January 24, 2001 10:08 AM   Subscribe

This is, of course, intended as humor, albeit rather coarse humor, but it's all too depressingly accurate. Why does customer service suck so badly these days? [Spotted at Joel on Software, whom I haven't disagreed with much lately... probably because he hasn't said much lately. :-)]
posted by baylink (58 comments total)
It's actually right on the mark. The problem with most service oriented jobs nowadays is that the economy is (was?) so good that no one wants to do the service jobs like working at gas stations, burger-flipping joints, or general retail attendents/cashiers.

So we're stuck with angsting, lazy teens and adults who just don't care or retirees who are bored but incredibly slow. The ONLY saving grace does seem to be the developmentally-disabled. They're working there because they WANT to....because they have a desire to be useful and helpful.

When the economy's ethics within the service industry gets sacrified.
posted by bkdelong at 10:27 AM on January 24, 2001

What are you talking about?

Customer service seems pretty good in San Diego. I get good service at fast food places, grocery stores, video rental places. I find people to be generally helpful and friendly.

I think you're both just whining about something that doesn't exist.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:33 AM on January 24, 2001

Funniest Onion article *EVER* (simpson's comic book collector guy). It's also the most on mark, it's one of those cases where truth is stranger than fiction.
posted by tiaka at 10:40 AM on January 24, 2001

I don't think so. I have a little story to tell you all, so gather around.

There are a few places near work where I can get coffee (but NO Starbucks within a reasonable distance - this is fine.) I tended to give my money to a Dunkin' Donuts, as they have a drive-thru and I didn't feel like trucking my butt outside in the 10 degree air.

But every single time I have gone through that drive-thru, the person at the window has said NOTHING to me. Not the total, not "here you go", not even a grunt or incomprehensible pseudo-verbal sound. Nothing. Nothing, nothing.

I stopped by a Great American Bagel in an adjacent plaza. I have to walk in, but it's no matter. It's run by an elderly Russian couple, who greet you. And talk with you. And ask you how you're doing. It is the entire antithesis of the drive-thru. The coffee is good, the bagels are great, the prices are better than Dunkin' Donuts. It has the atmosphere of a mom-and-pop place. The only downside is that it's still money going to a big corp, but they're franchisers and get a cut.

It really depends on where you're going, I suppose, but it really does seem like everything around here is "help yourself, and if you need help, we might help you - but don't count on it, bucko."

What I find interesting is that bad customer service is everywhere, and not just in fast food. [insert near-self-blogging notice here] Reference these Daily Pings: 1 2 and 3.
posted by hijinx at 10:43 AM on January 24, 2001

I noticed the "I can't talk, I just take the money and stare" thing going on in high order on a recent weekend trip to Baltimore. These folks don't even want to verbalise the total that you should pay, expecting you to read it off of the register for yourself. (Or hear it through the tinny speaker at the drive thru.) There's no "Here's your change, it's $X" or "Thank you for shopping." or even the hollow "Have a nice day." it's all blank looks and a general peevishness.

It kills me. If you don't want your job, there are plenty of other unskilled idiots who can take it who might actually try to be civil. I'm not asking for friendly, just appropriately, professionally communicative.
posted by Dreama at 11:09 AM on January 24, 2001

I can't remember the last time I went through any Drive-through and actually had what I would consider a good experience. The last 3 times I've been to McDonald's I've gotten my order messed up, been over-charged, and/or had to sit at the window for 5 minutes with no explanation, or even signs of life after my money was taken.

At Tim Horton's my girlfriend and I consistanly got poorly-cut bagels, unstirred coffee and hard croissants. 10 trips in a row, asking for the bag out of the tea almost guaranteed the bag would still be in.

I'm pretty much soured on fast-food in general, and oddly enough it isn't because of the low-quality of food.
posted by cCranium at 11:17 AM on January 24, 2001

Good God! You're getting bad service from surly teenagers making $5.50 an hour? What in the world is going on?! ;)
posted by Skot at 11:27 AM on January 24, 2001

You want the nadir (not Nader) of bad fast-food experiences, go to Detroit. I lived there for ten years and gave up trying to find a good experience. Part of it is probably due to race tension; I'm sure the predominantly black low-income help doesn't much care for waiting for the predominantly white yuppies, and can't say I blame them. The managers, black and white, seem to have given up on getting their employees to actually be friendly or even civil.

