Road Signs For Success – February 6, 2008

By Jim Whitt

Sondra and I had interesting customer service experiences in two different stores on the same day. We walked into one and were greeted by a clerk who asked the perfunctory, “How are you?” “Great,” I responded. “How about you?” I liked her comeback, “I’m glad to be here.” I went through the same routine with a clerk in the next store who responded, “Not bad for a Monday.” I wonder — would she be any better on Tuesday? I doubt it. Who would you rather do business with? You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Those first impressions colored what I thought about these clerks and the businesses each represented. Who would you hire to represent you?

One morning we walked into a fast food restaurant and heard a loud, disembodied voice saying, “Welcome to McDonald’s, can I help you?” Although we hadn’t walked up to the counter, we lowered our gazes from the menu high up on the wall to the young man standing behind the counter with his back to us. Since he hadn’t once turned to look at us, at least that we’d seen, we didn’t answer him. But apparently this is where the voice was coming from because, when he received no response from us, he finally glanced over his shoulder and asked, “What can I get for you?” This isn’t an unusual customer service occurrence. Many times the person who is supposed to be offering help makes no eye contact, mumbles something incoherent, or yells some pre-programmed welcome while doing something else. This type of behavior violates basic common sense. But we’ve noticed common sense is in short supply nowadays.

We’re shocked at how clueless store clerks and personnel in restaurants can be about basic common sense and courtesy. Simple things like saying please, thank you, yes sir, no ma’am and one of my all time major irritants is when you ask your waiter for something or thank them for something and the response is, “No problem.” Of course it’s not a problem — it’s your job! How about responding with, “It’s my pleasure,” or “You’re welcome.”

It’s experiences like this that gave us an inspired idea — a Common Sense Customer Service skills course so businesses can send their newly hired teenagers (or anyone else) for one hour to teach them to say please and thank you, to make eye contact and smile and to act like they like the customer. After all, customers are the reason they receive a paycheck.

I think we’ll have plenty of case studies to use in our Common Sense Customer Service skills course. Unfortunately most would be like the ones I’ve just related. But every now and then there’s a ray of hope — like the waiter we had at the Cosmo Café. His name is Hosea. Hosea provided us with a great example of Common Sense Customer Service. Sondra and I wanted to split the goulash and I made that request. I liked Hosea’s answer, “I can make that happen, sir.” What a great response! I can make that happen!

Do you want to be waited on by someone who’s “not bad for a Monday” or someone who “can make it happen?” You don’t have to think about it — it’s common sense. But apparently common sense is a subject that needs to be taught. Maybe you can help us. We need more case studies. If you’d like to contribute log onto our blog at and tell us about your good, bad and yes, even ugly customer service experiences. And don’t forget to stop in at the Cosmo Café and ask for Hosea. Take a look at the menu and place your order. He’ll make it happen.

4 thoughts on “Road Signs For Success – February 6, 2008”

  1. Poor customer service is a huge issue for me. When I was young we always were told that the “customer is always right”. You didn’t argue with the customer, rolled your eyes, sighed or any other disrespectful act. I worked in grocery stores throughout high school & college. It was the owner/manager that INSISTED on how we behaved, looked and responded to the customer. Customer service was demanded by the management and if the employee didn’t act appropriately then they were written up and after the 3rd time…they were fired. I think that it starts at the top. I’ve also had “management” tell me that it was because the employee was just a teenager. SO WHAT??? They should still be held to the same level that an “experienced” person would be. Isn’t it at this stage of a person’s life that they should be learning what the real world expects from them and how to act? If they don’t learn it at a younger age then how do people expect them to act when they get older. Customer Service has gone downhill at an alarming rate and it’s because we as customers just accept it but I believe that we need to demand more and actually get SERVICE. I’m so glad that you are trying to improve people’s experience by hold these classes but if the management doesn’t buy into it wholeheartedly and demands it and customers accept the status quo then it’s just a waste of time. Consumers….wake up and demand service and if you don’t get it from that person, go up the chain until you get satisfaction. If you don’t receive satisfaction from the top then don’t give them your business. It may not hurt them losing one customer but if you remember the commercial “and they told two people and they told two people…etc” eventually someone will have to listen to the words of change.

  2. I agree, Tracey. I learned the same lessons as a teenaged waitress. Being a teenager is no excuse for surly, bad behavior … whether in a customer service situation or just in general treatment of others.

  3. I have two great examples of customer service I’d like to share. The first was a waiter at a local Fox & Hound restaurant. There was a big football game the night we were there and the only available seats were outside. It was chilly but they had patio heaters that helped. My daughter, who was about 11 at the time, asked for hot chocolate but the waiter said he didn’t think they had any. She was disappointed because she really wanted it to help her warm up. A few minutes later, we saw this same waiter scurrying across the parking lot to the restaurant next door. We thought it was strange but he didn’t leave us hanging. In just a few minutes, he was back at our table with a steaming cup of hot chocolate! We just had to ask him if that’s why he went to the restaurant next door… he ducked his head and smiled shyly and said “you weren’t supposed to see that.” I’ll always be impressed with this young man who took action like that to please a customer, especially a little girl! Needless to say, he got a very nice tip!

    The second story was on Halloween. My son’s costume required a mustache, which we had purchased with his costume. Somehow by the time Halloween rolled around, we couldn’t find it. We raced to the Party Galaxy store the evening before Halloween to find nearly everyone else in our city was there, too! We found the mustache we needed and got in the very long line at the cash register to wait patiently to pay our $1.25. I guess we looked out of place since we didn’t have an armload of stuff. The manager of the store walked by and asked if we needed something. I held up the mustache and said that was all we were there for. He made a gesture toward the front door and said “If that’s all you need, please take it with our compliments and have a Happy Halloween.” I’m sure he was as interested in getting 3 extra people out of his store as anything and it didn’t cost them much to give away an item they were charging $1.25 for… but guess where we’ll get our Halloween costumes from now on!

    It’s a shame that considering how many transactions we have on a daily basis in stores, restaurants and other businesses, that when we try to think of times we received exceptional service, we really have to make an effort to come up with something. I hope the two teenagers I have at home will always be noticed for providing exceptional service when they start working!

    Thanks for a great column!

    Jennifer McCall

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