Customer Service and Mirrors

The more I hear people hear complain about the poor state of customer service — and I hear it a lot now — the more I wonder if the problem is not the service, but the customers.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve experienced plenty of bad service. I’ve noticed that at Home Depot in Van Nuys, they say, “sorry, that’s not my department,” rather than, “that’s not my department; let me get someone who can help you.” And sure I’ve been on the phone with the Dish Network thinking to myself, “would I rather be waterboarding?”

And yes, I’ve experienced the high school kid working at the south Orange County Best Buy:

(Customer):  “Hi. Just bought a printer there. A couple of hours ago. It’s already malfunctioning.”

(Printer guy): “Bummer, dude.”

But back to the customer: Is it Starbucks ‘ fault when the narcissistic Brentwood customer in front of me orders something more complicated than William Henry Harrison’s inaugural address, and upon receiving her drink whines that it’s too sweet, further holding up the rest of the line? (Ever meet those people who tack on various stipulations and exemptions and restrictions and clauses to their Starbucks orders over time, to the point where they’ll soon just download the description of their coffee drink to a flash drive and hand it to the barista?)

Anyhow: Is it Costco’s fault its gas lines can get long, when every so often you get someone at the gas pump in front of you who stares at it for four minutes, bewildered, not quite sure the exact way to make this complex petroleum-dispensing contraption work?

Yep. Sometimes it’s the customer.

And sometimes, even when it’s not apparent that it’s the customer’s fault — it’s still our fault. When we demand rock-bottom prices, companies pay rock-bottom wages. And sometimes the service we get is commensurate with the wages and experience of the salesperson. The guy at the Encino branch of a sporting goods chain doesn’t know one football shoe from the other football shoe. But what do we expect: a podiatrist who’ll work for minimum wage? If you want advice, go to the specialty shoe store.

Whole Foods’ employees seem happier than McDonald’s employees. So what? I’ve worked the sauna fry machine at McDonald’s, and it didn’t put me in too good of a mood either. I understand.

Oh — back to recruiting.

Assuming the hiring manager is the recruiter’s customer — I’m sure there are times when the recruiter’s service is bad, but just as many when the manager is the pain.

Assuming the job-seeker is the employer’s customer — candidate treatment is often rotten and needs to improve. Then again, it’s hard for employers to bend over backward for every candidate who mass-applies for a job they have no interest or ability in doing.

A 1995 op-ed in the Detroit Times said “service has a special meaning in this country.” You know what? I was the one who wrote that op-ed. And I still believe it. 

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