Once upon a time I used to work retail. I am never more glad I am out of the biz than I am this time of year. I remember working until midnight, driving the half hour home and then waking up at 4am to report back to work by 5. I remember standing behind a counter in cute, but uncomfortable shoes smiling for hours on end at unappreciative customers, cranky because they too had been standing in line--for like half an hour. I scanned, I counted, I answered phones, I climbed over boxes in skinny skirts to find that last $10 toaster in the stock room somebody could not live without. I enticed people into signing up for credit cards and convinced them service for eight was never enough, that they should just go ahead and buy an extra carafe with the coffee pot to avoid any caffeine related disasters later on. And I smiled. I was good at my job, and most days, I liked it. Exept for the time an irate lady screeched at me to stop smiling and threw a bread maker at me since I wouldn't return it. (She left the bread inside and it was molding)!!!
My sister used to work retail as well. She rented formal wear to prom going teens and unenthusiastic groomsmen while being presided over by overprotective mothers and over involved bridezillas. I stopped in to see her one day before prom to find a bunch of kids lined up out the door while she and her crew scurried about trying to coordinate bow ties and dress swatches and make sure Jimmy didn't show up in high waters. It was a zoo. But she was smiling.
Once upon a time we were professionals. So we recognize the lack of it in others. We even talked about starting our own customer service training program once. I spend a lot of time at the other end of retail now. I get generally good service at WinCo, adequate service at CostCo and lousy service at WalMart. At least they are all consistent. Dutch Bros has customer service down to an art form. Last time I picked up a 20 oz winter white mocha for my freezing cold husband out in the weather, they served my kiddos suckers with whipped cream on top and made fans for life. Starbucks on the other hand tends to be all over the board customer service wise. Generally they do well, but they let quite a few bad seeds through.
I had a recent experience with that particular company that got me thinking about this again. One of the first things you are told when you enter retail as a 19 year old sales associate is "the customer is always right." One of the first things you learn as a 19 year old sales associate is "the customer is usually and idiot." I'm sorry, but it's true. We are. We (the customers) are not trained at length in company policy. We do not know the ingredients in every single coffee drink. We do not know the condition of the stock room or how many customers are waiting when we call to ask a simple question. So maybe we are not idiots. But we are certainly uninformed and often uneducated.
I had two vastly different experiences at Starbucks recently and neither of them quite did the job. I'll tell you the stories, what was wrong (and right) in each scenario and then I have imagined up a scenario that would lend a little balance to the situation.
SCENARIO 1: I ordered my first egg nog chai latte ever sometime in late November. It sounded creamy, frothy, spicy, wonderful. The barista took my order and cheerfully filled it. I sat down in a cozy chair to sip it and share a cookie with Nat, only to discover my drink to be terrible. It was watered down with barely a hint of chai, egg nog or anything creamy. I politely asked the barista about it. "I've never had one before," I said, "so I don't know if it's supposed to be a little water-y..." She lept into the apology with two feet. "I am sooo sorry. I must have used too much water! Oh, let me make you a new one right now! I am so sorry!!" When the new one was ready, she handed it to me, "try that and see if it's OK." I sip. "Is it OK? I'm so sorry!" "It's very good, thank you."
ASSESSMENT: This barista was over apologetic. The phrase "the customer is always right" is not meant to imply that the "barista is always wrong." What it means is, "the customer pays our bills. Be nice." She also did not arm me with information that would be helpful in the future. (See scenario 2)
SCENARIO 2: I consumed about 1,000,000 calories worth of these little babies over the next month, each one meeting my expectations perfectly. The day after Christmas I resolved to indulge in my last egg nog chai of the season. I ordered a venti at a drive through on my way to do some shopping. I was on the road to my next destination when I tried it. It tasted like water. By the time I made it back to the store, it was ice cold and there were two sips missing. One from my initial taste, the second to make sure it really was that bad. I explained my problem to the barista who looked at me like I was quoting her the Declaration of Independence. I said, "I ordered this at the drive through about an hour ago, and it's really watered down. Could you make me a new one?" "You want a new one? Sure. I can do that for you."(The words read nice here, they sounded otherwise). She remade it; I tried it; it was good. "In the future," she says in the same snarky tone as before, "ask for it without water. Then we'll know to make it without water."
ASSESSMENT: Barista #2 certainly informed me. But she forgot (or maybe she didn't) that tone and body language are just as important, if not more-so, than the words chosen. There was no apology included in this scenario but I don't think it was necessary. Unless she was apologizing for being rude. I could have given her rude. I had to wait an hour for my yummy frothy beverage. I was annoyed. I felt like being rude, but instead, because I am POLITE, modulated my tone and chose my words carefully.
IMAGINARY PERFECT WORLD SCENARIO: Well, in a perfect world, I wouldn't have had to worry about this or the calories in my beverage, so perhaps "perfect world" isn't the best word choice. Anyway, when my latte turned out yucky, I would have approached the barista with my troubles. "I'm sorry you didn't like it," she would say. (Not taking any unnecessary blame, but making me feel better anyway). "I'll make you a new one. I won't use water this time and you can tell me how you like it." I would try it and it would be wonderful. "Great!" She would say. "We do usually make them with water, so next time just ask for it without when you order and it will taste just like that one." (Thus saving me heartache and embarrassment in the future while not rolling her eyes, sighing heavily or being sarcastic. She can do that after my back is turned--as long as the next person in line doesn't see her do it).
This concludes our first training session. remember, the customer is not always right. The customer is usually wrong. Your job is simply to do what you have to, without loosing your dignity, to make the costumer glad to spend money at your establishment. Our next training session will focus on appropriate forms of small talk to engage in while serving your customer.