Here in Seattle everyone is much more friendly, but surprisingly, I have had an astonishing number of orders messed up compared to Detroit. Half of one, six dozen of the other, I guess.
posted by kindall at 11:31 AM on January 24, 2001

I forgot how bad fast-food service was until I moved back to the city where there are fewer burger joints and more mom-n-pop operations.

The three favorite places for my girlfriend and I to eat are all family-run places and coincidentally all oriental (Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese). The food is always great, it comes quickly, and we know and trust the waitstaff, owners, and chefs; more importantly, they know us and are always friendly, accomodating, and helpful.

Wal-Mart tries to instill this sense of welcome with their "greeters", and while I do not begrudge the oftentimes fine and decent older folks their jobs, I realize that it is a sham designed to replace actual caring, and I come out of the experience more cynical than I was coming in.

However, bad service is not without its charm. In college, my friends and I frequented a place we dubbed "McDysfunctional's" because we could always count on some entertaining farce occurring behind the counter (occasional fights among staff, management's vain attempts to maintain order, fantastic butchering of orders, someone dropping a class ring in the deep-fry...)
posted by Avogadro at 11:42 AM on January 24, 2001

So, how long till the automate the whole fast food indusrty? Wouldn't be too difficult, the processes for making the "food" there is so straight forward that it hardly takes a human to do them. The only problem would seem to be having the correct amount of certain orders ready when they demand for them is high. Let the surly teens and lazy adults go work at the movie theater or something...until they automate that, too.
posted by Hackworth at 11:51 AM on January 24, 2001

Speaking as someone who's first job at 15 years old was in a fast food place, I have to tell you that the one thing that made me hate that job more than anything else was how rude the customers were *to me*. No matter how much I smiled, thanked them, or even went out of my way for them, they still treated me as some second-class citizen because of where I worked. No doubt most of their attitude came from their past experiences, but it was as if they expected to be treatly badly and weren't going to leave the restaurant with it any other way. I saw most of my co-workers come in every day with a smile and every day they left wanting to quit their job because of how the customers treated them. Sure we had some people who didn't care for their job or the customers they waited on therefore giving terrible customer service, but even the people like me who wanted to do good at their job ended up being treated like gutter trash just because we had a McDonald's name tag on our shirt. I guess it goes both ways.
posted by Ugh at 12:01 PM on January 24, 2001

It's not just fast-food; often grocery shopping is just the same. The whole business of "I'm not here to speak, just to convey money from your hand to this register" irks me every time. Especially when they can't even tell me how much money I'm supposed to hand them.

I don't want to be friends with the sullen kids behind the registers, only for them not to make me feel as if it's a great personal bother to them that I needed eggs and bread that day. I don't *have* to go buy a Whopper, but I can't avoid occasional trips to the supermarket.

Paper, not plastic, and a little *eye contact*, if you don't mind.
posted by Sapphireblue at 12:03 PM on January 24, 2001

Those crazy americans with their notions of service and customer care.

Come to europe where we pride ourselves on the surliness and incompetence of our service staff.
posted by fullerine at 12:03 PM on January 24, 2001

Mmm, there's a cute little diner by my house, where they are so polite and friendly, make the Best Burgers Ever (!) and have free newspaper to read..
Screw off, McDonalds.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:09 PM on January 24, 2001

