their bills.

    And, yss. Generation X has arrived and we taught them well.

  • Anonymous

    Generation X has arrived….

  • A. Greco

    I’m sure many have experienced the disappearing phenomena of good customer service. I have tried many tactics, such as emailing head offices, to grabbing the pointing finger of the employee who I just asked where a particular item was, and said, “Do not point, take me there”! I wonder if any of it makes a dent in the big scheme of things. But I also wonder that if tyrannical governments cam be brought down by twitter, them why can’t tweeple make such an online ruckus that companies would have no choice but to make changes?