Missoula ..

I’m pretty sure I met her one of the first few days I was in Missoula, having just landed the first job of my career.

I didn’t know anyone out there, which was fine.  I rather enjoy being an anonymous soul at times.

But for some reason .. this wonderful woman, a woman I know others (at least in the role I was in) felt could be gruff, easily agitated and not someone you could get too close to .. took me under her wing.

Chari is her name ..

And every year when we return to Montana to see friends, who are like family ..

 

She is always one of our stops.

Chari was behind the counter at the police station the first time we met.  Every time I would go over for a beat check on the crime scene, we would end up talking about one topic more often than not, but usually there was a little bit of everything under the sun.

Chatting over the counter quickly turned into coffee every Sunday night after we would get off of work.  We would pack up and head over to a little 24 hour restaurant that sits over one of the creeks that flows through town.  It was quiet, out of the way .. and the staff let us sit for hours ordering maybe only toast and refills, while we talked about life.

It was something we did for over at the very least, a two year stretch.

If I were ever heading in any way astray, she would and still does quickly put me back in my place, with a lot of love .. or if I were troubled about so many of the life decisions one has to make at the tender age of 25 about life and love and career and where to live and all that stuff .. she would offer perspective and allow me gracious room to make my own (mistakes) decisions.  And she has supported me however any of them have turned out.

We still get together for dinner or coffee.

Not as often as I’d like, though.

Not nearly as often as I would like.

Although we only talk a few times a year outside of any in-person visits, I think of her always and love her dearly.

No soup for you ..

When is the last time you had REALLY good customer service?

I mean, the kind of help or over the counter service that just stopped you in your tracks and had you saying, ‘Wow, I didn’t know people/businesses did it like this anymore?’

Perhaps the better question is, how many businesses have you decided to not return to because the service was appalling?

………..

Let me just start with two thoughts:

1.)  I believe we are technically – all in the customer service business .. unless of course, you don’t have a job.  But even job hunting means, essentially, that a potential employer is the customer.  Doesn’t it?  And you had better leave a good impression if you truly want to make the sale/get the job.

2.)  I know there are days when I can do a better job myself of working like whatever I am doing is the only thing that matters on earth.  I know this.  I admit this.  And I continue always to try and do better, keeping others in mind.

Well .. three thoughts.

3.)  I have just returned from a week and a half away.  Which, for those of you who have ever left for that period of time know, most likely there is no good ‘real food’ to eat upon return.  If it was good and fresh when you left, it is now moldy.  I will spare you a photo of what was in my refrigerator that is now thrown out.  Needless to say, Monday, I had not eaten .. really, any breakfast, lunch or dinner (until now, and at 8:00 pm I just wrapped up a run to the grocery store)  other than a packet of oatmeal, two pieces of plain bread and an apple all day.  So I may have been a bit hungry and ornery because of it, as I wrote what follows.

BUT ..

……………

8:28 pm Monday (and I know this because I make a point to look at my watch).  I walk into a local business that I frequent often after a grocery store run.  I am looking for a coffee, bottle of wine to take home to sip on this week and perhaps a cup of soup.  I am famished.  The place closes at 9 pm, something I am keenly aware of. There are 32 minutes to close.

8:31 pm.  I walk up to counter having found a bottle of wine for purchase, order a latte and ask if I might still get a cup of soup, thinking, I know they’re closing soon.  I don’t want to ask for anything that might have them doing a bunch of work.  But soup, soup should be do-able.  That’s what I’m thinking.

Clerk at register asks woman who might usually be helping prep food but who is instead now washing dishes if soup is still available.  Dish washing woman who is cleaning out soup containers says:

“No.  It’s past 8:30 and the kitchen is closed.  We’re done serving.”

She proceeds to say not missing a beat, “Were you going to stay here?  You know we close at 9.”

I smirk, thinking, if I owned this place and knew what just flew out of her mouth, I’d be absolutely appalled.  She is more worried about getting out of there by 9 or as close to it as possible than making sure a customer is happy and satisfied and will care to come back because the experience was just that good.

“Oh yes,” I say.  “I am well aware of what time you close.  I came in thinking there was still enough time I might get a cup of soup.  I haven’t eaten all day.  And I’m hungry.”

