Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The New Customer Service

A couple years back, my family and I stopped at a local Friendly's for ice cream. I decided on their most wondrous creation, the Reese's Pieces Sundae. It's huge, it's decadent, it's wonderful, and I hadn't had one since my high school days, so that's what I ordered. A few minutes later our waitress brought our sundaes to the table, and in front of me she sat a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Sundae.

"Excuse me," I spoke up, "but this is not what I ordered."

"I know," she replied, and left offering no further explanation, nor making any effort to correct the situation.

I sat stunned as the rest of my family burst into laughter. When she came back again, I repeated that the sundae she had delivered was not what I ordered. "Do you mean you want me to have them make a whole new sundae?" she asked, her tone of voice making it clear that this would be a huge inconvenience. Yes, that's what I wanted, but rather than risk having a Reese's Pieces & Spit Sundae brought to me, I decided I would eat what I was given. Within another five minutes, our waitress reappeared once more, this time with a small paper cup filled with Reese's Pieces. "Here, you should at least have these," she smiled as she put them in front of me, and left again before I could even respond to the bizarre situation.

And that's where it ended. She made no real effort to replace the incorrect sundae with what I had actually ordered, and never once apologized for the error. She could not be bothered to either do her job correctly or remedy the situation once her error had been pointed out. The customer service here was non-existent.

Over the years, this has come to be a running a joke with my family: "Let's go to Friendly's and see if we can actually get what we order." The complete lack of customer service, coupled with the complete obliviousness to the inconvenience she created, was one of those once-in-a-lifetime situations, right?


I had an appointment with my doctor this afternoon. As per usual, after the visit was complete, the doctor sent me out to the front desk to have one of the office staff schedule my next visit and set up a schedule for some tests I must have done. I always make certain to get a receipt for each visit, so that when my insurance statements come in I can reconcile and make sure everything is as it should be.

I asked the girl at the desk for my receipt, and she began entering stuff into her computer. Suddenly, a confused look came over her face.

"Were you here today?" she asked.

"Yes," I slowly began to reply, a bit taken aback by the question. "I just finished with the doctor."

"Were you here twice today?"

What the hell kind of question is that? Of course I wasn't there twice, but all I could say in the moment was, "I don't even know how to respond to that question."

"Because I see today's date on here twice..." she trailed off, and then printed out a sheet of paper which she handed to me. "Now, this is your receipt, but it's not correct," she declared, indicating that, in her mind, our transaction was complete.

Instead of handing me a receipt for a doctor's visit, she handed me a receipt for a doctor's visit plus a urinalysis plus another procedure plus a VISA credit...a laundry list of things that did not occur during my visit.

"These charges aren't mine!" I stammered.

"Yes, I know," she smiled - same tone of voice, same "this is all I'm going to do for you" attitude as the Friendly's waitress years ago. But this time, I wasn't going to be cowed so easily!

"May have a correct receipt?" I asked, my voice underscoring my displeasure.

She looked stunned that I would ask for this. "OK, let me see if I can find the error," she sighed as she began combing through pile after pile of receipts - obviously the day's appointments.

Once through the stack. Twice through the stack. Third time through, I piped up again: "Maybe it would be easier to fix my receipt by taking off the charges that don't belong to me."

"But I can't remove charges," she stated matter-of-factly. "Only the accounts manager can do that." She resumed plowing through her stack of papers.

After almost twenty minutes, she triumphantly pulled out one paper. "Here it is!" There had been another patient that day also named Bryan (with a vastly different last name), and his charges had been inadvertently put on my account. Then she added, "But, I can't fix it, because I can't take charges off."

I measured my words so as not to scream at this lady for wasting nearly half an hour of my time. I very slowly and clearly said, "I would like a correct receipt for my appointment, please."

"But, I can't do that," she maintained.

"Then, please call whomever you need to call, or do whatever you need to do to have someone fix it. I understand that there was an error, but that's your concern. I would like to have a correct receipt."

"But I don't have her number!"

"Then you need to contact someone whose number you do have, who can fix this."

Another sigh. Then, she picks up the phone to call the office manager (she has the office manager's number, but not the accounts manager's?). I hear her leave a message.

"She's not home," she dutifully reported to me.

"So how do you intend to fix this?" I asked.

"Well, you can either wait here until she calls back, or you can come back tomorrow for a corrected receipt."

It was pulling teeth to get that far with her. In the end, I left without a corrected receipt; only with the promise that I will be called tomorrow morning to be told the corrections have been made and to make arrangements to have the corrected receipt delivered to me.

Again, there was no effort made towards customer service. She would have been perfectly content to send me off with an incorrect receipt containing someone else's charges, just as the waitress at Friendly's was perfectly content to present me with something other than what I ordered. No thought crossed either of their minds that the inconvenience to me, the customer, might not be best for business. No effort made of their own volition on either part to actually correct the situation; indeed, each saw the little they did do to be an imposition on their time rather than a service to the customer.

As I was writing this post, my phone rang. It was the lady from the doctor's office. She called to tell me that she had forgotten to indicate some of the blood tests the doctor wants done on my test order form, so she wanted to know where I was going to have that work done so that she could fax the additional test requests there as well. Her reason for forgetting to indicate those tests? "Well, you had me a little flustered earlier."

Oh. I see. It was MY fault. Could there have been a more perfect postscript to the story? Sigh...

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