Last week I pulled up to the gas pumps and walked into an AM/PM in Ceres with my soda cup for a refill.
I filled my cup and then grabbed a 24-pack of water before stepping toward the counter. Picture this: One hand wrapped around a 52-ounce soda and the left arm wrapped around a heavy 24-pack of water that was getting heavier by the second as he lollygagged in counting change for the customer in front of me. Trust me, he was in no hurry to serve, and never once said, "Sir, set that heavy item here on the counter."
It seemed, for a moment, that he was deliberately moving slow as if my patience were being tested for an episode of Candid Camera.
Instead of apologizing for the wait, he admonished me that if I didn't show my cup when I entered the store the next time that it would be the "last time" I could get a refill. I pointed out that the battered and stained lid of my cup was proof that it had been refilled many times and that I did indeed bring it into the store. His rude tone was off-putting. In his obsession that I might be trying to sneak one over on him, he completely failed to hear me ask for $30 in gas and rang me up without it.
I walked out thinking this would be the last time he gets my business. I've had a history of negative experiences with this store. This was the same place where I heard a clerk's open dialogue with a fellow clerk that went something like: "What the f--- were they thinking? They don't give a s--- about me."
Many businesses "get it" that they are competing for dollars and need to be treated a customer like a friend when they come in. I want to go back to places where a friendly person serves on me. After all, life tends to batter us and the last place we need is a business that make us feel worse, instead of better.
Then there are some businesses that don't get it. Such crass disregard for the sensitivity of customers is a troubling practice in many places of business. They wonder why their business isn't doing so well.
Managers need to understand that it pays to find the best employees. Take fast food, for example. There has to be an endless army of people seeking fast food jobs so one can be picky about the personality of the counter guy or gal. I remember this one young lady who stood out at the Burger King on Hatch Road for she acted as though she were a hostess at the finest restaurant in San Francisco. She was friendly, thorough, accommodating and made me feel like coming back. It was such a rare display that it really shamed other restaurants' treatment of customers.
Contrast that with the attitude I found at the Subway shop at Oakdale and Scenic in 2012 which was so bad that I choose not to go back. It was late noon hour and the line was out the door. The wait became ridiculously long - like 20 minutes - so I turned to the guy in front of me and we quietly remarked about how one sandwich maker wasn't enough and that the two female employees had no sense of urgency to knock down the line either.
The other customer remarked how he was pressed for time as he was overseeing construction of a plant over in the Beard Industrial Tract and the crane was costing him somewhere in the neighborhood of $350 an hour.
Finally the man's impatience grew thin and he said, "You guys need to get more people up here." It was a helpful comment. Instead of admonishing the women to help him keep up, the young man behind the counter commented, "Oh well." We were both stunned at his in-our-face attitude and I asked, "That's really your attitude?" He replied, "yeah."
The other customer and I shook our heads incredulously. The man next to me pointed out that they were losing business and people were walking out the door and he again replied, "Yeah, oh well."
The lone sandwich builder tried to soften up his cavalier attitude ever so slightly by saying, "You have to see things from where I am."
"Well, I'm not coming back," the other customer retorted.
The incident underscored what I have often believed to be true: that people will do business where employees are efficient and friendly and care about the customers' experience. That's because happy campers come back and trade again. Treat people badly or rudely or like you have no idea what you are doing and they won't be back. Worse yet, they tell their friends too (and sometimes readers).
My son and I are still talking about a soured young lady who was working at the Oakdale Jack in the Box years ago who we said to, "smile, it can't be all bad," to which she said, "Life sucks." You can't allow employees to carry personal attitude into the job. It can be fatal to business.
In the recent battle over the Walmart Supercenter, some small business owners suggested that everybody would go flocking to the mega retailer. That's nonsense, of course, because not everybody likes shopping at warehouse stores where customer service is often lacking.
Sadly, though, some business operators remain clueless. They fail to smile, fail to hire the perky and happy for unfriendly Eeyore types, fail to make doing business fun and fail to provide customers with reason to come back. Ask yourself why Applebee's is so successful. Do you think good value has anything to do with it? Maybe because the place is alive and fun and you are greeted by smiling young people who are friendly?
Even the condition of a nasty bathroom can creep out customers and stick with them like a bad dream. It may sound ridiculous but even a trip to the bathroom can be a positive experience for customers when you're talking about cleanliness and piped in music or TV (like at a Red Robin).
So many mom and pop businesses don't get it. They would benefit from taking a course in customer service, which could make all the difference in surviving in this economy or becoming yet another casualty.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know at firstname.lastname@example.org