Tuesday, March 07, 2006

ALTERNATE REALITIES

Okay, so I wrote an email to a local coffee shop because the last five times I'd gone in there, serious breakdowns in service had occurred. As I said in my email, I'd go in there in a good mood and come out totally pissed off. And I wasn't going to do that any more. The last time I went in, no one was in the front for five minutes. I could have robbed the place. Then somebody came by and instead of waiting on me (and the people in line behind me) just walked into the back again. Finally, after about eight minutes, somebody came out of the back and waited on us. I mean, it was ridiculous. Meanwhile, they've added a crafts section and blocked off the main door so you have to walk by the crafts shop before you get to the coffee shop. It makes no sense at all.

But all that's neither here nor there. After two weeks, they responded. I've pasted the response below because it seems to come to me out of an alternate reality. Yeah, there's the offer of free stuff--immediately followed by a passive-aggressive defense of the highest order. Fantasy, really. High fantasy.

The fact is, just like in fiction, it's not your intent or the behind-the-scenes stuff but your outward actions that make the difference as to whether you're seen as competent or incompetent, good or bad, etc. So I offer this up as a shining example of a fantastical, alternate reality view of the world.

Note the totally condescending attitude toward their employees. Note also how completely the response is intended to make me feel like a total dick for complaining. I repeat: I could have ROBBED the place. Leisurely.

Evil Monkey...er, Jeff



Dear Jeff,


Thank you very much for taking the time to let me know of your dissatisfactory experience. First and foremost, I am very sorry. Your schedule and time are very important. I would like to send you a gift card in the amount of $25.53 which is equal to 5 chai teas and 5 $2.00 pastries, plus tax in hopes that you will visit again soon. If you would forward me your address, I will drop it in the mail today!

If I may, I'dd like to take a few minutes of your time to share the essence of my business philosophy. I gainfully employee workers of all calibers and qualifications. I try to see where their strength is and utilize those talents to help them gain confidence. Hence, not everyone has the mental or physical capacity to work the counter and run the register. Our register is a somewhat complex computerized system that requires significant training. Unfortunately, not all of my employees have the ability to learn this system. Therefore, when people are scheduled and not behind the counter, there is a specific reason. Within this last year of operation, I have staffed a terminally ill gentleman, three unwed mothers, a woman suffering from chronic pain and fatigue due to medications, a young man who taught himself how to ride a 2 wheel bike at age 17 and a convicted felon looking to turn her life around. I have 3 retired people who volunteer their time in order to still feel needed and valued and impart years of experience & wisdom

It is very important to me that the Bistro be immaculate. Therefore, many of my employees are hired with the sole purpose of cleaning the parking lot, bathrooms, doing laundry, sweeping, wiping tables, cleaning windows, etc. Therefore, they should not be behind the counter helping customers at any time. I believe customer service encompasses more than just quick service.

If it seems that I am making excuses, I am not. I just wanted to shed some light on this business that might not have been revealed in your five minute wait. Yes, I am here to serve our customers, but more importantly, my purpose is to serve our community as well.

In regards to our new entrance, I thought if people walked just a little bit further, they could justify eating one of our delicious homemade baked goods. In all seriousness, before the [current location] we were across the street in 860 square feet as a gift shop. With our new expansion, many of our customers missed that aspect so we expanded. In addition to our gifts, I am currently showcasing two stay at home mom's artistry as they are raising children and starting businesses. We also are promoting birdfeeders in the gift shop. They have been made by the children at G-- E--. All proceeds go back to the school as they are raising money to swim with the dolphins this spring. With over 200 people coming in a day, we have been able to offer wonderful exposure and to assist them in making their goal. However, we do keep our side door unlocked during business hours for a quick entrance if the gift shop entrance is not conducive. [Simply not true--Jeff]

In addition, [we have] been able to help support Tallahassee's non-profit organizations for over 16 years. As a small business, this is not always easy, but it is a way for me to thank the community for all that they do. We also make an effort to give 10% off menu items each month to specific groups of people that make a difference in other peoples' lives. For example: hospice workers, teachers, civil service employees, librarians, Sunday school teachers, etc. We also offered free boxed dinners complete with soup, drink and dessert for all of the people in shelters here from Katrina.

I have also devised a program called Making the Grade for my employees who are also full time students. I honor any GPA over 2.5 and compensate them financially each semester for doing well.

Please know I will personally check the employee schedule and see who was working on February 20th and speak with the employees working that day. Once again, I do apologize for your wait.

