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Feb 16

When is customer service bad enough for an online slam?

On my Facebook wall this morning, a friend’s post:

Amazes me how selfish people can be. They don’t think before they speak.

The statement makes me think of customer service, of online reviews, of customer interactions. Things of which I am guilty: Of not thinking before I speak.

I think of last Sunday, when the four words, It’s not that hard.” tumbled out of my mouth.

I grow impatient when a person is on their sixth or seventh attempt. My full thought, “Come on, it’s the fifth… sixth… time, you should be competent by now.” Their eighth attempt the four words roll off my tongue. “Really?!” is the fifth word that I avoid adding to the four words; that takes it over the top. I have lost my faith in their ability. My preference is for unfettered competence.

“Really?! It’s not that hard.”

I, the customer. She, the retailer. I am on the opposite side of the counter. Away from my normal role of retailer. I am at their business, not mine. And I can’t believe those four words just rolled off my tongue: “It’s not that hard.”

“It’s not that hard.”
Those four words tumbled out. Was I being selfish?

Or is it okay to be a bit impatient …selfish for my time… when a person just doesn’t get an essential part of their job and have tried doing it not just a few times, but many…in this case a dozen times, causing an unnecessary delay?

Was I a bad customer by saying that?

Was it just incompetence or douchebaggery? Maybe she was getting down a new system, but the twelfth attempt was when she got that simple task right. Perhaps in a case like this I would be justified at leaving a bad review.

A small business owner, my errs are likely interpreted more as douchebaggery than incompetence. But does it really matter how things are interpreted? Bad is bad. But when is bad service bad enough for a bad review?

I ask this because the area I get dinged most for in online reviews is customer service.

Bad customer service. The service industry is a fickle one. It’s all subjective. Were things a little prickly, poking at that protective bubble?

Soup NaziI think of the success of “The Soup Nazi” on Seinfeld. Would anyone dare give him a bad customer service review? Probably not. They wouldn’t want to be banned from that delicious soup. But in my retail shop we’re selling someone else’s product, so if people don’t feel they were treated “right,” they’ll get it elsewhere. The customer needs to feel they are treated right.

Is it bad to be yourself? To not sugar coat things? To react as a human?
Apparently so. But not always.

Is it bad to prefer order and cleanliness?
Is it bad to look out for the safety of your customers?
It depends on how you do it.

I am left thinking:
To be yourself is the charm and the curse of the small independent business.

At a franchise, you simply expect sugar-coated everything. There is little room for personalities. Packages are predefined. No one is unique.

If I came across as a douchebag…

And I mean douchebag in the thoughtless, jerk, uncaring kind of way.

There are times to be straightforward, without cherry-coating it. Cherry candy doesn’t make crap taste any better. It may make it worse.

I’m straightforward and say what I think, I live in the moment. I’m not always patient, which means thoughtfulness may also go by the wayside. My goal is to not be an ass. To not be selfish. To think before I speak. I will always strive to answer my customers questions and concerns with honesty and thoughtfulness. To not spin bullshit if I don’t know the answer.

To bullshit a customer is the real douchebag move, IMO. And that’s not me.

Sometimes I get a little frustrated, which is easiest alleviated by sharing and writing — getting things off my chest. To some this topic may make me a douchebag, but I hope not. My intent of writing things like this is to give insight to running a small independent retail shop. Though you know you can’t make everything right no matter how hard you try, there are customers who want perfection. You respond, not meaning to be a jerk, but sometimes it comes across that way. The result? A public put-down, an online slam on your small business.

I am left to think, “Was my service really that bad? Did it warrant a score of 1/10, of 3/10, of 5/10?” I try to imagine what a score of “10/10″ would require for some people: literally rolling out a red carpet, bootlegging in product, playing favorites by holding rare beers just for them, bartering for alcohol, selling at cost,… doing things that put my integrity in question, that jeopardize my liquor license, that could end my livelihood. I will never achieve a perfect customer service score with those customers. And some will leave bad reviews. I need to come to terms with that.