Poor service is nothing new, especially with the wages paid by the fast-food industry (although here in the bay area, In-And-Out is paying roughly $8.00 to start). Fast food service work is monotonous, repetitive, dull, and "moving up" means you get to be _Chief_ fry cook. If I had to daily put up with 1/10th of what minimum-wage workers have to deal with -- belligerent asses loudly complaining about a missing McFakeShake, burns on the fryer, yelling managers, never sitting down, horrendous smells, etc etc, I'd probably turn into exactly the same sullen misanthrope you've described (although I wouldn't resort to the creation of additional non-approved "special sauces" which is no longer an anomaly but appears to be a widespread practice). There's an old business saying: "fast good cheap - pick two."
posted by user92371 at 12:10 PM on January 24, 2001

usern has a point there, but in 20 years of going to fast food places (i.e. since adolescence) I've never seen the service this bad. I hasten to point out I had a just-fine experience at BK the other day, but I've seen sever deterioration at McDonald's since they introduced the "Just for You" fresh-cooked concept, without revamping the organization of their counters. From what I've seen, it's resulted in frequent service meltdowns, where there are 2-3 servers waiting for burgers to arrive, nobody at the counter, people milling around waiting for their orders, and newcomers having to guess or ask to figure out where the real line is. And the "fresh" burgers are hastily and sloppily put together now; sometimes I have to reassemble my Big Mac myself. Drive-thru is the worst, except at a few places. McD's generally prioritizes drive-thru, and you can get fast, logical service that way most places, but mixed-up orders are commonplace. The "don't speak to me" type shows up at a Taco Bell drive-thru I hate to frequent (but it's the only one nearby and when I get a salsa jones...).

Heck, I try to be polite, say thanks, etc. But if I get the wrong stuff I'm generally going to insist on it being fixed, and I should get priority over new customers. That's just the way retail works.
posted by dhartung at 12:24 PM on January 24, 2001

working as cook in a semi-fastfood restaurant mostly taught me that my ass was going to college because menial jobs of the like are know way to carve out a life for one's self. fast food work is not back-breaking work. missing items, yelling managers, and burns are easy to avoid. The fact that some of my recent fastfood experience has been good proves to me that it can be done
posted by srw12 at 12:31 PM on January 24, 2001

I think I'm lucky to live just outside of LA. I'm not in LA proper, so my fast-food experiences are generally good. I have to admit though, they're largely skewed by my insane passion for In 'n Out burger, which tips the results, 'cause everyone knows that In 'n Out has the best service ever.

Or maybe just the best hats. I can't remember.
posted by annathea at 12:48 PM on January 24, 2001

i always get mildly grossed out when i hear people complaining about service-industry workers, mainly because i can't ignore the not-so-faint whiff of classism in the complaints. 'well, if they'd only do better and be nice ...'

i wholeheartedly agree with what user92371 said. the corporate structure of most service industry jobs results in the workers not being treated no better than calves in fattening pens; there's no monetary incentive, no advancement incentive, dehumanizing ideas like 'introducing yourself to the customer' that make the workers feel really stupid ... and the people who come up to the counter and want everything YESTERDAY YESTERDAY YESTERDAY just make work seem that much worse. the hollow 'innovations' to make workers seem 'valued' are about as emotionally satisfying as a gold star stuck firmly to the scalp.

(nb: in 'fast food nation' i read that in-and-out is consistently cited as pretty much the only chain in the country that a) treats its workers well and b) uses top quality food. i would imagine that a lot of that is due to its still being a mainly regional chain, although i could just be wildly speculating.)
posted by maura at 12:48 PM on January 24, 2001

From the Vegetable: "Andy has trouble with basic addition and spelling his name, but he fits right in at Burger King," Donnelly said. "The work seems almost tailor-made for someone with special needs."

At least as I read the article, the point was not so much about customer service -- at least half the details were about things never seen by customers -- as the boring and demeaning nature of "work" at fast-food restaurants.
posted by grimmelm at 1:26 PM on January 24, 2001

sorry, I have no sympathy.

or rather: I have sympathy for the people who have to work these jobs, because I'm damn thankful I've never had to work in fast food and even more thankful that my grocery-bagging days are over, but I have no sympathy for people who take their personal problems out on me.

If someone's employer is treating them badly, that is nothing I did, and I don't expect to be made to suffer (in whatever admittedly small ways) for it. ---on the other hand, if I *do* go postal on some hapless fast-food employee (never have, yet), at that point I've made it personal, and couldn't blame that employee for doing the same.