She paused.  Stepped back.  And then returned about a minute later after I finished paying for what I could get (wine and coffee), “Well, I guess I could still heat a cup up for you if you’d like.”

“No thank you,” I replied.

At that point there was nothing she could have said to me short of perhaps, ‘I’m sorry’, to get me to even think of staying.

8:32 pm I again look at my watch as I stand, waiting for my latte.

……………

Because I have had many a wonderful experience at this particular establishment, chances are, I will return.  I peripherally know the owners.  I know they run a good business.  And I want to support small local business wherever and whenever I can.  Even if its through a cup of coffee.

But if that’s my first experience in a place, I’m just saying, I may not ever return.

Monday night .. I took my business next door.  My dinner business anyway.  Where I am perhaps all too often a regular as well (because I’m terrible about cooking for myself on nights when its just me.  Plus the margaritas can’t be beat).  Where I have never had anything but the utmost awesome service.  And where I sat down to write .. this post.  Over food.

Which was all I was looking for and hoping for tonight.

Listen.  I’m not trying to be snitty here.  I promise.  I’m just wanting to offer some thoughts .. my own perspective, some of which I hope wear off at some point on my daughter.

I have worked in the service industry since I was about 15.  Actually, before that.  I mowed lawns starting around age 12, had a paper route and babysat all I could to put money in my savings when I was a kid.  But by the time I was 15, I started washing dishes and waitressing.  Back then, it was all about trying to keep coffee cups full on Saturday and Sunday mornings for all the regulars at the Poynette Cafe, how quickly I could remove their plates once their toast was done and hope then that I had served them well enough to earn more than a few quarters per table.  It was tough work, but I realized it couldn’t be about me and what time I hoped to rush out of there to get home or to see my friends.  It was about making sure the customers were happy, that they would come back, bring friends and hopefully tip more next time because I/we took good care of them.  And .. in almost every circumstance, I was also taught that it didn’t really matter what I thought.  About anything.  If I thought their food was done right but they said it wasn’t .. if they ordered one drink but thought they ordered another .. whatever .. the customer is (almost) always right.  And if we didn’t have what they were asking for or when they wanted it, we tried to offer up solutions.  With a smile.  And we stayed late to accommodate.

Sure, it’s not like that in every business.  But, it is in many and unless being rude is your company’s schtick .. what are the consequences?  For the employee or the employer?  Business owners I know say they are having a tough time getting good young help, who most often fill customer service positions.  Among the issues I’m told, too often young workers are so tethered to their iPhones/Android or Facebook they don’t even think to peel their eyes away from a computer screen to acknowledge a customer has even walked through the door.

Has good customer service died?  I don’t think so.  In fact, because we’ve gotten so far away from it, I believe we’re seeing a resurrection of it.  And I know for a fact, this particular place I stopped last night prides itself on it.

However ..

“Some people love to please others and some people love to just be done working and could give an eff (word has been changed to protect my G rating) about you,” says owner of second place, understanding how I came to sit at his table again tonight.

“Can I quote you on that,” I ask.

“Certainly,” he replied.

I can think of shoe departments I won’t purchase from again because nowhere .. anywhere .. was there someone to help, restaurants I won’t return to because the service was as bad as the food, stores I could care less to spend money in and gas stations I can’t stand because pay at the pump should mean pay at the pump, not come inside to pay and we’ll hold extra funds from your debit card for our own use for a couple days and then return it when we feel like it.  Consumers have plenty of options anymore and we need to remember, it pays to vote with our wallets.

Listen .. I don’t consider myself high maintenance.  But I do know common courtesy with me and others would go a long way .. again, a reminder for me to check my own attitude at the door when I head each day into my own job.

Next time if presented with the same scenario, I’m thinking it might be easy for an employee to simply say something to the effect of, “You know what, we just put the soup away, is there anything else we could get you?  A roll?  Anything?”

I might still have said, “No thanks,” knowing they were cleaning up to get out of there and not wanting to inconvenience anyone.  But I would have left feeling much better about the exchange and might have continued to freely tell everyone how much I love your place.