Having been lucky enough to have enough younger cousins to keep me in babysitting through my teenage years, a job as a waitress in an Irish hotel at the age of 19 was to be my first attempt at surviving on my own income. At the time, Ireland had a booming economy and needed workers. And how better to bolster its hospitality industry than to hire a whole slew of friendly Newfoundlanders, regardless of their experience?
Upon arriving at the hotel that was to be my workplace and home for a year, I met with Frances, the general manager. Although I’d seen her smiling as she greeted guests in the foyer, she was somewhat intimidating once inside her office and sitting behind a huge timber desk. She asked for my CV. but I didn’t have one. I didn’t know what a CV was. She asked about my work experience and I told her honestly that this was my first job. She scrunched her nose and tilted her head to one side, looking at me over her dark-rimmed glasses. I quickly told her that although I’d never actually worked in a restaurant, I sure liked to eat in restaurants, and while eating in all of the finest establishments in town and around the bay, I sure noticed when service was lacking. What a relief when she unscrunched her face and straightened her head; certainly, she agreed, much about good service is involves avoiding doing things that you yourself would find annoying as a customer.
I made my share of mistakes working at that hotel, and I learned from them. Like the night I checked on the same table so many times during a dinner service that they insisted I sit and taste their dessert. Lesson: there is such a thing as being too friendly. But between that first job and the lessons I’ve learned both at work and as a customer since then, I can mention a few behaviours that many people might agree are among their customer service pet peeves.
Not acknowledging people. I do not believe that customer service has to mean standing in wait with a maniacal grin. As a customer, however, I want to receive some signal that the person behind the counter is aware of my presence. A smile is the easiest way to do this, but it could be as simple as a nod in my direction to let me know that I’ll be able to get someone’s attention if I need it. Customers can also improve their experience by simply reciprocating. When I worked in retail, I would approach customers by saying “How are you today?” and would often be met with “No, thank you!” It seems that forced corporate politeness has driven many people to a point where every greeting is assumed to be scripted. This is especially sad here in NL, where we used to have an inherent knowledge that the answer to “how are ya?” is “how are you?” Let’s bring that back.
Bellyaching I don’t know what’s worse: hearing a cashier at the grocery store complaining to her coworker about a contrary manager or a bad schedule for the weekend; or hearing a customer whining about something totally out of the control of the business. When an employee speaks ill of their job or their employer, it makes them both look bad and it makes customers uncomfortable. When trucks don’t come in because 100-km/hr winter winds stopped the ferry crossing, there is no point in loudly complaining about the lack of fresh produce, at least not to the poor girl in customer service. Just buy your frozen broccoli and move on.
Not knowing and not bothering to find out. Nobody expects every employee of every establishment to know everything about their products and services, but it’s unacceptable when they don’t even bother to try. While it is any customer-service-oriented position’s job to make sure that a customer gets an answer to a reasonable question, this point is especially important in food service, where allergies and sensitivities need to be considered. The good thing is that it is easier and easier for customers to be prepared by doing some research ahead of time, such as reading reviews and information online and asking questions on forums like Twitter. This way, you will be better informed and you’ll know which competitors to visit in case you do happen to get the dreaded, “I dunno”.
Although I’m sure there are countless other pet peeves, imagine the result if just these three were eradicated. See how many of them you notice when you’re out and about this week and let me know what you find, if you like. I’m interested to hear about your pet peeves and things that customers can also do to help in getting rid of them. Or do you think my expectations are too high? Drop me a line @ishopandtell on Twitter, or send me an email.