Monday, December 31, 2012

Customer Service is listening and empowerment

So this past weekend I was out at a local business buying some stuff.  The local business is a national chain that sells hardware, housewares and etc.  They have a parking lot that is managed by a 3rd party.  I don't really know the ownership of the building and etc and i don't really care, what i do know is that the parking lot is managed by someone else entirely from the business i was going to visit.

So i'm arrived, i park and go to the parking metre to pay for my parking.  the first metre accepts my money happily and does nothing.  now, as an unlikely coincidence the parking metres were made by my company and i know what my putting money in, without the commensurate dropping sound and no screen updates means.  The machine has entered into a jammed state and roughly about $30 of change is going to plug up the chute until no more change can be added.  The only solution is for someone with a key to come out and clear the chute.  I grumble a bit about my lost $2.25, step two steps to the right, plug the other metre and everything is fine.

Now at this point i could call the parking operator, let them know about my lost money and suggest that they have someone from maintenance come out to fix the unit.  But i don't care enough about my money to call and the likelyhood of someone coming out to fix the unit at 6pm on a holiday season saturday are pretty slim.

Instead i head into the store and find someone who works there.  I let them know that the metre outside is jammed, that i understand that it belongs to another company and i don't expect anything from her.  She gruffly tells me that they've called customer service and it will be taken care of in due course.  I say that's great and i'm glad it's being taken care of but maybe she might consider putting a sign up on the metre saying that the machine is out of order.  Another gruff response about it not being theirs and customer service has called them.  I mention that it is currently putting her customers in a place where they are losing their money and maybe a sign would be a good idea.  Her response was that it wasn't their machine and she couldn't do anything about it.

So...there's a couple of things here. One, i was trying to be helpful, polite and understanding and her attitude back was really grating to me.  I get that.  it's holiday season, maybe she was tired and cranky.  Although, 2 weeks before the same person's attitude had also been gruff and annoying to me.  So just in general, dealing with people in a bad mood in customer service is not a good experience for the customer.

But the second is a problem of empowerment.  I understand that the lot isn't controlled by the store but the building is plastered with the retail stores signs, the parking lot is plastered with the retail store signage and the metres are 10 feet from the door to the only store you can access directly from that lot.  Most customers are making a connection between the store and the parking lot.  The parking lot just stole a customer's money.  Whether or not the customer is going to get their money back is one thing, and i realize that most customers are going to want that but even beyond that, knowing that the problem that has impacted their day isn't going to get fixed soon, that's a larger problem.  That retail store employee hadn't even been empowered to put a sign on the device saying out of order.

have you ever used a pop machine at a big store?  most of those are operated by a 3rd party.  when it's out of order, do you as a customer accept that it's ok for you to just lose your money?  no, because the affiliation becomes part of identity for you.  The customer service experience here would have been significantly better if the employee had simply been empowered to put a sign on the metre.  Failing that, escalating the situation should have been able to find someone in the retail management who could put a sign on the machine.  Hell, the experience would have been better if she's simply said, ' i will see what i can do about it sir.'

What did i do in the end, well i went about my shopping.  We told a couple of people not to use that machine on the way in, and a couple more about the machine on the way back out.  Then we got to our car, dumped one of the bags of purchases out in the trunk and went back and put the plastic bag over the head of the metre.  I, as an individual am empowered to help my fellow man even if the employees of the retail store aren't.


  1. I am thoroughly convinced in this said post. I am currently searching for ways in which I could enhance my knowledge in this said topic you have posted here. It does help me a lot knowing that you have shared this information here freely.
    Custom Sign Companies Florida

  2. Glad to help Ross. customer service is amazingling important i think.

    if you're interested, here is a great little article that i love about customer service.