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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I Don't Know Is Not An Answer

Having worked in the customer service field a number of years in both the food industry and corporate office environment I can safely say that once in a while you kind of have to make shit up. I’m not talking total lie about something but you can recognize a foul up or potential issue and while it may be of little impact to fix, the perception by a customer that you’ve fouled up can be devastating.

Case in point. This weekend I spent both days helping my sister-in-law move. It was much my like my own disaster of moving from one place to the other. Limited time. Limited help. Multitude of stuff. I caught lunch on the fly from McDonald’s and ate it while driving on the turnpike from my place to hers.

Now, I already have a prepared sense of “This will get screwed up” with this particular location but what makes matters worse is the fact that it has a double drive thru. Of course I ended up embarrassing my wife during the whole process.

First off, when you get to the speaker to give your order they come on with this, “Thank you for blah blah, would you like to try a Filet O Fish value meal.” I just said, “No.” My wife looked at me like, “Prick, much?” I told her that it’s a prerecorded greeting and that I’m not responding to an actual person. They come on afterwards. Sure enough, the voice taking my order was different than the one asking me to buy a Fish sandwich. In fact, who knows if the real person I’m speaking to is even in this store?

Needless to say, we placed the order and then took turns with the other cars getting in line to pay. The first window took my money and had the right order. The second one was manned by some 15 year old kid who proceeded to hand me three bags. Now, I know we bought a lot of food but three bags full? I said, “Um, are you handing me one or all three?” He paused and then took the bags back in and slid the window shut. “Ok.” He opened back up after conferring with someone and said, “Do you want to just pull into the parking lot and we’ll bring your food out to you?” I said sure, but then felt a little impish and wanted to just joke with the kid, “What happened to my order?” He looked at me and said, “I don’t know. They just stuck me in this window.” My jovial spirit lessened, I looked at him, as he retreated from my minimum throttling distance, and said, “That’s not an answer.” By now my wife was getting peeved  and told me to. “Just park it.” I said, “Come on, that wasn’t an answer. At least he could have lied to me and said the Fryalator was down or the Hamburglar stole my quarter pounder. ‘I don’t know’ is a crap answer. “

“You’re embarrassing me I don’t want them spitting in my food.” My wife said. You have to remember, this is the same woman who worked in a job where she once told a customer to shove a turkey up his ass in front of her boss. This was after he complained about her not being sympathetic towards his plight. Meanwhile, she was doing more than humanly possible to find his Thanksgiving order and eventually figured it out where someone less committed to a job would just say, “I don’t know.” And call it a day. And again, this weekend, she was getting her boots ready to kick the ass of the people her sister were renting the house off of over all these problems to which I said, “They know that your sister has to move in, this weekend, and you are spoiling for a fight that could give them the inkling to say, ‘Fine, don’t live here.’” After a few minutes the manager (aka man with the key to the register) appeared and gave us our order. We were on our way, and I bit down on the tongue of frustration and waited until we were out of the parking lot to press the matter. “Look, you’ve worked in this kind of job. Did you act like that at 15?” She said no although she did have her share of moments where her thumb might have pressed a little hard on someone’s tomato. I said, “You took pride in what you did. If I would give that response to someone at my job, I’d have my ass working at McDonald’s next to numb nuts there.”

Let me clarify something. I am not meaning that my job is all that glamorous and above someone who works at McDonald’s. I am simply saying that if I chose to handle myself in such a fashion I would be in the drive thru hole along with that kid because they were willing to hire him with that level of discipline. I don’t care if you work at Walmart or Wall Street, when you work with customers or the public you conduct yourself in a way that doesn’t make them become a former customer. Saying “I don’t know” is the same as saying, “I don’t care. I’m just here for a paycheck.” You find out or at least you give a reason that satisfies the customer until you can rectify the problem. While I understand the value of having teenagers work in a job that can teach them discipline and respect I don’t think that the management of those companies takes a hard look at how those employees are actually obtaining those habits if they are at all.

It’s hard to have a teen comprehend the value of customer service since they are sometimes working a job because their parents want them to. I used to dread my old company because of the lack of good workers they hired over the need to throw bodies at the job. I would come in at 7:00 AM and do my work and fix their mistakes because they were too busy screwing around at night, more worried about going out to party then actually doing a good job. In fact, one instance where I had worked a 14 hour shift I nearly lost it. I had come in that morning, set up a lunch and took care of meetings, worked the lunch, turned over the lunch into a wedding and then bartended and served dinner for the wedding. After dinner I was supposed to be relieved to go home but couldn’t until a particular person came out to take my bar. Now, this guy was a bit of a slack so I knew exactly where to find him. He was back in the boiler room, in the dark, blazing up and I said, “You want to come take my bar so I can go home.” I then went to my boss and said, “You know why I’m still here? Because (blank) is back in the boiler room getting stoned.” She walked back but dismissed the smell of weed for cigarette smoke. I said, “If he was smoking a cigarette, then why was he hiding in the boiler room, in the dark, instead of going out into the courtyard like everyone else?” Guess what her answer was? “I don’t know.” Now you know why it was my former job.

If anyone under the age of 20 actually reads this stuff do yourself a favor, learn some discipline and some tact. I know it’s not cool to be a company man and play by the rules. I’ve been there. I refused to follow the ambiguous rules that left me open to interpret them because I didn’t want to be considered un-cool. You make more friends with the in crowd of kids if you act all “I don’t give a shit” but what does it really get you? Have you ever seen Falling Down? Exactly. Some people don’t like “I don’t know” as an answer and they’re willing to take their frustrations out on you. Is it worth it to you? Don’t answer that.

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