Thursday, May 19, 2011

And Sometimes I Fail

I'm big on customer service and working to provide the guest with a great experience every time they visit one of our locations.

And sometimes I fail.

Yesterday, I failed in a major - looking like a complete asshole kind of way.

I've been running my own little company for twelve years now and I've made just about every customer service mistake one person could make. I've yelled at customers, argued with customers and kicked customers out - sometimes in a very fiery and spectacular fashion.

Maybe some of those times I was in the "right" on the matter and the customer/guest/visitor transgression was met with a commensurate response that could be completely justified - meaning that I was "right."

However, there has never been an incident where, after cooling down, thinking about it and analyzing the situation, I have ever felt that it truly was the right way to handle the matter and that I couldn't have responded better, and won out with aces.

The situation was this: I'm standing in a walkway chatting with a long-time guest whom I haven't seen in months when an elderly gentleman walks between us (there's about three feet between the guest and I). Instead of the usual convention of saying "excuse me", the elderly man gruffly tells me to get out of the way and makes a disparaging remark on my tummy. At first, I didn't catch his meaning but the snideness of his manner just tweaked me enough to press it a little farther.

Now, it's later in the day (about 4pm) and I had just come to the location to drop off some supplies after spending the morning at the roasteria repairing the roaster and the afternoon in the garden planting tomatoes. So, by this point, I'm looking pretty disheveled: my hair is messy, I'm wearing work boots and probably look slightly grimy from planting the garden. In other words, I look like a laborer.

I press the guy a little on his meaning and he still comes at me with the disparaging remarks. Usually, I don't let these kinds of people bother me but today, I'm in that mix of being tired and dirty from working and slightly irritated about a variety of things, meaning that when this guy comes at me, I lose perspective and become confrontational.

You know, why the guy didn't just do the polite thing and say "excuse me" or "excuse me, but you're in the way", I don't know. Maybe he was having a bad day or maybe he just thought that I was some (to his mind) piece of shit Hispanic laborer that didn't deserve the general respect and courtesy that he would give to other white people (I note this because the guest I had been talking to is white and the guy didn't address him and singled me out).

Whatever the case may be, it started out poorly and went all downhill from there.

Come to think of it, the guest and I were talking about the piss poor ways that the SCAA and WBC treats their volunteers and judges - a subject that always irritates me - and probably was the catalyst (on my end) for the degradation in handling the matter.

I don't remember the specifics but it wasn't pretty. I did not handle myself in the manner that I desired. I was the offended party who thought he deserved justice. Regardless of who was "right", I still ended up looking like an asshole. Not only to the elderly man without manners but, more importantly, to the other guests that were in the house at the time.

I'd like to think that I was justified. That I was "right." I stood up and didn't take prejudiced crap from some jerkoff. But in the end, like every time before, I don't feel that it was the "right" thing to do. I handled it poorly and engaged that elderly man in the manner that he engaged me. I didn't elevate the interaction. I didn't improve upon it. I helped degrade it. And that, to me, is a Failure.

I often talk about hospitality and leadership. That an environment of hospitality and quality can only be maintained if it is strongly demonstrated by the leadership. I'm embarrassed and ashamed that I failed so poorly and brilliantly as a leader during this incident. In front of staff, guests and passers-by. That kind of interaction can only give people a poor impression of who we are and what we are about.

Hospitality is easy when things are running smoothly and everyone is happy. The real test is when you're met with someone as grumpy and rude as that old man. Granted, I wasn't working the bar but anytime that I step into the scene, I should always be "on" and not running in cruise mode. What I should have done was dropped off the delivery and gotten the heck outta there. I had just come from working in the garden so I looked terrible (and probably smelled funky). I wasn't prepared for the "show" that we like to give to our guests.

I just hope that the next time I'm faced with a challenging guest, I'll have more clarity to handle the situation better.