I look forward to being given another chance to serve you with excellence and make a difference in your day. You mentioned that you come in happy. Maybe you are being directed to come in to share your cheer with someone who may desperately need what you have. It is rarely about what we can get, but rather what we can give. Together, I know we can also make a difference in a multitude of other lives as well.

Most Sincerely,

E-----

16 Comments:

At 9:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

not everyone has the mental or physical capacity to work the counter and run the register.

I just choked on my banana.

That's a mighty big load of bull. I've worked all sorts of retail, with all sorts of registers, and cash registers are not hard to use. They even do the maths for you!

As for physical capacity...this is just a coffee shop, right? They aren't a super troupe of acrobatic baristas who make your coffee whilst in full lotus?

- Tess @ Work

 
At 12:22 AM, Blogger marrije said...

Maybe you are being directed to come in to share your cheer with someone who may desperately need what you have.

Yes! That's it! You're not in there to buy a cup of coffee, but to get rid of any cheer someone else might need more.

Say, perhaps Evil Monkey could write a book of business advice, instead of the writing advice he was planning to do?

 
At 1:31 AM, Anonymous AntonyS said...

Chill out bro..

Its only 8 minutes. For that you are getting a good amount in Gift cards and from the explanation offered as to the nature of the employees some allowances need to me made.

Consider this, because of your complaint is someone out of a job.
If so do they have money to live.

On one side your coffee is 8 minutes late on the other side some one might have been fired and right now might not have any money to live.

Just get your coffee somewhere else

 
At 2:03 AM, Blogger Tansy said...

I particularly like the way that "unwed mothers" are equated with people who have a physical disability or social disorder.

\

 
At 5:23 AM, Anonymous Paul Jessup said...

Actually, I think Jeff's right in this aspect. If someone lost a job from this email (and from the response I highly doubt it), than that's his fault. Eight minutes is way too long of a wait.

Coffeehouse isn't a community service program. Yes, we all want to make the world a better place, but open up a shelter or a soup kitchen, or help someone in need. Not open a coffeehouse. A coffeehouse serves coffee.

Can it do both? Sure, what a noble gesture. But, it's a coffee house first and formost.

Wow. I just came off sounding like an asshole- but I understand what your saying. For some reason it brings to mind some ezines out there that will post fiction from anyone, just to give them a chance...

 
At 5:29 AM, Anonymous William Lexner said...

'Unwed Mothers' made my day, and the aforementioned imagery of 'acrobatic baristas' made my week.

Thanks, guys.

 
At 5:34 AM, Anonymous William Lexner said...

Post script:

I agree with your writing of the letter, Jeff. The proprietor's highest priority should be customer service, and as you did not ask reasons for the shittiness of the service, that bloated reply was both immaterial and something of a voyage to the surreal magical kingdom of Whinyexcuseland.

 
At 6:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re Antony--
I didn't ask for anyone to be fired. Nor will anyone be fired.

I posted the email I received in response because I really think it was conceived of in fantasyland. And because this didn't just happen once or twice--the terrible service--but a few times. I like to support local business, but, for example, I go to Brueghers Bagels, a chain, and guess what--they're also hiring people who need work, who may be in some of the situations described in the email I got, but everybody there does everybody else's job, including the register. A lot of them are college students. A lot of them are doing it on their way to something else. Basically the same things that woman lists, except she uses it as an excuse. And she basically disses her employees or condescends to them.

Anyway, I still think if you go into an establishment and there is *no one* visible in the *entire* place for five minutes...something's wrong.

For the record, I didn't take the owner up on her offer of a free coupon.

Jeff

 
At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually read it as a firmly tongue-in-cheek lashing intended for Jeff. And I thought the second paragraph was particularly evocative. Nice bit of imagery. Good range of detail. I don't know if I'd call it fantasy; seems more satirical to me.

--minz

 
At 12:07 PM, Blogger Kameron Hurley said...

So, it basically comes down to: "You get slow service because I routinely hire people who don't know how to run a register. Learning how to press buttons in the proper sequence is too tough for people like felons and unwed mothers to understand, and I can't be bothered to train them. Too bad for you!"

She'll be in business a long, long time. As nice as sacrificing your customer service and bottom line may be for the "good" of the community, I think she'll find she could do a better job hiring people who can work a register. This will increase profits, and therefore increase the amount of money she can give back to the community.

It is, indeed, possible to do both.

 
At 8:22 PM, Blogger banzai cat said...

