I just read that a certain widely read website of consumer reviews by real people will soon go public. Though many swear by the usefulness of this site, I’ve always thought Vent or Gush would be more accurate as a one syllable name than the one it has. I believe in the power of people sharing information. Sharing my opinions and eliciting those from you focused solely on the subject of service is why I created AmazingServiceReally. Anyone can write a review of a restaurant or a hair salon or an antique store and say, the service there is terrible. I will never go there again. They just don’t get it. I’ve never been so disappointed in my life. Not at all what I expected. Or, they are the nicest people ever. So much better than anywhere else. Everyone should provide such wonderful service. More often than not, the reviews I read on Yelp offer little understanding of why an experience was exceptional, whether good or bad.
Traditionally people have looked to someone with expertise to guide them in making certain consumer choices. Thus we have food critics, restaurant critics, travel advisers, Consumer Reports Magazine for product evaluations, book and movie reviewers, magazine editors and art critics. Those with years of training and experience compare their evaluations against a framework of knowledge and a set of acquired principles. They tell you why the movie was groundbreaking, from what historical perspective the art is derived, or they have a unique and recognized editorial viewpoint from which they are making their choices. There is nothing wrong with making consumer choices based on the emotional reactions of the mob if, more often than not, you identify your perceptions as average. I want to provide an alternative to the lowest common denominator of opinion in the category of service by providing an editorial viewpoint for my opinions and hopefully also for yours.
There are two new tabs under the headline banner for this website. One says, Really! and the other, Really? In addition to the articles I post which will continue to define, analyze, explain and explore the nature of service in all its multiple dimensions, I will periodically post reviews of businesses based solely on their delivery of customer service. Really! for experiences that were truly amazing. And Really? for the encounters that leave us feeling ripped off. I will always try to base my reviews on an understanding of why things worked or didn’t work and offer solutions for improvement when applicable. I strongly encourage readers of this site to submit for publication their own reviews and stories through the comment window or by email. I won’t publish rants or accolades that offer no explanation for the emotions, but for those weird episodes that might seem inexplicable, I’ll do my best to suggest what might be going on behind the scenes. Below are the first two reviews to give you an idea of what I mean.
A few of weeks ago I went into the AJ’s Market on Frank Lloyd Wright and Thompson Peak in North Scottsdale because I saw a big banner out front announcing their sale on USDA Prime beef. It was a Sunday afternoon and nearly everyone inside the store was there for the same reason. About a dozen people, including me, were gathered at the butcher’s counter eyeing the steaks and trying to figure out who was the next in line for service. The two men behind the counter were clearly feeling a bit overwhelmed. Each time they were able to raise their heads back up from wrapping and weighing their last sale they discovered the crowd had grown. As is typical in situations like this, most people were happy to defer and be patient since it was difficult to figure out who arrived when. A couple of the others, insisting they’d been waiting forever, became snarly and hostile when the counterman pointed to someone else to be next. The tension was rising with snide remarks and mumbled epithets and the employees, feeling the pressure, were behaving brusquely, frowning and hurrying people through their selections. The irony was that the counter was equipped with a take-a-number system and a screen to announce whose number was next. It wasn’t being used, there were no numbers to take, and the large red “14″ that never changed seemed to mock the whole fiasco. I heard grumbling about it and decided to speak up. “Why?” I asked the counterman, “would you not be using the number system that was clearly designed for this exact situation?” It was, after all, a widely advertised promotion. He looked at me as if he wanted to jump over the counter and club me with a leg of lamb. The hostility was so palpable and so ridiculous I just left then and there. Even if there had been a reasonable excuse for why the numbers weren’t working, machine broke or out of paper numbers, etc., it could all have been resolved with a sign explaining the situation that asked people to form a line. For a store that has substantially higher prices than other grocery stores and prides itself on superior customer service policies, the butchers seemed clearly exempt from the memo and all too willing to see themselves as victims.
I often stop at the Scottsdale Safeway on Chaparral on my way home from work around 11PM to midnight. Ordinarily I don’t patronize Safeway’s very much because I find their enforcement of customer service policies to be a little creepy. Their employees are required to smile, address customers by name if possible, offer to carry out their groceries and tell them how much they’ve saved. Seems like a great idea except that I always smell the fear behind the fake smile. Safeway’s policy of enforcing people through secret shoppers to be pleasantly human upon pain of disciplinary letters, remedial training or termination is practically totalitarian in my view and counterproductive to providing good service. Others would certainly disagree and the topic is one I intend to expand upon at another time. Suffice it to say, that for me personally, the service at Safeway usually feels fake, robotic and makes me feel uncomfortable at the check-stand. So imagine my surprise when I discovered the amazing service of a very skillful lady who is usually the only checker working late at night. Perhaps because of its proximity to Old Town night clubs and a young population, the mostly deserted store usually has a pretty colorful array of customers on liquor and beer runs, eccentric night owl regulars, and stoners scavenging for munchies. There is always a line at the single check-out and I’ve observed, over and over, how this lady observes Safeway’s policies and still manages to relate to each and every customer by actually being interested and paying attention to them. When she cheerfully goes through the robotic necessities, she does it all with a wink and a nod that lets everyone know she has no choice but at the same draws you in. It’s as if she’s saying, isn’t it crazy the stupid things we all have to put up with in life, but at least we’re all in this together. She has a dry sense of humor but can always tell the difference between the customers that are bit too anesthetized to really engage, the ones who don’t want to be included in group conversations and the ones who might have no other social contact in their life other than her. Somehow she always knows when someone is holding up the line too long with their chit-chat and moves them along without making them feel rushed or dismissed. Occasionally there are toe-tappers who are in a big hurry, but surprisingly most people seem to enjoy and look forward to joining her checkout line. It’s an artful thing to turn something as banal as checking out at a grocery store into something that creates a brief sense of community among strangers. Saddled as she is with compulsory phrases and gestures, this lady’s true interest and care for people shines through and is truly amazing!
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