Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Client Is Always Wrong

In the opening scene of the Robert Rodriguez movie Desperado, Antonio Banderas' character enters a bar to blow away a bunch of nasties where a neon sign above the door reads:


Ever since I saw that movie in 1995 with my now ex-girlfriend Sonia, I've laughed everytime I've seen that scene. It's just so poignant.

In the world of customer service, there's that saying that I'm sure all of you have heard: "The customer is always right." I don't believe that for one minute, and as I teach my staff: there are many times when the customer is way fucking wrong, but it's not our job to let them feel that way. It is our job to accommodate the customer as much as possible.

And while I strive to accommodate even the most difficult customer, sometimes a customer is just too difficult to deal with and I get to do what my staff cannot: I get to kick them out.

But being difficult or making odd requests of beverages isn't enough for me to kick them out. They have to top it off with a healthy dose of rudeness and disrespect. Unfortunately, there are a few individuals who don't seem to understand that "service" is not "servitude."

Just a little while ago, a gentleman was at the counter with his two daughters buying several items that took a bit of time to compile. While he was waiting, a young girl stood there waiting while I ran to the supply closet for extra forks. When I returned a few seconds later, a woman had joined the queue but was standing on the opposite side of the man from the young girl. After finishing with the man, I asked the girl if that was all she needed. That's when the trouble started.

"You know, I was here before you," said the woman to the girl.

Of course, the girl must be in her tween years and this is a forty-something woman, she seems like a nice enough girl and isn't getting sassy with the woman. The girl even apologizes as the young man standing away from the counter acknowledges that she was there before the woman (it would turn out later that the young man was with the woman), but the woman continues. And that's when I felt I should intervene.

"Come on, it's not that bad now, is it?" I asked.

"Of course it is, I was here first."

"I don't know about that, I do think she was here before you."

That's when she starts getting snippety. And I hate" snippety." But what's really irking me is how this woman expects to run roughshod over this girl just because she's older and betting that the girl will be intimidated. And nothing pissed me off more when I was young than an adult trying to intimidate me just because.

"You know ma'am, it will only take a moment extra and I'll be with you shortly."

"You're not the only game in town. You've got competition," she replied snidely.

Now, I try to remain calm and collected - if only because I know that the reasoned approach will paint me in the best light, but this woman is now pushing my buttons.

"Ma'am perhaps we're not the right fit for you."

"I'll decide what's the right place for me. And I'll decide whether or not I patronize this place."

What I don't understand is that she's the adult. She's bullying a young kid because she doesn't want to wait. Why? Okay, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt that maybe she just didn't see the girl standing on the opposite side of the man. But this young girl isn't being belligerent, she's not giving attitude, she's not acting smart. The girl is just standing there, not really knowing how to handle the situation and apologetic.

Problem is, I'm only too happy to play the bull in the glass shop.

"Actually ma'am, it's me who decides who we serve."

That's when she realizes that I'm not going to serve her and decides to leave. But I can't help myself.

"There's a Starbucks down the street that can accommodate you."

It's too easy for me to sit here and justify myself. Prove myself to be in the "right." But the reality is that it doesn't matter who was "right" or who was "wrong." It's a lose-lose situation all the way around.

In the nearly ten years that I've been in business, I've kicked out a bunch of people from my shops. Some of them in a wild, theatrical-worthy display. But there's never been a time that I've ever found it satisfying or rewarding. It's always been the wrong move that could have been handled better.

So even while I'm confident in my actions defending the young girl and kicking the older woman out, it's a hollow victory. It doesn't move us forward. It doesn't help us achieve our goal of accommodation and hospitality. So while there's probably a segment of our industry that would applaud this event, I don't. It's time to reflect and ponder how the situation could have been resolved in a better manner that teaches the belligerent customer respect while allowing them to retain their pride and dignity.


Gesine Confectionary said...

Oh Jay. Customers suck. We suck. People suck. It's just the way of the world. We're in a business where we have to intervene with the forces of good and evil so directly. That never feels good. My philosophy is, "the customer is often right. And when they are assholes, they just have to be dealt with." What stinks, in the biggest and most heart wrenching way, is that the crappy customer with the worst attitude can't be managed in a way in which they'll see the light. If they could, they wouldn't have been "that asshole." They'd have figured out how to be a mensch, a good and thoughtful person, long ago. So they'll litter their nastiness in the places where they aren't stopped. You stopped her. And may have taught the kind and open hearted people in your presence the worth of being a patient and decent human. You feel badly because, well, you feel. You're ahead of the game. In a big way.

One Little Seedling said...

It's hard to give life lessons to those that are close to us, much less ones we meet in the brief instance of buying a coffee and deciding on a muffin.

I don't know. It's a tough situation. All one can do is somehow gather restrain, learn from situation to situation and sooner or later find that mantra the "tween" had.

aikibarista said...


You think the easy answer would be, "Let me take care of this young lady, and then I'll be right with you." And then your interaction with the woman should be on hold until you take care of the girl. Now, it seems this is what you had the intention of doing... or maybe you really had the intention of establishing that the pecking order started with YOU. Honestly, the only thing I think you could have done different was to turn to the girl and say, "Do you mind if I grab her real quick?" And then make fun of her after she's left. I really think that it would be necessary to poke fun at the situation so it is clear that you weren't taking the 'older' woman's side.

Clearly, some people will always assume that their needs supplant everyone elses and they may never be satisfied. Truth is... you can't always create a win-win situation.

aikibarista said...

Another thought...

Perhaps if you enter the situation with a different frame of mind. Or better yet, you can look at it from a budo perspective and enter with Mushin, or "no mind" rather than Fudoshin, "immovable mind", which is what you had. If you enter into a confrontation seeking for the moment to attack, the moment may be lost. However, if you enter looking for no moments, one will present itself to you. I'm sure you're asking WTF? How does that help?
As I look at the incident, the problem is in meeting force with force... you possibly could have appealed to her uhhh... better nature, with something like, "You might have missed her, but I'll be fast... and I promise it will be super yummy!" or something like that. Humor is often a good parry, and frankly if she's still sour, then f*** her and the horse she rode in on. I guess you could always say, "if you don't settle down, I'm going to have to spank you," But that may create another sort of problem.

Just be thankful for all your appreciative customers.

onocoffee said...

Thanks everyone for your thoughts. I offer no defense or excuse for my actions. They are what they were.

But my initial reaction to the lady was to ask her if it really was that much of a problem - in a non-confrontational way, just simply: "Is it really that big of a deal?" Come on, relax -it's not as though you've been standing there for ten minutes, kind of way.

When dealing with customers, I always want it to be a pleasant and fun interaction. A transaction of mutual respect, not of condescension on my part or expectation of servitude on theirs. I strive to respect our customers and expect the same in return. And when that respect is broken, I do get in the mindset of of what aikibarista describes as "establishing the pecking order."

But granted, the situation could always have been handled in a better manner.