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Tonight, five of us went to an Olive Garden in Temecula, California. Once we were seated, the wait for drinks and further service was interminable. We were given salads but no plates. One member of our group waited for his salad plate nearly ten minutes after the rest of us finally got ours. During the meal we asked for items, were promised, but only received after we’d asked twice again. We were told by our waitress the manager would bring salads; never happened. When the manager finally did get involved, at my request, she apologized several times, said she’d bring us more salad but never did. One member of our group had ordered a meal with clams and mollusks only to discover that most of her shells were just that, shells with no meat in them. She had to ask for the meat that was promised with the meal.

The end of this story is the manager eventually, via the waitress, absorbed the entire bill, apologizing again and charging us nothing for five meals, a tab that approached $100. This is nice, was appreciated, and rarely happens. We left the harried waitress an appropriate tip. And by the way, this is not my typical experience at Olive Garden.

As I said, I asked to speak to the manager because my friend was left sitting after we’d spoken twice to our inefficient waitress. I rarely do this. Though I experience my share of poor customer service I rarely challenge or even respond to it, primarily because I don’t want to create conflict or otherwise appear to be just another unpleasant customer. But I wonder, is this avoidance the best idea?

Last fall at Philadelphia International Airport I endured my worst ever experience with a clerk. I needed to change a train ticket into a plane ticket. But the young woman at Continental Airlines didn’t want to assist me or didn’t know how to do what I needed. In any event, she presented me with an extreme condescending attitude and brusqueness, all the while tossing her head, rolling her eyes, and shaking her body in ways that indicated she thought I was beneath her effort.

What had I done to deserve this? Nothing. What made it worse is that her manager eventually stood behind her, watched her treat me the way she did—even with a “Tsk” of disgust when her question elicited an answer from me that she didn’t like. Yet the manager said and did nothing to intervene—even looked me in the eye to see how I might react.

I didn’t challenge this extreme attitude that day, but sometimes I think I should have done so, if nothing else so the young clerk would at least have the experience of being held accountable whether or not she agreed. But I didn’t say anything, just absorbed the bad behavior because I didn’t want to escalate the attitude war.

What bothers me most, and maybe this is ego or pride, is when I follow instructions exactly as given to me by one clerk only to have another clerk act as if I’m dumb, don’t know what I’m talking about, or simply a bother. This happens to me a lot, at hotels, car rentals, and stores—yet almost always I eventually prove to be the one with correct information about their procedures.

This happened during Christmas week when I had to work with three Rogers and Holland jewelry stores to get them to add an accent diamond, which was missing at delivery from the new engagement ring I’d just purchased. I approached the Grand Rapids store staff and said to them what the Lansing store staff said I should say. For five minutes until they got their bearings, to hear them interpret it, I was the uninformed customer. Actually, they didn’t know what they were talking about and consequently were blowing smoke to placate me or to get me to go away. When I finally got in direct touch with the jeweler, a gentleman about my age, he bent over backwards to meet my needs during Christmas time, even gave me his cell phone number. And he eventually added the accent diamond. I salute him.

But this customer service breakdown had happened earlier at the Lansing store, too, where we’d ordered the ring, were told they’d call me, but they did not. So after the deadline I called them. The manager kept saying she was “Sorry for my confusion”—said it three times until I intervened and said I was not “confused” but her store had not done what it said it was going to do. At that she admitted I was right and from there we resolved the issue.

I’m at a point where I’m old enough, experienced enough, and weary enough that I don’t think I want to go on in silence anymore. Like Olive Garden tonight, I think I’ll speak up. But if I do this, it seems to me the primary concern or key for success is not so much what I say as how I say it. I am, after all, a Christian, so I don’t want to evidence a decided lack of the fruit of the Spirit.

I don’t want to convey anger or any other uncontrolled emotion. I don’t want to be pushy, grouchy, or unduly demanding. I don’t want to be unfair. I want to give people a break and not always jump on their miscues.

But I also want to say, “Hey, wait a minute,” to note unprofessional attitudes or poor service or products. As long as I respond winsomely I think I have every right as a paying customer to speak truth to shoddiness or incompetence. Me not speaking up is not doing them any good or doing any good for the next customer treated in a similar shabby manner.

I’m not quite ready to wear a shirt that says, “Don’t Tread On Me.” But I am ready to say, “You know, you’d have a better day if you respected your customers.”


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

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