Monday, November 21, 2011

The Over-Communicator: Tell Me Everything I Didn’t Need to Know

I am uneasy when I encounter the lack of basic-level skills in those from the generation(s) that follow mine, those who will set the tone for, and become responsible for, the future of American life, politics, history, etc.  Although my observations may be more relevant in Southern California, I see some frightening trends regarding an inability to communicate at a basic level --- if you’ve read my other blog posts, you’ve seen me document this trend with specific examples (and, hopefully, with humor).

It’s not that I am saying ‘my generation’ is better at communicating than any other… after all, we brought you the phrases ‘Let it all hang out,’ and ‘Whatever.’ But I do remember that, in my grammar school years, the art of communication was blended in with our other studies.  We were taught how to answer a phone correctly (these days, some people don’t even murmur ‘Good-bye’ before hanging up in your ear); learning how to give simple directions (I have met numerous store clerks who are unable to describe where to find something, so instead they escort me to it); and the very delicate art of knowing when you may have said too much (I can verify it takes years to learn this one). 

The younger generation(s) of today seem to be on the horns of a dilemma --- they have access to more information and technology than my generation dreamed of, but there don’t seem to be many protocols in place regarding how to use the information and how to discern when enough is enough and too much is too much.

At times, it seem that technology controls them, rather than the other way around --- using technology to manage/ organize their lives.

I recently posted an item for sale on Craig’s List, and had more contact from the Buyer than I have on a weekly basis with my BFFs, and the constant contact just about drove me up a wall.  She continually e-mailed, called or texted to: get directions, confirm directions, change direction, change the time, change the date… all over a $30 purchase.  She was unable to keep track of our communications, so if she e-mailed me a question and I e-mailed her back, she would forget where the question and information were stored and would call or text me wondering why she didn’t hear from me. 

When she bought the product, I was so happy to know that I wouldn’t be hearing from her again, until… she asked me if I had the CD-ROM that went with it.  Unfortunately, I DID have it, but not with me, so the routine continued for another week-and-a-half of over-connectedness and missed appointments.

I tried to organize her by letting her know that I would be at a specific location during a specific time frame on a specific date --- I don’t know, that just seemed logical to me.  Still, she called or texted me 4-5 times that day to confirm/ re-confirm/ double-confirm… only to text me at the end of the day that her plans had changed and she couldn’t show up.  The constant interruptions during my day ---  responding to her phone calls and text messages --- was annoying.  By now I was getting so much contact from her that I felt like I was being e-stalked!

(I know, if you’re “over-29” like I am, you’re probably asking, “Why didn’t you just mail it to her?”  I made that suggestion several times, but for whatever reason she did not want me to know her address.)

Twice, I gave her detailed directions on how to find me, then she called or texted to ask me how to get there (I was at an intersection of two well-known streets).  It became apparent that this poor gal had absolutely no sense of how to organize her thought process or any of her electronic communication tools.  I wanted to scream every time I saw her phone number pop up. 

When we finally connected and I placed the CD-ROM in her hand, I internally breathed a sigh of relief… perhaps I would finally be able to disengage from this short, intense, mundane relationship.  But that was not to be.  Within 20 minutes of leaving me, a text message appeared: ‘I am so cold right now…’ I didn’t answer back, as I wondered how long it would take her to realize she had not texted her husband.

© Elena E. Smith, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

That’s My Job, Too

Have you ever been in an altercation?  If so, were you aware of it?

This is a customer service problem that happened to me over a year ago in a popular local coffee shop.  Well, what’s even more popular than the location or the brand is the “popularity” the employees feel for each other, which takes precedence over any pretense of working.  And it appears that was learned by example from management.

I walked into the store one day to order a treat, and the manager called me aside.  He told me that I had been in an altercation, and he wanted to know what had happened.  It was a surprise to me.  I thought “altercation" meant a fistfight, and I was sure I hadn't been in one of those.  I had no damage; I’d done no damage.  (When I got home and looked in the dictionary, I learned that an "altercation” is just a disagreement.  Whew!)  I asked him to clarify what he was talking about, and he said that he couldn't because it was confidential.  And yet he pressed me for more details about this dramatic incident I had no recollection of. 

All I could think was that when my friend Ken and I had coffee there recently, we had moved someone’s book so we could sit down; it turned out the person was "saving a place” and was very blunt in telling us so.  I called Ken on my cell phone to ask him if he was aware that we had been involved in an altercation, but he was not.  The manager then told me that this was not the incident he was referring to.

I wracked my brain, but honestly, I couldn’t recall anything, and that if he couldn’t “give me a hint,” then I wouldn’t be able to help him.  He gave me a hint: it had to do with “multi-tasking.”  Oh, THAT altercation!

