by Felicia Hodges
A few weeks ago, I ended up in a local but unfamiliar supermarket to pick up eggs and milk. Although I greeted my cashier with a warm “hello,” she practically threw the pen I needed to sign my check down the conveyer belt and then deliberately placed the receipt underneath my outstretched palm. “Have a nice day,” I said as I scooped up my bag. She literally grunted.
Most people have probably come in contact with a less than friendly cashier, waitress or salesclerk at one time or another. But is really rude when your server doesn’t smile, or are we expecting too much?
“For service professionals, rude behavior could be ignoring you, not giving you any eye contact, talking to someone else while helping you or what have you,” says Lydia Ramsey, business etiquette expert and author of Manners That Sell: Adding the Polish that Builds Profits. “It doesn’t matter if that person had a rough night’s sleep or fought with their boyfriend. It should never affect the level of service you receive.”
So, even if your server just got evicted from her apartment, had difficulty with the customers in front of you and has a toothache, you should not be treated as if those difficulties are your fault. And suffer in silence you shouldn’t, either. There are plenty of things you can do to keep ugly behavior by service professionals to a minimum including:
Consider Taking Your Business Elsewhere - “The bottom line is that businesses need you just like you need them,” says Jon Van Vlack, a professional consumer advocate in Ulster County. He says that supermarkets expect to loose about one-third of their customers each year. “They also gain about one-third as well, probably from other supermarkets.”
If you are unable or unwilling to try another business (if you live in a town that has only one supermarket or your usual haunt is on your way home from work, for instance), Van Vlack suggests that you try to build an individual relationship with your store by knowing he staff and making sure they know you. If, for example, you know that one cashier is always grumpy, avoid her check out line like the plague. It won’t do anything to help with the cashier’s attitude, but it could make your shopping experience a bit more enjoyable. Also try:
Treating People Like You Wish to Be Treated - “I call it a polite nudge,” says Peggy Post, etiquette expert and author of The Etiquette Advantage in Business: Personal Skills for Professional Success. “Try to make eye contact and speak as nicely as possible. Don’t come in like ‘I’m the customer and you’re the doormat.’ Usually, that rectifies [a difficult] situation.”
“Being rude back just compounds [it],” adds Ramsey. “When someone is rude to you, it helps to be nice to them.” She also says that smiling at your salesperson may be the first step in defusing potential nastiness. Ramsey says she really turned on the charm when she encountered a particularly unfriendly flight attendant. The attendant responded with a much nicer attitude almost immediately. “But I had to really play her and it shouldn’t have been that way,” she says.
Speaking Up - Bothered by the conversation your cashier had with someone else when she was supposed to be waiting on you? The service might be the same the next time you visit unless you voice your dissatisfaction.
“I always point it out when it happens to me,” Van Vlack says. “Everyone likes to feel valued, so I let them know I’m not being made to feel that way.”
If your server was particularly nasty, speak to his or her immediate superior about it. Post suggests you contact the hostess or head waitress in a restaurant, the head cashier or store manager in a supermarket or the department manager in a general merchandise or chain store.
“You are really helping the establishment keep their standards. Any good establishment will want to know what it takes to keep customers happy,” Post adds.
Staying Calm - No one will want to communicate with you once you’ve flown off the handle. Although you may want to tear someone’s head off, it’s important to keep your cool when you complain less your concerns not be taken seriously.
“It’s harder to dismiss a person if they are cool, calm and collected,” Van Vlack says. Raising your voice, demanding to have the server fired or other- wise causing a commotion may get your complaint swiftly pushed to the back burner.
Following the Chain of Command - Shoddy service can be extremely aggravating, but you should still follow the chain of command and exhaust all other routes before phoning the company C.E.O.
“Give [the service supervisors] the opportunity to correct the situation and discipline the employee first,” Ramsey says. And if it feels like lip service, don’t be afraid to ask for the supervisor’s name and find out how the situation will be rectified.
“The customer should be told how it will be handled,” she adds. “It would be in the best interest of the business to do more than just take the complaint and say ‘We’ll handle it.’”
Taking it to the Next Level - Chain stores and other companies with nation- al affiliations will often go through hell and high water to keep you from connecting with their corporate headquarters. If you feel like your issues are not being handled effectively by the store heads, ask for the corporate 1-800 number or mailing address and follow up accordingly.
“People often complain in the wrong places,” Van Vlack says. “Think about the corporate level. The last thing the company wants to do is hand the complaint to the
home office. I’ve found that email gets almost immediate attention even when your phone messages are not returned.”
Lodging A Formal Complaint - The vast majority of companies will be willing to rectify the situation in a timely manner. But, if the one you are dealing with does not, you can file a complaint with your county agency or the state attorney general’s office.
“The bottom line is that corporations don’t exist in a vacuum. They all have somewhere to answer to,” says Van Vlack. “If you follow through, you’re gonna wear them down.”
Rewarding Good Service - When a cashier or waitress is especially friendly or goes out of her way to make you feel like you matter, make it a point to let her as well as the management know about it. Tell her how her demeanor made you feel and fill out one of those “How Was Your Service?” cards. Let the company know that the service is why you will continue to spend your ducats there. “Retailers realize that good service is good for business,” Post says. “They recognize that it pays to be nice.”
For More Information:
- Visit your local library for a copy of The Consumer Action Handbook, which lists consumer strategies, state consumer agencies, corporate contacts and also gives sample complaint letters. Call the Federal Information Center at 1.800.688.9889 to get your free copy via mail (be patient; it takes about four to five weeks to arrive).
- Need help sending a complaint letter to a company head? Log onto www.PlanetFeedback.com. The website helps you write and send email or snail mail letters to companies using a step-by-step guide. You can also email copies to elected officials or family and friends and Planet Feedback will also help track the responses.
- Contact Orange, Dutchess or Ulster County’s Consumer Affairs Divisions to complain about area businesses by dialing 845.340.3260 (for Ulster County Department of Consumer Affairs), 845.2912050 (for the District Attorney’s office in Orange County) or 845.486.2449 (for the Dutchess County Department of Consumer Affairs). You can also reach the state Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Frauds and Protection at 1.800.771.7755.