Customer Service: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

This is a very old essay I did for an English class a long, long time ago. But it is still one of my favorite pieces, and it is still what I think!

Customer service falls into three categories: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Unfortunately the good is becoming harder and harder to find. We all know what kind of service we are receiving when we get it, but I wonder do clerks know what kind of service they are giving? Do they know when they are chasing away their paychecks? Do they even care? Elbert Hubbard said, “Folks who never do any more than they get paid for, never get paid for any more than they do.” Maybe it’s time that they cared about what we want, time for them to care about what we deserve.

What we deserve, and what we get from the good, is a friendly greeting. The simple joy of a “Hello, how are you doing today?” is a wonder. Add a smile and shopping or dining can seem like heaven. When you are ready to be waited on, they are right there. They are attentive to your every need, wanting only to make your visit a productive and pleasant one. They know their product, or their service, and what they don’t know, they are glad to find out for you. If you visit often, they remember you. They listen to your comments with a sincere concern for your happiness. When it is time to hit the checkout line, they thank you for your patronage. If you have any problems, they want to fix them. Most of all, they know that the customer is always right!

The bad is less enjoyable to be sure. With the bad, when you walk in the door, you are lucky to get a blank stare and certainly never more than a nod. If you get a “hello” at all, it is because you said it first. When you need their help, you feel as though you have put them out. You have a question? They don’t know the answer, and they don’t know who to ask to get it. They listen because they know they have to. You can tell because of that “Hurry up and go away” look in their eyes. You suffer, but you make it to the checkout line. These clerks only want to go home so don’t count on a thank you. In fact,  you haven’t even picked up your things and they have already moved on to the next person in line. Do yourself a favor and don’t have any problems with these folks. Any attempt they do make will be lame at best. They aren’t really sure what to do when you have a complaint.

Then you have the ugly. These folks require saints for customers! You will never hear a word when you walk in the door. You can look them in the eye, say “Hello” and still they won’t speak to you. If you need help with something, don’t hold your breath. They aren’t going to notice you for at least an hour. Make them stop and notice you, and be prepared. No one can get as rude or indignant as the ugly clerk can! What is worse is that these clerks do know the answers, but they certainly aren’t going to share them with you. If you do have the patience of Job and make it to the checkout line, there is only one thing to expect. These people are just glad you are leaving and are no longer going to waste their air. Again, as with the bad, you don’t want to have any problems. If you do and you decide to address it, your clerk will refuse to help you. The ugly clerk knows only two things. First they are always right, and second the customer is always clueless.

The good, the bad, and the ugly, they’re everywhere. But mostly it is the bad that we meet now. The good with their sincerity, friendliness, and helpfulness are going the way of the dinosaurs. The ugly with their rude indignation are still rare but are quietly growing stronger. The bad seem to have the world at their feet. They are indifferent to our needs and to our wants. But we can make that change. We can choose to not accept the bad. We can choose to live without the ugly. “I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.” Oscar Wilde said that, and I agree. Is it not time we were all satisfied with nothing but the best?


Now I wrote that back in the nineties and little has changed. Or has it? I see even less of the good and more of the ugly. I said in the final paragraph that we could make a change and I still believe that. Yes, by all means, let a manager know when you receive bad service. They need to know it. If they seem to be part of the problem then talk to an owner or a district manager. But there is something else you can do. Don’t forget to let the good know that they are just that. While you are at it, let their managers know it too. Positive reinforcement is even more important than our complaints when we are misused as paying customers.

Next a note to business owners and managers. I have often experienced one problem resulting from my sincere compliments of your best employees. When an employee does well they are quickly moved up the ranks and out of the view of the customers. That is great, good work deserves to be rewarded. But then you must do your best to find good employees to replace them. Also, I notice that sometimes when a great customer service representative is moved up the line so to speak, consideration isn’t given to whether that is really the best position for them. They may not be cut out for management. Why not consider raises, bonuses, prizes for outstanding employees? Allow them to continue doing what they do best, and what keeps your customers happy. So that is an update to what I think!

©1998, 2012 Kendall Stewart


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