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.