I worked at Kinko's before I managed to claw my way into the middle class, and those customers that cursed me, screamed at me, otherwise abused me got the same right back on more than one occasion---but I surely hope I was never evil to someone who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I've got white guilt, American guilt, class guilt, and now I should have I-don't-have-a-shitty-minimum-wage-job guilt too? I'm a liberal but I'm not *that* liberal.
posted by Sapphireblue at 1:34 PM on January 24, 2001

Now, waitaminnit.

I worked in fast food. Spent a total of almost three years at Burger King, way past the age when you're supposed to do that. (As late as 23. Sue me.)

Three different franchisees, four different restaurants.

Yeah, I occasionally got a shit on the other side of the counter, but I'm right here to tell you they were rare. Even at lunch rush.

Not to self-blog or anything, but I'm a *damned* fine customer service employee. I ran drive through tighter than any of my *district managers* could manage, ad slogans and all (being a 10-year ham, and therefore able to understand orders on the first try didn't hurt at all), and in three years, I was off on my cash *twice*; high 87 cents one time, short 34 cents the other.

It comes right down to this: if you provide good service to the people, and you're friendly, and check the orders for accuracy, people *will* be nice in return.

Well, ok; at least in Florida.

We can't count or vote, we have to be good at *something*.


So what I'm trying to tell you is this: it *is* the employee's problem. The *fault*? Management, who aren't getting paid enough either.
posted by baylink at 1:43 PM on January 24, 2001

the service industry is riddled with incompetence everywhere. fast food establishments are hardly the worst example(In-N-Out does a fine job, sorry to you regionally challenged folks). i would be more than fair in saying that 60% of the time i call a 'customer service' line, the person on the other end of the phone is either mildly retarded or inadequately trained to handle customer requests. i'm no stranger to putting these people on the spot and i've often found that the phrase, 'let me speak to your manager,' is often useful. they usually balk at this, but i can generally defer the phone-jockey's question with 'because you don't make enough money to deal with someone as angry as i am right now.' yes, i know, i'm rambling.....

my point is that the service industry sucks. the employees don't enjoy the job(ok, sometimes they do, but it is rare), management doesn't want to deal with shiftless, insolent souls who barely make minimum wage, and ultimately it is the consumer who suffers.

alas, what can we do? stop patronizing those establishments. don't go to starbucks to have some mindless robot serve you a double-half-stack-grande-soy-stick-in-the-a**-latte, find a local shop where the owner has a vested interest in pleasing the customer. if you have bad experience, tell the manager. if the manager rolls his/her eyes at you, do your best to denigrate them, take their name, write a letter to the company CEO and tell everyone you know about what a miserable experience it is to do business with that establishment.

forcing people to be friendly in a job they hate is a waste of time. safeway grocery stores(in California) implemented a plan whereby all employees would have to engage customers and be congenial. it's actually sort of creepy when you are not used to it. they sidle up next to you in the aisle and throw you a few half-hearted pleasantries. the end result? a lawsuit brought by female employees who were repeatedly subject to lewd behavior from men who interpreted this unusual friendliness as some romantic spark.

don't try to change the employees, change the business. make them earn you as a customer and they will succeed. and, perhaps, some of us will be happier.
posted by donkeysuck at 1:49 PM on January 24, 2001

thank you maura. i think there's more than a whiff of classism in here.

If someone's employer is treating them badly, that is nothing I did
Au contraire: the service we've come to expect from a McDonald's is only possible by oppressing workers in countless ways. On top of that, we demand that they not reveal their pain in the process of serving us? That's real cool.

I'm a liberal
Now that made my day.
posted by sudama at 2:13 PM on January 24, 2001

What fullerine said: you spoilt bastards.

sapphireblue: Paper, not plastic, and a little *eye contact*, if you don't mind.

Excuse me. If you're shopping at a faceless corporate warehouse, rather than supporting your neighbourhood store, then you shouldn't expect to be treated like the cashier's cousin. If you're happy to shave a few pennies from your dinner, by engaging with an economy built upon McJobs, then you should bloody well put up with being treated like shit. And if you're offended by customer service, then apply for a job alongside them, and give them the benefit of your marketing skills.