I think of times I’ve received poor customer service. How did I react?

Generally I’m passionate, emotional. C may say, “irrational at times,” but I chop that up to the differences of the sexes. Did I let my mood impact the situation? I can’t help but wonder: Did I contribute to the bad service? Did my emotions make it feel worse than it really was?

…maybe it was a byproduct of something else.

Customer etiquette is an interesting thing. Each customer is unique. Some well-mannered. Others not. This is about the ones who aren’t.

I don’t run a franchise, so I don’t have “lines” to say or “quotas” to meet. I work long hours. It doesn’t take me seven tries to get something right for a customer. I answer thoughtful questions; I respond to stupid questions.

Are you asking because you genuinely want to know, simply have a curiosity that’ll soon be forgotten, or are you wanting a show from this ‘trick pony’ of beer info? I may have interpreted your approach as the latter. Sorry, I have no time for games today. Other tasks take precedent over games: Filling special orders, meeting reporting deadlines,…

There are plenty of times where customers act out and none are there to witness. Some of our regulars have witnessed demands and threats of other customers. I see their jaws drop a little when it’s a particularly shocking offender. I like it when this happens as the camaraderie of witnessing the act with another makes me feel less abused.

There are two sides to every story.

There are two sides to every story, but the small business owner is supposed to roll over and take it. One day I overheard a regular telling his wife about a rude customer he witnessed on his last visit — I couldn’t help but interject, “Yeah, and that guy left a bad service review online.” His jaw dropped and he laughed. He couldn’t believe it. There is no third-party objectivity in the online review.

As a small business owner, I find some online reviews really annoying. Like all small business owners, I want to see good things written about my shop, I don’t want low scores, and I certainly don’t want to be called things like “the beer Nazi.”

All hail the beer Nazi!

So the shopkeeper didn’t have what you wanted or wasn’t as candy-coated friendly as you’d hoped for. Does that mean you should write a bad review? They prefer order and safety, moving the beers you left on the floor to the counter. (They did this because they wanted to protect you and other customers from tripping over your bottles, out of care for your safety and their livelihood.) Does that mean you should call them a “Nazi?”

I understand that interactions affect your outlook, but let’s look at the full picture surrounding some of the bad customer service scores that are given to my small business. If you’re looking for a super-sugary-fake-cherry-coated friendliness, that’s not this mom-n-pop. We’re pretty serious, strive to be fair, honest, and operate the business with integrity.

Fairness, honesty, and integrity. No fakeness. My customer service goals may be different than your expectations. This is one reason why friends tell me to take those reviews with a grain of salt and to not read them.

Did you catch that? “No fakeness.” To me, that’s the worst. I don’t like the sugary candy-coated niceties of customer service people when you can see in their eyes that they don’t really give a damn and that you’re just another dog in the park they’re hired to watch, following you around.

I’d rather have be greeted by a genuine personality, armed with information and care when I need it. My goal is to treat customers like how I want to be treated.

I keep it real: Trying not to react, but I do.

A lot of small independent businesses focus on being true — keeping it real — when offering products and services to customers. But when being myself, keeping it real, there are things that impact my attitude, and this means sometimes customer service comes across rough. If you had a little rough service from me, where you one of these people?

You criticized the store to your buddy right before you asked for personal shopping assistance. (Yes, I know things like this shouldn’t affect customer service, but it’s really hard to be nice to someone who, figuratively speaking, just spit on you.)

You arrived after closing time, yanked on the door, and yelled obscenities at the door on your last visit. (Sorry, my state liquor agent has made it more than clear that we are not allowed to process any sales after the posted closing hour. I realize you are running late, but as retailer of a controlled substance we’re required to follow state laws and rules. That $20 bill you tried to bribe me with at the door doesn’t change the law, nor does the rude messages you left on voice mail.)

You arrived before opening time and chose to stand in front of the door for twenty-five minutes, growing impatient and irritated long before I greeted you with a “good morning” or “hello.”

