Thursday, August 16, 2012

It's Easier to Complain Than to Say, "Good Job!" ... and How Sad is That?

I had an interesting epiphany about human nature yesterday ... and it wasn't exactly one that speaks well to us, at least when you make a basic generalization that's unfortunately all too easy to make.

Why is it that, if something goes wrong in a restaurant or grocery store or autobody shop or whatever, people are very quick to complain, but it's fairly rare for customers to go out of their way to point out exceptional work?

I've worked many a customer service job over the years--Chuck E. Cheese's, Water Country, Cumberland Farms, and so on.  If the pizza had a bubble on it or an item was accidentally priced wrong, many people had a knee jerk reaction to go utterly nuclear.

I was fifteen when I started working at Water Country, a local water amusement park, and one of my first jobs was "bag checker".  There were signs all over the place outside the admissions area stating that no glass is allowed inside.  I mean, picture a bunch of little kids in bathing suits running around with bare feet and you can probably imagine why this policy existed.  And, I repeat, there were signs before you even walked into the park clearly stating this.

On my first day at work, a woman came up to my checking station, and her cooler was full of glass.  It was almost like she'd gone out of her way to locate glass containers of everything.  When I told her that she couldn't bring it into the park, she hit the roof.  I suggested that we had paper cups with lids that she could transfer her mayonnaise and stuff into, and then ...

Well, she hit me.  Yup, she grabbed a bag of hamburger buns out of her bag and threw it in my face.  She had excellent aim, and I suspect she could throw a decent fastball.  

She also had a pretty good selection of wine coolers that she'd hidden under her baby in the poor kid's stroller (security picked up on this when they were removing her from the park ... I hadn't gotten a chance to look at the stroller for contraband, and I wasn't getting any closer to her after the hamburger bun incident).

And yet, as she was forcibly removed from the park, she was screaming about what a horrible place Water Country was, how shabbily she'd been treated, and so forth.  It was just crazy--she didn't get what she wanted, so she was going to complain (and loudly--I'm pretty sure she'd already dipped into the wine coolers).

Remember the woman who sued McDonald's for quite a chunk of change after getting burned from coffee purchased at a drive up window?  God forgive me, all I could think about was that she sounded like the kind of customer that would have been freaking out, demanding her money back, and possibly throwing any available bags of hamburger buns if her coffee had come out cold.  And while I feel badly for her (third-degree burns in the vaginal region ... *shiver*), she ordered hot coffee ... what the heck did she expect?  And this woman was pulled over adding cream and sugar when she spilled the coffee ... it's not like the Mickey D's employee dumped it in her lap.

But I'm veering quite far afield of my point.

There is nothing wrong with an expectation of competency by employees in any field.  In fact, customers should be treated with respect and given what they are paying for.  

But why is it so less common for exceptionally good work to be lauded than for exceptionally poor work to be noted?

I got a flat tire yesterday, and it was a bad scene.  My car has all wheel drive, so the traction control went kerflooey once the spare tire was on ... the speedometer didn't move, emergency lights telling me that the brake system failed flashing, just a horrible experience.

Anyway, I called the VIP store I do business with (VIP is an auto parts, tires, and service chain, based primarily in the northeastern United States, I believe).  The experience I had was so exceptional that I sent the following e-mail to John Quirk, the company's president and CEO.

Dear Mr. Quirk,

I am writing to commend three of the employees at your Stratham, NH VIP store.  While I have always had positive experiences at this location, I felt strongly enough about my recent incident to let you know about the outstanding customer service I received from these three gentlemen.

I got a flat tire in Manchester and, while I was able to get the spare tire on, the traction control on my vehicle caused the speedometer to stop working and for emergency brake lights to flash repeatedly.  Needless to say, I was petrified.  I called the Stratham VIP store in a fairly distressed state.  I spoke to an employee named Chris on the phone, who calmed me down and reassured me about the situation.  

When I arrived at the store, Chris assisted me with identifying the tire as a complete loss and explained how I would be able to get some of the warranty I had on the tire based on the tire tread.  The tire was not in stock, but he ordered it immediately and gave me an estimate and a timeline.

I then mentioned a sway bar that had been mentioned as a future concern the last time I'd had my car in for work, and he asked the mechanic looking at the tire situation to look into that.  He then prepared another estimate based on the sway bar.

At this point, the mechanic, a gentleman named Mike came out front quickly to make sure I knew that the tie rod was also a serious concern.  Mike explained that the tie rod was actually a higher priority than the sway bar.

Your employee Robie oversaw the entire lengthy exchange and got right on the phone to parts stores to locate a tie rod for my car (it's evidently a part they had to order from another company because my car has very specific dimensions), and Robie went out of his way to call around and get the best price available.  The initial estimate ("worst case financial scenario") was changed by a fairly significant amount of money because he took the time to make those phone calls.

Robie, Mike, and Chris all told me repeatedly that they were "just doing their job", but the effort they put into creating multiple estimates in my best interest while focusing on other customers was exemplary.  It was a time-consuming process that they apologized for while making it very clear that they were doing everything possible to take care of my car as quickly and financially-friendly as possible.

I am a single mother working two jobs, so I appreciated the lengths they went to in order to keep the necessary work done at the best possible price.  I am also a high school teacher, and these three gentlemen exemplified the morals, values, respect, politeness, and work ethic that I strive to bring out in my students and in my own children.

Customer service is an area that is often overlooked in this day and age, and I wanted to make sure you were aware of the outstanding combination of customer service and obvious knowledge about their work demonstrated by Robie, Mike, and Chris.

I felt so strongly about my positive experience that I asked for a contact person that I could express this to. The gentlemen assured me that I didn't have to let anyone know just how pleased I was by their outstanding work, that they were "just doing their jobs". However, people always seem to want to complain when something isn't done well; it saddens me that it's much rarer for people to take the time to express positive experiences.

Therefore, I wanted to make sure you were aware of the outstanding employees you have in Robie, Mike, and Chris. 

Katie Loud
(an extremely satisfied VIP customer)

A bit long-winded, I know, but you cannot imagine how grateful I was.

Even more, though, I think I went a little bit overboard because I spent a lot of time yesterday afternoon and this morning wondering why it is so rare for someone to recognize and commend in some way when service goes above and beyond. 

Why is it so much easier to complain (and often in nit-picky ways) than to take the time to acknowledge the other extreme--which, when you stop and think about it, is a lot more common than we perhaps realize on the surface? 

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