“How May I Help You?”

Posted by mwallach on December 8, 2011 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere |

Dear That’s Life
With the voluntary filing of Chapter 11 by the parent company of American Airlines, recent talking heads bemoaned the state of air travel in the US. “It is hell on earth,” commented one contributor to an early morning show I avidly watch. The host of the program, however, cited Jet Blue as an exception to this rule. He seeks them out as often as he can, making these comments on national television sans an endorsement deal. He knows what to expect out of their flights, knows the planes are new and their staff professional. It seems Jet Blue still appreciates the term “customer service.”

There are a numerous merchants in our area who pride themselves on similar values, reminding us that small businesses deserve our support. Just recently, my husband arrived at a store with our son to buy him new a suit minutes after it had closed. Despite advertisements in the paper stating that they would be open until 7pm, they closed an hour earlier. Still there when my husband arrived, one of the owners reopened the store to accommodate my husband. Seems his wife called a number of times during the next hour to determine when he would be home – they had prearranged plans with their children and he was late. It had not been his fault the store’s hours of operations had been misprinted, but he graciously assisted us nevertheless, smile included.

The most challenging area in which to satisfy a customer is, undoubtedly, the food service industry. That takes a special set of nerves, patience and tolerance. When a friend decided to open a take-out store, I asked him if he had a death wish. Recently reflecting on that anecdote, my brother asked me if I had ever found a hair in a dish I ordered at a restaurant. Seems he found an errant hair in something he had ordered, but decided not to alert the waitress. I said I had been similar situations, to which he added, “Well, did you say something?” I smiled. “When have you ever known me NOT to say something?” I responded.

Even as recently as a few weeks ago, my daughter found two hairs in two different items she had ordered. Since neither hair matched our hair color, it clearly belonged to someone else. The waitress was apologetic and replaced both items. The issue was handled quickly and efficiently, without excuse or silly answers. My husband quickly reminded me of an episode that did not go as smoothly. “There is that one place she won’t go back to,” he said, reminding me of what happened.

A number or years ago, my husband and I tried a new restaurant. When my dish arrived, I got more than I had bargained for. It was not a hair that I found in my salad, but rather a live bug. It was still moving. That bug trumped the used bandaid I had previously found at another establishment. Something about this bug, complete with wings, walking across my lettuce, disgusted me beyond previous levels. Maybe being pregnant at the time made matters worse. Having brought the insect to the attention of our waiter, who was equally horrified, the plate was quickly returned to the kitchen.

If anything can be learned from the current political carnival, it is the Herman Cain principle: what matters most about a scandal is not the scandal itself, but how it is handled. Almost immediately after my salad was returned to the kitchen, one of the chefs joined us at the table. He was not apologetic. Rather, he had an explanation. “That is not a bug that one might find in lettuce,” he said, rationalizing that the lettuce itself has been washed and cleaned before being served to patrons. “That’s a bug that just flew in.” It was unclear to us which part of that entomology lesson we were supposed to find comforting, but it did not work. Had he just apologized, I think we would have been fine. To try and explain it, however, as if there was an acceptable answer, was not prudent.

“It just FLEW in?” I asked, wondering what else they had flying through that kitchen, the image of fly paper dangling from the ceiling filled my mind. “Yes,” he said, adding, “That’s not a lettuce bug.” Unsure where he had gone wrong, he seemed a little surprised when we asked for the bill.

Insisting on paying for the part of my husband’s meal that had already arrived and was eaten, the manager seemed very uncomfortable about taking our money at all. I was already out the door when he said, “I hope you’ll come back.” All my husband could do was smile. “Oh – you don’t know my wife,” he answered. “You’ll never see us again.”

Sometimes, the person responsible for the customer service says exactly the right thing. Last week, for example, I managed to get my tights stuck in the zipper of a pair of boots I was trying on. Yes: if you can imagine the visual, I was literally attached to this boot, unable to extricate myself from the situation. Pulling made it worse, as the zipper would not move in either direction. The only way to fix this was to get the tights off my body, at which point I began ripping them with fervor. The store busy with bargain hunting shoppers, women around me noticed what was going on, as did one sales clerk.

“Do you need some help?” he asked me. Despite being in a complicated situation, unsure how he could really assist, he still offered while others might just have left me to my own devices. Exasperated, I halted all efforts. “I’m literally attached to your boots,” I explained. Once he saw that I was not kidding, and that I had an audience, there was only so much either one of us could do except smile. “It could not happen to a better person,” I told him. “Trust me.” At that moment, I finally freed myself from the zipper and while I was now out a pair of tights, I was at least no longer attached to footwear.

Still standing there, the gentleman asked me if this had happened to me before. I laughed. “No,” I said, the shredded tights dangling from my body. “But trust me,” I added, “this is not the craziest thing about me.”

As Seen in the South Shore Standard Dec ’11

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