The store introduced a new system and it was my second time running through the process alone. I made a mistake and my colleague was helping me resolve it so we could move on with your order. (Though I explained this to you, you chose to publicly chastize my business online and make up reason not true to what I explained to you. Uggggh.)

You wanted help picking out beer but shrugged your shoulders when I attempted to get information to effectively assist. (Taste is subjective. One person’s “good beer” may be a bad beer to you. You need to help me help you.)

You demanded, in what you believed was a funny way, an additional allotment of that rare/limited beer. You deserve extra because… (Not stopping to think that the allotment is there to allow as many people as possible to get the beer. Hundreds seek it; not even a hundred available. On really rare stuff, less than a dozen! I try so hard to be fair. You are special, but there are also a lot of other really special customers out there.)

You threatened my staff that you “will shop elsewhere if they don’t sell you more of that limited beer.” (We try hard to be fair.)

Our sales rep just left, having just shared the news that we’re getting a case less of that rare beer you want. (I’m a little grumpy…on your behalf…sorry my mood was apparent: irritated.)

Your friend just spat their chaw into my indoor trash can. (Now I have to clean up his crap. You are guilty by association.)

You just threw your pocket trash on my floor. (Now I have to clean up this crap. Did you not see the trash can outside the front door?)

It has nothing to do with you. A total ass was in before you, and I’m having a hard time letting it go. For this I am sorry, but it makes me no Nazi. There is no trickery, no bribery, no facism, no racism, no homophobia. (If only I could write an effective rebuttal to the use of the term “beer Nazi.”)

It is the fifth time you’ve asked for Yuengling. How many times do I have to say the same thing? Yes, you heard me sigh before I offered the answer again. “The furthest West the brewery distributes is Ohio; information on why they don’t ship their beers here is on their website.” Notice, I said fifth time… When you’ve asked for a beer that many times and gotten the same answer, don’t you think it’s time to start bugging the brewery who controls where the beer goes, rather than the retailer who can’t get it because the brewery chose not to ship it to their region? If you’re asking for the first time, this doesn’t apply to you. …unless it’s really your fifth time asking and you just keep forgetting that you’ve asked before, and before, and before, and before.

To think before reacting is sometimes difficult. I cannot hide the immediate reaction from my face. I have no poker face. I deal with he fallout. But as a retailer, it is rarely immediate. And few customers speak up in-store.

Instead, they scorch online in strings of low customer service scores across the web, tripping up this small business owner. This leaves me concerned about how new franchises will impact my business, my moodiness, my honesty, my integrity, and whether customers will remain ours.

After all this I still wonder:
When is customer service bad enough for an online slam?

Do they not see that part of good service is acting as a steward and caretaker? No. A higher rating to a grocery chain. Really? When did they ever take care to preserve freshness, to hold a hand through beer selection? I sigh. Do lower expectations mean higher ratings?

1 comment

  1. Tiffany

    Wednesday afternoon, customer comes in and heckles C the entire time he is in store. I didn’t just get C’s story; I heard a third-party relate the entire story. And, yes, heckle was the exact word used by the third-party. The customer taunted C the entire time he was in our store. I’d bet he’s one of the guys that leaves comments like “beer nazi” and gives my business low customer service scores…why? We’re not comedians here. He continues to heckle C, getting louder as he jeers. I’m not sure what he wants: We’re here to offer beer. He wants something more: To harass. I’m not sure his intent. C is polite, respectful, serious. The heckler falls barely short of calling names. A regular interjects, saying to C, “Well, I like you.” All this heckling, unprovoked. It is so weird. I don’t understand why folks act like that.

    Small business folk aren’t trained to handle hecklers. We just work hard to get a good selection of beer, act as stewards of that beer while it’s here, and try to get people into beer they’ll like. We’re not mind readers. We’re not trained monkeys. We’re not comedians. We’re just people trying to run a legit, honest business. And a small business owner can’t put a heckler in place like a comedian. Could you imagine? If I told off the customer for their heckling, that’d make me the ass.

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