Honestly, there's not much difference between the arrogance with which corpulent middle America treats its lowest-paid service workers, and the way it treats family planning programmes in Africa.

I think the phrase is "you don't know you're born".
posted by holgate at 2:15 PM on January 24, 2001

Well said, holgate. If you don't like the service, then don't perpetuate the economy which demands minimum wage, trained-monkey employees because *you* or those like you go to another fast food conglomerate if the price of your burger rises by a few cents.

You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.
posted by Markb at 2:32 PM on January 24, 2001

Agreeing with y6y6y6 from way back... I've been surprised by the regional variation in service from chain-type places. I generally tried (unsuccessfully) to avoid fast food during my time in the franchise deserts of Atlanta and Memphis, because of the 60% - 80% order accuracy and the crushing impersonality of it all. I had just chalked it up to the nature of the franchise system: people you don't know doing things for you they'd rather not be doing.

Pittsburgh seems to be a lot nicer about the whole thing. Accuracy, eye contact, the occasional "how are you" as an actual pleasantry and not a memorized, mumbled sequence of run-together sounds. I've even had the guy behind the counter of a massive camera chain have my prints out and ready to go because he recognized me walking across the parking lot.
posted by Vetinari at 2:34 PM on January 24, 2001

This thread has touched on economics, classism, management, and anger at poor service. I'm gonna touch on anger:

A couple years ago at a Chicago Burger King, minutes after I arrived and placed my order, I noticed a problem - people continued to stream into line but nobody left. Cashiers took orders while nobody got any food. We quickly reached sardine density. It appeared that the burger machine (or some such critical implement) had broken down. Apparently nobody thought it would be a problem to continue selling burgers they could not make.

15 minutes after paying my money and standing elbow-to-elbow with fifty other irate customers, I wrangled my way to the counter to demand my money back. Unable to get anyone's attention, and furious at this point, I stepped behind the counter and approached the clueless manager.

That got his attention. "Get out! Get out!" he screamed at me.

"Gimme my f***1ng food or my money back NOW, a$$h0le!" I screamed back. I was ready to take out every fast food frustration I'd ever experienced on him.

So, yadda yadda, etc... at least the cops were nice. Point is, it's a vicious cycle. Service workers may be sullen and careless, but customers can be volatile, difficult and combative, perhaps because of other lousy service workers - or idiots in traffic - or evil phone companies - or degrading cubicle conditions - whatever, there's a lot to piss people off every day. We hear about violence being blamed on various forms of "rage" wherein a person is allegedly so mad they're temporarily insane. I suspect there's a cumulative effect, and it's a bigger problem than fast food.
posted by Tubes at 2:44 PM on January 24, 2001

Dammit! You all beat me to the remarks about In-N-Out. thbpt!

maura, not only is INO still mainly regional (it branched into Vegas a few years back; gotta keep the gamblers fed!) but the man who owns the company at present, Guy Snyder is the son of the man who started INO in the first place. Last I heard he had NO plans of selling off the company or allowing franchises. The way it's run right now is great because all of the stores still have to answer to the corporation as far as complaints, quality of service, etc. (If it hadn't come across, I used to work there. (: ) Also, INO's quality ... rules tend to be stricter than local county and state health laws. And the check-ups from the company itself never let up. heh.

In addition to being "family-owned" the company treats it's employees well. It's noted above that the minimum starting pay is $8.00 (nothing to sneeze at if you're 16) but when it comes to bonuses and Christmas gifts, etcetcetc.. they're good to the people who keep them in business (employees and customers alike).

Annathea, it's the hats. (:

posted by sarajflemming at 2:55 PM on January 24, 2001

I was thinking about starting a Hall Of Shame site for people with stories to tell... but it appears someone's beaten me to it.

I think that supporting this site would be a Very Good Thing. Think about the synergism between this site... and Google searching. :-)

Quick, everyone: go blog right now. :-)
posted by baylink at 3:09 PM on January 24, 2001

If you're shopping at a faceless corporate warehouse, rather than supporting your neighbourhood store, then you shouldn't expect to be treated like the cashier's cousin.

