When The Customer Is Totally Wrong

Fast food in Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Don't yell at him! Image via Wikipedia

Loved this rant in The New York Times:

Let’s face it, folks. The customer is not always right. In fact, some are just plain old abusive, cheap and crass. I say this not as a salesman but as a dyed-in-the-wool middle-class consumer.

I’m waiting in line at a fast-food restaurant while a coupon fight goes on in front of me, delaying me from my sweet, sweet weekly communion with a Southern Style Chicken Biscuit. No, the coupon does not say that you are entitled to a free iced latte. You show it to me as if I’m your lawyer, and it states plainly, “A free cup of coffee.” And, no, they are not the same thing.

Do you read? Do you think complaining loudly in front of others and belittling the teenage cashier is going to improve your situation? Why do you need a manager to come out and tell you what you already know, that you’re wrong?

I’m finishing my retail memoir this week and payback is a bitch — I’ve got a whole chapter devoted to the worst customers I endured in my time behind the register. I had a hit parade of the top five and it took some doing to make it into my short list. The champion was the woman my age who whined that I was being hostile.

I told her her she really had no idea what hostile really looks like — and quit two weeks later.

I think things are simply getting worse and worse. We live in a time of such staggering income inequality that some shoppers, people who have an entire army of the docile at their beck and call, are convinced that everyone, everywhere is their personal servant. I had customers (women were the worst, always!) demand I watch their purse while they walked away and hold down their T-shirt while they removed a sweater. What are you — three?

So I completely identified with this interview from The New York Times with the owners of Great Lake, a popular pizza house in Chicago:

Q. In online reviews, some customers have complained about rudeness or arrogance. Where do you think that perception comes from?

Mr. Lessins: I think that perception of arrogance has to do with the sense of entitlement and a lack of respect for someone wanting to do their job. We’re just trying to do the job the best we can. We’re trying to provide a quality experience for everyone who comes in. In the food service business, it’s assumed that the customers have a set of God-given birthrights when they come into an establishment. It’s like they’ve been wronged in a lot of parts of their lives, and this is their chance to even the score.

What’s the worst of this you’ve ever heard? Were you serving — or being served?

Did you say or do anything in response?

Manhattan — With A Cane

Bleecker Street, the old one — the bit that runs east-west is the place to be. Many benches, like every block. Two lovely little pocket parks right at 6th. Avenue. Whew!

Being able to sit down and rest is a blessing, and a rare one in Manhattan. It’s either that or fall to the pavement, not a good look.

Everyone was nice, wishing me the best, wondering why a relatively young-looking woman is clicking along with a cane; the arthritic hip is out of control, a knife twist almost every hour this week, so I finally said the hell with it and took it with me into the city today. Now carrying three kinds of pain relief in my bag: patches, cream and gelcaps of Advil. So fun.

The city is full of tourists for the holiday and lots of sailors in their gorgeous, crisp whites because it’s Fleet Week. Plenty of street parking as everyone flees — I waited for 10 minutes while some poor local wrestled a surfboard onto the top of his already-crammed minivan — to claim his West Village spot.

Distances, certainly in the Village, aren’t far so I managed to have lots of fun within a six-block radius: found a summer cologne for the sweetie at Avignone, a terrific old, privately-owned pharmacy; bread at Amy’s; coffee and tea from my favorite purveyor, Porto Rico; a haircut; lunch at Cafe Angelique and an Asian dinner at a sidewalk table.

Glenn Beck, Neo, Saguaro — Quel Trio!

Canadian raised actor Keanu Reeves arrives at ...
Not the saguaro. Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Life is rarely dull.

As I raced around my suburban town late yesterday doing errands, a very large crane took up half of Main Street. It held two enormous lights blasting into the second floor of a disused bank building as they made a movie. Inside — Keanu Reeves and James Caan.

Just my luck, the day I spend in Manhattan is the day Neo nips into my local cafe for a cup of coffee. Sigh.

My flight today from Atlanta to Tucson, seat 1b, held Glenn Beck, who I didn’t recognize but the flight attendant did. Two celebrity near-misses.

I feared how bad security lines might be but at 5:30 a.m. at Laguardia, flying domestically, it took mere seconds. That was a relief.

Now I can look out the window at mountains and cactus and wonder if frigid New York was just some cold, bad dream.

Venti Skim Latte — Stat!

coffeeDon’t bend, kids!

That’s a 120-year-old idea, Taylorism aka Fordism — the Ford who figured out how to most efficiently use human labor on his car assembly lines —  that Starbucks has now decided to resurrect in its efforts to make service faster and more efficient. Turns out all that “moving, bending and reaching”, as those who prepare and serve your coffee and pastries now do it, is leaching profit. Seems that their old-fashioned ways, (maybe the way people prefer it, the one they built their brand on) are just too slow for today’s consumers. Not to mention expensive, with 24 percent of the company’s costs squandered on all those goateed, tattooed baristas. You know, the ones who remember your order and smile and know your name.

Now, it’s all about the lean thinking.

Writes Julie Jargon in The Wall Street Journal:

Pushing Starbucks’s drive is Scott Heydon, the company’s “vice president of lean thinking,” and a student of the Toyota production system, where lean manufacturing got its start. He and a 10-person “lean team” have been going from region to region armed with a stopwatch and a Mr. Potato Head toy that they challenge managers to put together and re-box in less than 45 seconds.

Mr. Heydon says reducing waste will free up time for baristas — or “partners,” as the company calls them — to interact with customers and improve the Starbucks experience. “Motion and work are two different things. Thirty percent of the partners’ time is motion; the walking, reaching, bending,” he says. He wants to lower that.

Yeah, fewer “partners” moving with the grace and economy of freaking robots.

Sounds like a great idea. Not.