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Many businesses fail to make the customer feel like returning
Last week I was in Modesto and visited the Subway sandwich shop at Oakdale Road and Scenic Drive. It was late noon hour and the line was out the door. I hesitated to wait, especially after the woman in front of me had three boys order and had a list of three more sandwiches to build.

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 man remarked how he was pressed for time since 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 literally 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.

Yes, as an empoyee I have been in busy situations and had to extend apologies for delays. It goes far when you acknowledge someone's feelings of being wronged.

The young employee could care less that he was costing his employer business. We eventually got our sandwiches - and likely would have left sooner had we not invested so much time in line - but left amazed at the attitude of some minimum-wagers.

I have seen other "sandwich artists" in other Subways (such as the one on Mitchell Road in Ceres) who move a lot faster and then apologize profusely for making people wait.

That's all people want.

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).

Next time I'm at the corner of Scenic and Oakdale, I'm heading to Panda or Baja Fresh or even El Pollo Loco next door. Whether or not there were real reasons, the attitude in that Subway shop left a bad taste in my mouth.

My son and I are still talking about a sour-acting 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 the customer service often lacks. The Alliance stepped in and told Ceres businesses fear not, for yes, great customer service can trump lower prices. It's true, great customer service wins customers.

Sadly, though, some business operators are 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. Why is Applebee's so successful? The place is alive and fun and you are greeted by smiling young people who are friendly. Compare that with a pizza parlor I have shied away from because the owner acts grumpy, stingy with his specials and keeps it hot in his eatery to save on his electric bill. (I'm sorry but if you want to kill off your restaurant, keep it hot inside when it's 105 degrees outside.)

And I dare say, some businesses fail to see how valuable newspaper advertising is, for it is a form of customer service.

While this is not a column about Subway, today I returned from the Mitchell Road shop and noticed how horrible the landscaping is steps out their door. The landlord has allowed it go to pot with broken planters filled with dried dead grass and trash, broken tire stops. How much could it cost to keep up landscaping, maybe add plants and bark, to make the customer feel valued, not like somebody who is expected to put up with sloven appearances?

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 Robbin).

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