Frankly, that would unnerve me in more ways than one. I personally tend to shop at several local stores so that the employees don't get the mistaken idea that they have some kind of "relationship" with me merely because they take my money sometimes. When the cashier says something that shows he or she remembers me from my previous visit, it's time to shop somewhere else for a while.

Long live faceless corporate warehouses!
posted by kindall at 3:12 PM on January 24, 2001

Hey Kindall, maybe they think they have a "relationship" with you because you're both people, not simply because they take your money.
posted by Doug at 3:18 PM on January 24, 2001

When the cashier says something that shows he or she remembers me from my previous visit, it's time to shop somewhere else for a while.

In which case, you should just stay at home and get your toilet-roll mail-ordered. I think my general point is that the extremes of market capitalism drives the value of social commerce out of commerce at the low end.

The argument shouldn't be: "why should we pay extra for civility", but rather "why are we driving down the price into the domain of incivility?"
posted by holgate at 3:46 PM on January 24, 2001

sudama: if *you* are the baseline standard of liberalism, then you're the only fucking one *on* MetaFilter.


holgate: Price is just about the last factor I use in choosing a supermarket, actually. In point of fact, the store I was mostly thinking of was the Winn-Dixie grocery at 10th and Monroe in Atlanta. It was my neighborhood store, a three-minute walk away, which *was* the reason I went there---and definitely a regional chain. An older chain, a smaller store and far more modest selection than, say, the glitzy Publix at Ansley Mall, which was also not too far away. And that W-D was infamous on a small scale for cashier belligerence.

So. For the sake of my being cosseted and fussed over, then, would it have been better, to hop in the car, gas up and drive over to yuppie-ass Publix, the Starbucks of Southern grocery shopping? Or perhaps simply restrict my grocery consumption to what could be purchased at the corner store at 6th and Argonne, where they're very nice but a little short on fresh meat and produce? Either way refuse to shop any longer at the W-D, perhaps contribute to its closing, a two-for-one special of causing 1) everyone in my neighborhood to have to drive or hike to a further-away store and 2) the loss of jobs of people in my neighborhood? Gosh, I bet *that* would be the way to get them to shape up and get a smile on their faces. Better unemployed than in a job where you're unhappy, is that about right? It'd be for their own good.
posted by Sapphireblue at 3:57 PM on January 24, 2001

I've worked both sides of the counter. People should always be polite. That's pretty much the end of the story. People should be polite and try and do their best.

As for classism... I call bullshit on that comment. I hated working the counter, it's a pretty thankless job but I always tried to be polite and I never took out my day on anyone. How difficult is that?
posted by amanda at 5:12 PM on January 24, 2001

From experience of trying to get decent locally-produced food in Atlanta, I think that city's a lost cause. Which breaks my heart, given the glorious stuff produced in rural GA.

Anyway, a genuine question: do our US listeners feel that, say, the Gap greeter, counts as "customer service"? Because from my rude European perspective, it's precisely that kind of factory-drilled cheeriness which makes me long for sulky bastards.
posted by holgate at 5:25 PM on January 24, 2001

No DNS, Bucky...
posted by baylink at 5:35 PM on January 24, 2001

You gotta love The Onion.
posted by Bag Man at 5:40 PM on January 24, 2001

thank you, amanda. i think that was what i was trying to say, somewhere there in the ranting.

"factory-drilled cheeriness" is awful too. I visited a Safeway here in DC recently---paid with a credit card---the woman at the register looked at my slip and said, How do you pronounce your last name? I said, Umm, Kinsey-Clinton..? She said, Have a nice day, Ms. Clinton. heh. ordinarily I'm a little anal on my hyphenated name being *one name* but I felt so bad for this person, who was so obviously following some clueless manager's ill-advised attempt to scientifically engineer good customer service that I let it slide, just that once ;>

just a smile, you know, that's good. eye contact. or even: "Man, I wish this day was over." I think that connects with me better than anything else: a little expression of honest & genuine but relatively polite humanity.
posted by Sapphireblue at 6:06 PM on January 24, 2001

Wal-Mart tries to instill this sense of welcome with their "greeters", and while I do not begrudge the oftentimes fine and decent older folks their jobs, I realize that it is a sham designed to replace actual caring

Dude... it's a cheap retail store... if you're looking for people to care for you there, I feel really, REALLY sorry for you. That's the job of your family and friends, maybe even coworkers, teachers, etc. -- but the idea of a retail operation is that you give them money and you get stuff. Not to engage in some social relationship.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:17 PM on January 24, 2001

What I can't understand is why all these people want to be talked to. I mean, they're there to take your money and bring you food (or whatever). Is that not enough? I hate having clerks talk to me.