Heh good for you Jeff. It's a coffeehouse, not Mother Teresa's charity house, fer crying out loud. These people are primarily getting paid to offer a service and that means getting coffee.

As for people losing their jobs, well, if the coffeehouse got robbed because nobody was at the register, they'd still lose their jobs, right?

 
At 4:05 PM, Blogger Dancewriter said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 4:07 PM, Blogger Dancewriter said...

I think I know the place you are talking about here. I have only been in there once, right before my first day at work. I did not find the service nearly as poor as you describe so I can't relate to your particular situation there, but the coffee was not very good and having to walk in through the gift shop was very annoying, especially since I quite deliberately took a parking space right near what appeared to be the front door.

Something else that I also noticed in that one visit was that there seemed to be somewhat of a haughty attitude in there (I think the owner was waiting on me).

That's some letter. I agree - alternate universe. I think it is the same universe that I was in one time while eating at a small fish restaurant in Woodville where the owner's son said I(and I quote) "we used to think the customer was always right, but that cost us too much so we don't feel that way anymore." This was after I had sent back some grilled grouper that was so overcooked that it made a tapping sound when striking the plate and we could not get them to take the food back and bring something else.

ack.

 
At 9:36 AM, Anonymous Tammy Genovese said...

As a shopowner, I feel that I must comment. The proprietor's message and tone was likely caused by the intial complaint e-mail. If you had just written and said "Local coffeeshop owner, I recently had bad service at your shop. It happened at such-and-such time on such-and-such date. Due to this experience I am unlikely to return to your shop." you would probably not have been presented with her long-winded defense. Instead, you went with "Proprieter, your shop takes the happy me and makes me angry. (Waiting makes me angry, you see.) Let me detail a recent experience. (Details angry experience.) Also, the layout and floorplan of your shop frustrate and confuse the average coffee buyer."

I think the proprietor, while perhaps a little full of herself, responded to this aggressive stacking of complaints in a natural, defensive way. It is her business, and these are her employees. Perhaps she's even posted your original e-mail to her blog under the title "Impatient Crank." (I would be curious to see the tact and diplomacy in that original e-mail.)

This whole exchange could have been avoided if you had chosen to speak directly to the proprietor, instead of jabbing away from behind the safe anonymity of e-mail. I prefer when customers come to me directly. People are generally more reasonable in face-to-face situations, and things are usually left amicably. Your not accepting the proprietor's generous offer is telling. She is wanting to make things right and you are declining that offer. Either you only wrote the e-mail to spout off, or her response has embarrassed you. If the product is good, who turns down $25 worth?

I think posting this reply to your blog is a way to have a friendly forum validate your initial action.

Sorry for this to turn into such a flame. I think you are an amazingly gifted writer, but I felt I had to speak up for this proprietor. I have been serving the public for 30+ years now and have had to assuage many an upset patron. I've noticed that complaints received via e-mail tend to be less civil and the complainants less willing to be satisfied.

Next time post a copy of an e-mail where you compliment an establishment for good service.

 
At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The shopkeeper's response reminds me of the Python episode where Graham Chapman complains about the dirty spoon, and one by one, the entire staff of the restaurant comes out to weep, harangue, scream, or otherwise spill craziness in all directions. I mean:

>they are raising money to swim with the dolphins this spring

Imagine Cleese shrieking that sentence at top volume.


~barth

 
At 3:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tammy:

Thanks for the posting--I appreciate it. This is actually a pretty tough crowd at times. I posted it because I thought it was entertaining, not because I wanted sympathy because I had problems with the service. If the response hadn't been so over the top, I wouldn't have posted it. But it read like a fiction to me, so I posted it.

I don't know that you can make the assumptions you make, though, with all due respect, without seeing the actual email I sent. Tone is very important in these situations.

But, also, I'm having a hard time imagining a situation at my publishing house Ministry of Whimsy, which I ran for 17 years, where I would offer up such excuses no matter what the tone of a complainant. When we did have service issues, we were either in the wrong or in the right. If we were in the wrong, I simply apologized to the customer and did what I could to put it right. I never offered the "my dog died and my parents ate my homework" excuse.

So I see your point, but...it just ain't the way I'd do business. But let's give this owner the benefit of the doubt. I still don't like her attitude toward her employees.

And just a general comment--and this doesn't mean all start flocking here with soap wrapped in towels--if you don't agree with something I blog, bust me on it. No worries! This ain't the Praise Jeff Parade.

JeffV

 

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