T’is the Season of Customer Service

Brace yourself for long lines, return policies and frustrating shopping experiences.

There’s that chill in the air. All semblance of fall is gone and the bitterness of winter is poised to bury us all once again. I am not eluding to the weather, though watch out for the drop. Rather, I am referring to the holiday shopping season.

In less than three weeks the deadlines will have either been met, or you’ll have to invest in some apology cards before New Years. I figured now would be an opportune time to talk about a subject very near and dear to my heart; customer service.

Last year I on this subject after the holiday season, which in hindsight was probably a wasted effort on my part.

This year I’d like to build on my points from the previous column in hopes of better preparing you lovely Patchers for the shopping centers that await you. This year I want to really emphasize the importance of attitude on the part of the customer. From my perspective as the server, nothing motivates me to serve you like a pleasant attitude. Not my attitude, yours. That pleasant attitude doesn’t have to be overly friendly and warm. You don’t have to ask me how my day is going, because that is my job and odds are the answer isn’t going to help the process along. Just show a modicum of patience and the tiniest bit of respect towards your server, and she or he should be more than happy to take care of you.

Respect is an underrated part of the process. I mentioned it in last year’s column, but it bears repeating: the people serving you are people. Treat them accordingly.

Now, because I fancy myself a storyteller, I will use two recent examples from my own life to illustrate my point. The first is a story of how I followed my own advice and managed to get positive results from perhaps the most dreaded place to be a customer: the DMV.

Last Friday I ventured to the DMV to take care of some updates, transfers and renewals.  Nothing terribly complicated, but it’s the DMV, so you go in expecting to wait and be ready to explain everything a couple of times. Patience is in name of the game in the DMV, but that’s okay. If you can survive the DMV an hour before close on a Friday, and should be a cakewalk.

On Friday I waited my turn and when called up I explained what I needed done. Then I stood at the service window as the young woman serving me, Melissa, began processing my paper work. I don’t expect any of this to sound exceptional, yet. After 12 minutes at the window, I was issued a new license plate and registration. I wished Melissa Happy Holidays and she did the same to me. It wasn’t until Saturday when I went to put the registration card in my car that I noticed that it wasn’t in my name. Melissa had made an honest mistake while typing in my information and used my father’s first name instead of my own. As a result my car was now registered to a non-existent Stoker, which would be problematic should I get pulled over.

I won’t sugarcoat it. I was pretty frustrated that I had spent over an hour on Friday in the DMV with nothing really to show for it. I stormed around the house and cursed a bit, a good bit actually, but I knew the only thing to be done was to go back to the DMV and explain the situation. So first thing Monday morning I was back between florescent lights and linoleum floor titles ready to go again. I calmly explained to the gatekeeper worker what had happened and she apologized and retrieved Melissa for me. I greeted her warmly and politely pointed out the typo. Melissa fell over herself apologizing. It still took a little doing, but within an hour I was issued all new accurate material and was on my way. I could have gone in guns blazing. I could have demanded an explanation for their incompetence. I could have voiced my frustration over having to make a return visit. But none of that would have helped my cause. Some people don’t get that, which brings me to my second story.

A customer of mine came into the shop Monday is desperate need of a pick-me-up.  She works as a receptionist for an OB/GYN and on Monday a patient (who had clearly not read my original column) decided to ruin her day because he and his wife had waited too long for an ultrasound. Not to plays devil’s advocate, but the couple had been waiting for more than an hour for their appointment. The thing is that at a doctor’s office that deals with first time pregnancies, if they tell you there is a situation beyond their control, you take them at their word. Not this guy. This husband, who my customer described as an ugly blowhard, approached her to see how much longer the wait would be. She checked and reported back that he and his wife were due to be called back any minute. Before she could apologize for the extreme wait, the blowhard went off, yelling at the receptionists and leaning over the counter to yell at other employees, all while demanding to “speak to your office manager.”

Little trick of the trade for all y’all out there who have never worked in the service industry: whenever a customer aggressively demands to speak to the manager, the manager meets that aggression with defensive hostility. The manager is more likely to defend his or her staff in that situation rather than if the customer calmly and politely requested to speak to the office manager. Sure enough, that is what happened here. The doctor’s office manager got involved, and the end result was that this blowhard and his wife were told that if they had that big of a problem with the office staff then they should seek out a different OB/GYN.

Again, not to beat a horse, but patience and respect are important. I understand doctor’s offices and the DMV are not holiday shopping: they’re worse. The Gap is just the Gap, Macy’s is just Macy’s. I trust you to be able to maintain your composure and handle the crowds. If you can’t, shop online.

Happy hunting, Patchers.  Keep calm and stay warm out there.



Jessica Sieghart December 15, 2011 at 12:47 AM
I work in Customer Service, too and I get more than my share of yellers. Sometimes I even get yelled at about the smallest, most easily correctable little thing, only to find out that the customer is really upset about something else and just taking it out on me. It would seem to me that people could just realize that in the amount of time spent screaming about a proble, it probably could have been already corrected if they just calmly explained it. I don't think people realize that I don't want them to wait or have a bad experience. It bothers me, but you're right, the blowhard thing often has the opposite effect.


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