I'm not the small talk type, you know?
posted by Jart at 6:20 PM on January 24, 2001

"Greeters" do not in any way constitute customer service in their nominal function, but I'm sure they get asked where things are an awful lot, and answering such questions is service. Having someone always positioned at the entrance to a large store whose job it is to point you toward what you're looking for is actually a pretty good idea from a service standpoint, but calling them a "greeter,"as if all they're there for is to smile and say hello, is pretty demeaning to both the person and to customers.
posted by kindall at 6:22 PM on January 24, 2001

I no longer complain about lousy service at fast food places since I got married.
posted by Postroad at 6:27 PM on January 24, 2001

Baylink : I know, it's a joke (although I'm thinking of registering it now)

I used to date one of those 'greeters'. She meant every word of "have a nice day" - frightening.

Great shag though.
posted by fullerine at 6:53 PM on January 24, 2001

I've bagged groceries at Albertson's, I've worked the cash register at Carl's Jr., and I've done everything but run the projector at the local art theater.

Customers *suck*. Not all of them, but all it takes is one schmuck on your shift to ruin your week.

No bad tales from the grocery store, but working the register in summer was a pain, simply because of the Smart Ass Kids who weren't in school. "Hey, I bet you have to know Spanish to work here, huh?" one Beavis clone asked as his buddies "Ahuh-huh-huh"ed to themselves.

I took the rest of their order in Spanish.

There were plenty of adults who were assholes, too, especially in the drive-thru. I have never lost my patience with whoever has to wear the headphones after that summer; you try and get an order right when the place is full of people yelling for their food as the fryers beep and the static crackle cuts your brain in two.

The movie theater was staffed by peope who were totally overqualified, so the manager said there was no reason we should do a half-assed job. The work was menial, the pay was low, but the movies were good, the popcorn was free, and it left me with time to write. Perfect, except for the customers. Nothing like having to deal with all of the LA Hipsters with their free passes from the LA Weekly all begging to get into the free premiere of The Latest Hot Flick (I had to work the premiere for "Pi." The manager forbid us to tell the customers that it was a piece of crap and not worth waiting for) while you told the Lower Rung Industry Assholes that they had to turn their cell phones off and stop pulling their friends through the door.

Yes, it's a low paying job. Yes, it's menial. Yes, we're the faces on faceless corporate America. But that's no excuse to be a rude idiot just 'cause we forgot your extra pickles.
posted by RakDaddy at 8:22 PM on January 24, 2001

(No one's ever going to read this far down in the comments, but what the heck, eh?) There's obviously no reason why both the customer and the employee can't observe basic niceties during a transaction. That being said, having worked at both a McJob and as a supermarket cashier, I can truthfully say that while I've had a few "bad days" (and who hasn't?) where I was more brusque than I should have been with a customer, the vast, vast, vast majority of my bad work experiences are due to customers verbally abusing me over small matters. And, as I'm sure everyone who's worked in retail knows, if you start your day off with a customer screaming and swearing at you over a couple of pennies, you're not exactly going to be Miss Suzy Sunshine, making happy eye contact with the other customers for the rest of the day. Customer can be amazingly superior and mean, just because it's easy to bully a girl in a polyester shirt who makes minimum wage.(And, while I'm at it, I by far prefer silent (even moody) fast, efficient service than chatty, slow service. I'm not buying groceries so I can make a new friend...)
posted by jess at 8:39 PM on January 24, 2001

Rudeness is one thing -- from either customer or worker it is unacceptable. But in a job as a cashier, for instance, communicating the cost and explaining the transaction is a part of the freaking job and shouldn't be considered an extra "niceness" that the employee isn't being paid well enough to care about. Do your job well, have a little damned self-pride, and if you can't hack a service industry position, then find yourself something better. Anybody who can manage a cash register in a busy retail establishment can file or photocopy in an office, and file clerks typically get to be hermits who don't speak to anyone.

