Sunday, January 25, 2009

Is good customer service appreciated?

Maybe it's the economy or maybe it's the threat of losing one's job or maybe people are just cranky. It seems like good customer service is being ignored.

I'm a volunteer camp host at a CA state park. My job is to make the camping or fishing experience here the best it can be. From the time a visitor arrives at the kiosk until they drive out of the park, that experience should entice the visitor to return, perhaps with family and friends.

The state of California is in trouble. Our budget shortfall is in numbers so astronomical, I can't even begin to visualize it. Government offices are closed on Fridays. State income tax refunds will be IOUs. State workers must take two unpaid leave days per month. It's rough going and may continue for months.

One of the problems we've encountered has been a delay in the shipment of the state park annual passes. Visitors who want to purchase the passes cannot and must pay to enter the park. They're angry and frustrated. I understand that and offer the website for a faster receipt. The passes are shipped the same day and folks can have them in their hands within a couple of days. I apologize and explain the problem and solution.

So far this week, I've been called a Nazi, ignorant, stupid, and "not being very helpful" because I wouldn't issue a receipt so the visitor could present it after receiving the pass and get a refund. I'm not talking about a trillion-dollar item: it's $6. For the fishermen, the day use fee with fishing is $11. That allows you to launch your boat, park your vehicle, fish all day and night, and leave by 10 am the following day.

Two women, one following the other in her car, came to the kiosk and asked where she could let her dog run loose. I smiled, apologized and said that dogs were not permitted to be off leash in the state parks. "Well, that's stupid! Where can my dog run?" I told her I didn't know of any place nearby (true). She snapped, "Well, don't you think you'd better find out?" Then she sped through the stop sign, made a U-turn and went out the other side. The second car pulled up and the woman said, "I'm with her." She repeated the other woman's actions and went out the other side at about 25 miles an hour. Um. OK.

A man was in the day use area which is open daily from sunrise to sundown. It was dark so the host said, "I'm sorry but I need to close the gate. This area of the park is closed." He said, "Too bad. I'm staying." She replied, "I can't close the gate with you inside. You don't want the ranger to give you a ticket." His response? "There's no ranger on duty and it's not worth calling the sheriff." That was true, although we have no idea how he knew there was no ranger. She walked away and sat in her RV. After 20 minutes, he went to his car and drove out the gate peeling rubber at the entrance.

Whenever I'm out of the park dealing with folks at the gas station, grocery store or other service places, I find a hit-or-miss reception. My usual greeting is "Hi. How are you?" I wait for a response and listen. I make eye contact if I can and I smile. I want the persons serving me to remember that someone was nice, asked about their health, and actually looked at them. I'm not a transaction or an interruption. Most of the time, it works. Sometimes it doesn't, no matter how charming I try to be.

Have you noticed this lack of appreciation?


  1. The world is full of rude, self-absorbed, "it's all about me and the rules are for somebody else" jerks with overblown senses of entitlement, and the number so "attitude-challenged" folks who just don't get it seems to increase steadily. When you work directly with the general public in *any* capacity, you get an unbelievable number of opportunities to develop a thick skin!

  2. Yes, absolutely! If I ever receive even slightly better than average service (average being not so great) I compliment, fill out a nice comment card, or even talk to a manager. I, as a customer, try really hard to be especially nice to people who are helping me. I, as someone who used to work in customer service, went home screaming (or crying, in a couple of cases) most days because someone was incredibly rude to me. :)

  3. Our current work DESPERATELY needs BETTER customer service ( and just plain kindness to others ) . I have seen this in small busineses. One small example :
    There is a gas station about 15 miles from me and everytime I go there, the person says " hi !, how are you " ect. right when you walk in. I went back ..... they did it again. I went back ... I they did it again. They consistenly provide excellent service ( even though it's only gas ! ) and they have "Branded" themselved on me as " my " gas station. I go there now ... pretty much always.
    I have seen good and bad examples of customer service and can't believe some of the bad ones that I have seen!