Momma Told Me: Consumer beware.
Sometimes I feel like I just may be the only sane one left.
Thankfully, the definition of 'sanity' and what is 'normal' vacillates widely between cultures and those defining. One particular topic, where I feel the perceived lunacy to be strongest, is in the field of customer service. We are a long ways away from 'The Customer Is Always Right,' Batman. In fact, I get the distinct sense that some companies and services actually take joy in aggravating the customer, especially in cases where the brand/service has already received the money/patronage of the customer. These companies, or those representing them, almost make it feel like they are entitled to our hard earned money, and to relinquish any part already surrendered would be wholly unfair under any circumstance. When did the practice of receiving quality customer service become equal to pulling teeth?
I'd like to consider myself a fairly happy consumer. I do my bit to help the economy through venues big and small, and patronize a wide range of establishments (from handmade to conglomerate). Sadly, I feel my customer service theory spreads from organizations of 1 to 1 million. The size of the business does not necessarily equal the quality of the commitment or presence of care. And brands seem much more eager to soothe potential customers concerns rather than those of the customers who have already paid and returned with a qualm or issue. There is one industry where this does not always ring true; where the customer can often be helplessly trapped in a downward spiraling experience, and have little control over the speed of remedy; food service.
"How long until the white rice is ready?" I asked, still hopeful there was a magic Panda in the back burping up large portions of steamed rice;
"5 minutes, what else do you want?" the server barked.
My mouth hung open, about to vent the past 20 minutes of frustration, only to snap shut. Clearly this employee did not understand the nature of her job, in the middle of a lunch rush; what good would me reiterating the situation do?
"What else do you want?" she barked again.
And, with a sharp turn on my heel I gave her an equally detached smile, "Nothing." and left the establishment.
Flash forward to this past weekend.
I haven't tanned since my teens, and am in need of a simple base tan to even out my legs, to the rest of my body tone, for some upcoming formal events. I do some research (time on the consumer's part most businesses don't place value on), and discover the closest salon with a leg only tanning bed is in the town over (a 20 minute drive). On their website, under promotions, a sentence reads "Please fill out the form below, and as a new customer you will receive a FREE TAN, or the current Endless Summer PROMOTIONAL OFFER!" I proceed to fill out the form and promptly receive an email (text only), telling me to take my 'coupon' in for a FREE TAN.
Flash forward 2 days. I return to the salon and inquire about using the credit on my account. The girl behind the counter looks perplexed, "FREE tan?" I explain the situation again, and show the email on my phone once more.
She proceeds to pull up my account and call another associate over (both younger than me). They consult the screen as though it is a physics dissertation then the second looks at me and matter-of-factly barks, "Oh, you have to spend $100 to get a free Level 6 tan!"
"Excuse me?" I respond, voice cracking and almost in shock, "There was no mention of having to spend any money on your website, or in the email. Is that your 'current promotional offer,' because I read that to be a choice of free tan, or promotional offer?"
The associate furrows her brown and sighs, clearly annoyed that I am questioning this further, "No, we simply don't give out free tans, you have to spend $100 to get a level 6 tan!"
Biting my lip I feel my blood beginning to pump. Not only had there been no specification of a 'level 6' tan, or any designated type of tan, but there certainly had been no mention of spending $100 when I decided to drive 20 minutes from home to frequent a salon in the next town over. Not to mention, their had been no confusion over my 'free' tan on my first visit. To top it off, I had initially been quoted $55 a month for a regular membership, a full $22 more than the nearest competitor with the same equipment. I attempted to explain that, by honoring their advertised offer (the free tan for new customers), it would cost them nothing (after all the machines do all the work), and they would keep their new customer happy and returning.
Both girls seemed confused by this explanation, and proceeded to ask me what service I would like to pay for, today. Biting my lip once more, I proceeded to leave the salon and drive to the next closest one with applicable equipment. There I paid $22 less/month for the same service AND was offered a free tan. Not only did the first tanning salon lose out on an over-priced $55/month customer, but my word of mouth in our county will not be good. I am also debating reporting them to the Better Business Bureau, over a $7 tan that would have cost them nothing to provide me, as promised!
Do you walk away from poor service, or do you think some bad service is simply 'inevitable'?
What Daughter Says: Consumers are empowered with instant price matching and visual shopping, thanks to modern mobile technology. Why would anyone settle for less than great prices and great service?