And it's hardly classist to complain about bad service when people are treated equally badly whether they are seemingly well off, seemingly poor or seemingly alien; the inability for people to handle themselves appropriately in public contact workplaces cuts across class strata.
posted by Dreama at 8:43 PM on January 24, 2001

Just for the record, I worked in the paint department at Sears during high school and part of college. You have not seen pandemonium until you have seen the Sears paint department during the 4th of July Paint Sale.

(And I read down this far.)
posted by kindall at 8:47 PM on January 24, 2001

After living in Japan a few years, I thought customer service was dead here in America (well, I guess I should say California). Until, I went to Las Vegas. Wow. Those people know how to treat their customers.
posted by Neb at 9:07 PM on January 24, 2001

Maybe the McJobbers should form a union?
posted by alexfarran at 2:00 AM on January 25, 2001

McDonalds is a successful as it is in part because it's so good at preventing its workers from organizing. There are many many obstacles keeping McD employees from unionizing.
posted by sudama at 5:54 AM on January 25, 2001

Those people know how to treat their customers.

Uh... I think that they call their customers "johns"

; )
posted by Avogadro at 6:05 AM on January 25, 2001

I have a kind of Taoist approach to how to instill good customer service: create a stimulating work environment and you create happier employees. Better customer service will result.

Object lessons: I had an acquaintance who worked counter at a McD's. She faced a customer who lobbed her the softball, "Make me a cheeseburger". Her response, "OK, *poof* you're a cheeseburger." Unfortunately, the customer in question was a regional inspector and because she deviated from the standard script, she was fired. McDonald's dictates consistency, no matter how low the standard may be. You can't dictate friendliness or humor, only that your employees act that way, and many of them just aren't good actors.

In the dark ages, CostCo used to pay its check out clerks on commission. Going through the checkout at a CostCo was a joy because the employees sought you out and got you through as quickly as practical. This didn't last because now CostCo's margins are up and they cut their operating expenses by dropping the commission to maximize profits. The checkout lines are long and slow.

Big surprise.

posted by plinth at 6:33 AM on January 25, 2001

plinth: Agreed insofar as the environment goes; I'm certain that this is why The Container Store has been voted best place to work in America for two years straight now.

I worked there for six months or so and, truly, it's an exception to the typical retail working environment. It's like they care! Pay is good, hours are good, the environment is positive, and the customer really is king (or queen) there.

Of course, you pay for this with higher prices. But there has to be a trade-off somewhere. I know I'm quite willing to pay a little more if I get better service.
posted by hijinx at 6:53 AM on January 25, 2001

Object lessons: I had an acquaintance who worked counter at a McD's. She faced a customer who lobbed her the softball, "Make me a cheeseburger". Her response, "OK, *poof* you're a cheeseburger." Unfortunately, the customer in question was a regional inspector and because she deviated from the standard script, she was fired.


I'd have sued. It didn't matter on what grounds; I'd have sued, and gotten them *so much* bad publicity they'd have hated themselves for ever even thinking of canning me for saying that.

And it's the sort of thing I'd have done, too. I probably *have* done it, in fact. :-)

I'm pretty sure that's not sufficient legal reason to terminate on the spot without warning, anyway; they have procedures in the book for *that*, too; most teenagers, though, wouldn't ever think to ask for proof, much less call and complain to someone.
posted by baylink at 8:56 AM on January 25, 2001

On the off chance that anyone reads these threads after they have fallen off the front page:

A Salon article discussing a new book by a man out to reveal the inherent evil of the fast food industry. More high praise of In N Out, too.
posted by Sapphireblue at 9:31 AM on February 8, 2001

Yup. That "My Comments" feature is pretty spiffy.
posted by baylink at 2:55 PM on February 9, 2001

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