Monday, January 4, 2016

Cookies, Tricky Red Letters, and One Defensive Elf Man - A Study in Customer Service

Of late, in my adventures through gift shopping, Internet promotion perusing, and restaurant food eating, I have become quite the expert at spotting good customer service. And then also the other type of service.

Many valuable lessons abound for those who pay attention to how people treat people - especially in the arena of sales, marketing and service.

Take for example my recent trip to a vegetarian eatery on Adams Boulevard in Normal Heights (right near that neon sign actually). I had the awesome experience of standing before two waiters who were listening to my constructive feedback about some service.

Normal Heights-Adams Avenue Business District

Me:  "Hi there. When I called in my order, the woman who answered the phone had some incredibly loud banging sounds behind her, so much so that I could barely hear her talking."
  • Waiter #1 (I'll call "Tall Elf Man") was defensive.
  • Waiter #2 (I'll call "Cookie Man") was receptive.
Tall Elf Man: "She was not on the clock at the time."
Me:  "It still was not a good experience for me, the customer."
Cookie Man:  "Thank you for letting us know."
Me: "OK. You're welcome."
Tall Elf Man: "She was probably in the kitchen; it gets loud in there; we can't control that."
Cookie Man: "Even so, she didn't need to take the call in there; that's valuable feedback."
Tall Elf Man: "Do you want a cookie?"
Me: "Really?" (Moved deeply, sniff) "As a give-back?"
Tall Elf Man: "No ... I just thought you might want to buy a cookie."

What was awesome about this experience was that I was "me" the entire time, expressing my views, while I had two very distinct responses. One showed a person who cared and was taking in what I was saying; the other was more interested in what he already knew and didn't really care what I had to say. I didn't need a free cookie or anything back for my somewhat disturbing experience on the phone. I just wanted someone there to listen to my feedback. One receptive person did; one defensive person did not.

Which one do you think would inspire me to come back to this establishment? Which one would inspire me to want to steal a cookie?

People - wake up! You needn't be right or wrong; you needn't give up any free merchandise; you needn't fear a landmark court case trying to prove inefficiency. Those in a service role in our society merely must give a crap about those they serve. And that could mean as little (or much) as simply listening to a customer.

Now there is one other glaring customer service lesson that I must share. Hey a 2-for-1 deal here. A few months ago I had two very different experiences with some online promotions. See if you can tell the difference between the two and what it means about true customer care and service.

First one - The Los Angeles Kings offer subscriptions to their promotional e-mails. Here is how they
present it:

See how this organization has the e-mail recipient decide for him or herself what promotions he or she will receive? It says "Please check the box below if..." That is all set up for one's free will to make a known decision about a clear direction. We check the box for that service we wish to receive. Compare that to...

Second one - The Experian credit score service offers a 7-day trial to see a credit score. Here is how this company presents it: 

Hmmmm. But wait. Notice a few things. What are the outstanding elements on the page? The blue headline asking about a true need of the public. Then the fancy red lettering: the cheapo price of $1, and then the button to get that credit report. Notice as well the magic dollars falling from the sky into what must only be OUR hands. This is all set up so well to entice the customer (sucker) to not notice the 7-day trial aspect of the promotion. And of course, if you - the consumer (sucker) - sign up for this subtle trial and then unwittingly allow the trial to lapse ... well of course, that will be $39.99 each month you don't notice it on your bill.

Will they prompt you with a reminder about the trial? Will they make it 100 percent clear when you sign up for a trial? Will they inform you your credit card is being charged more than $1? No. That would not help them lull you into spending more than you actually wanted. This is a good example of a company working against the true desires of a public in order to make more bucks. (Perhaps those are Experian's hands in the graphic?)

In comparing the two online promotions, we see the Kings give a care about their fans or customers; we see that Experian wants to simply out-manuever and out-market the consumer. One gives due respect and full disclosure so a customer may make the choice he or she really wants. The other is a sign that money and profit can rule over customer service for some companies.

In the end, who will be successful? Red letter trickery? Defensive elf waiters? The one who makes the most amount of profit? I guess it all depends on your value system and your true level of care for those you set out to support.

For me, I'm going to eat my cookie and keep my eyes and ears wide open.

James Anthony Ellis is a writer and producer living in San Diego, CA. He can be reached at

Friday, January 1, 2016

Friends Don't Let Friends Make A Deal

OK quick story before my rant.
You got a minute?

I was truly desiring a special cupcake from Bubba Sweets, the greatest cupcake store in all the world. And there it was right in my old hometown of Huntington Beach. It would be a gift for my wife who loves a certain cupcake from that locale. The problem was the store would not be open when I was in town. Because of this dilemma, I would be reaching out for help. I asked a favor of one my "friends" living in HB. Of course I would cover the costs and could pick up the sweet gift the next time I was in town.

Seems harmless enough right? The friend said he would indeed help me out ... on a condition. The deal was stated, "I can do that for you ... but in return can you ... "

Never fucking mind. 

No deal. Transaction nixed. Request rescinded. 

It may seem like a small matter, but at the root of it is a valuable take-away for me. 

Friends do not barter, they do not make deals.

Businesswomen and businessmen make deals and negotiate according to their own individual stances, based on the measurable nature of common, ordinary life. Business people do so, rightfully, for they are dealing with finite resources, as they manage time, space, money and other commodities.
A friend is not a resource. A friend is not a commodity. A friend must not be dealt with in such a manner. 

Friends are as timeless and priceless as anything on earth. True friends. Friends do favors just because ...

... Knowing that the friendship bond is what fuels our behavior.
... Knowing that any necessary balance will take place over time.
... Knowing that giving to a friend doesn't come with strings attached. 
... Knowing that a friend can not be held accountable for a return on investment.

And if a friend can't do a favor, they say they can't do it. Period. Complete. There are no deals, "in exchanges" and conditions. Yuck.

I am blessed to know a pal on my men's team who truly gives without needing anything in return. Does he end up receiving from me? I believe so. And he would do so naturally, not because of any handshake deals attempting to balance it all out with each act of kindness. This gent of which I speak helped me out when I first moved into my house, as he laid down the flooring of a side room. I recall back then, as I thanked him so much for all his work, his words: "I just want to see you get your dreams."

May we all want our friends to have their dreams. May we all say "yes" when we can make some of those dreams come true; may we all offer other types of support when we can't lend a hand. But - for goodness sake - may we never play "tit for tat" with something as precious and cherished as true friendship.

James Anthony Ellis is a writer, producer and publisher living in San Diego, California.  He can be reached at