I had gone into the store a week earlier and ended up in line behind some young big-mouth gal who had the hots for one of the male store employees (off duty at the moment), and had evidently been dumped by him and was seeking information/ consolation from his roommate, who worked at the store, and every other store employee she could get to listen to her.  She bogarted the counter space and the female Barista was so enthralled that she neglected my drink.  Keep in mind, Big Mouth was not a paying customer. 

This goes back to what I said in my first draft of the book, “No Problem,” advice to business owners who don't want to make a profit:


When there is a customer in front of your store clerk, and the phone rings, make that phone call the priority.  Remember, the live customer is a PAYING CUSTOMER.  The caller is a POTENTIAL CUSTOMER.  This is a customer-service no-brainer.  The paying customer has already decided to buy, so let him wait while you answer every question the price-shopper wants to know.  This will attract more “potential customers” to your store.


I finally commented to the Barista that most people cannot multi-task, even though they think they can.  Although she stopped the gabfest and made my drink, she was so offended that she went to the manager and complained about me.  Hence, the interrogation.  (I guess he was deciding if he should banish me from the store).  The manager was quite surprised when I laid out the scenario for him and identified the employees involved.

And what do you think he did then? He asked me if I would continue to report inappropriate employee conduct to him on a regular basis, to help him with his job.  I sadly note that he did not offer to pay me for this.

(c) 2011, Elena E. Smith, all rights reserved

Art of Complaining

Is there an art to complaining?  I have read a few articles that would suggest that there is.  But, face it, who likes to be on the receiving end of a complaint?  And who enjoys the constant whine of the chronic complainer?  (You can all put your hands down, now).

In a previous BLOG, entitled “Thanks, Frank,” I complained about the service I received from a local business.  I would now like to report on the results of that incident.  As it turned out, the complainees (those whom I complained about) called it to the attention of the store owner, and when I returned to pick-up my order, he was there to greet me.  He told me that he completely understood my position, that I would never have to worry about a problem like that again in his store, and that if I ever received less-than-top-notch service, I was to call him on his direct number.  Whoa, did I get that right?  Let me turn up my hearing aid!  I think I hear music… music to my ears, that is.

I am still getting a little residual high over the sense of vindication I received from this business owner (and yes, generationally we are in the same age group).

But, does it really pay to complain?  For me, it is a bit of a mission, or a cause.  I have concluded that most businesses these days no longer have a trainer on staff, or even a lower-level supervisor (at some companies, everyone gets the title of supervisor, no matter what their job duties are!  It’s probably in lieu of adequate pay).  So, in a sense, when I must correct someone for inappropriate behavior, I am filling the role of unpaid corporate trainer.  I have to say, there is a part of me that considers this a worthy role.  Because, IMHO, if I don’t tell them, who will?  I make my living in commission sales, and as unpleasant as it is to hear gripes from unhappy customers, if they don’t tell me they weren’t satisfied, they will probably tell ten of their friends, and that will hurt my income far more than their compliant(s) will hurt my feelings. 

I do not like criticism --- nobody does --- but I also know that when someone feels comfortable enough to tell me they have a complaint or objection, they are giving me an opportunity to fix the problem, and if I succeed with that opportunity, then more opportunities will come my way.

(c) 2011, Elena E. Smith, all rights reserved

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thanks, Frank

… or maybe I should say Sid Vicious, or Paul Anka, the writer of the famous song, “My Way.”  Now we have a whole generation (or more) of people who think that THEIR WAY is the BEST WAY, and should be OUR WAY, too.

I went into a local store last Friday to re-order my business cards but the four people working in the store didn’t know how to access their computer database that had my already-designed card in it and vehemently told me to return on Tuesday. 

So I went to another local store on Monday, thinking perhaps they would like my paltry piece of business for $30 because, you know, one day I may actually make some money and end up spending more than that.  This second store is one I have been using recently, and I thought I would be pretty satisfied with their level of customer service. 


So, I presented my already designed business card and told them I needed one that looked just like it, with some small changes to the company name/ logo, and they said I could have a proof in approx. 24 hours (Tuesday afternoon).  Tuesday afternoon, I went back to the store (since I’d not received my proof by e-mail), and it wasn’t done yet.  So Wednesday morning (today) I went back in 11-ish, as instructed, and the card was done --- but all the type sizes had been changed.  Why?  Well, the artiste told me that his way was much better than mine.  I should have asked him if HE was planning to pay for my order.  I had to explain to him twice, rather harshly, that those of us who are “over 29” can’t read “mice type,” and that many of the people I do business with are in their 60s - 80s.

Why is it that so many people today think that they know what I SHOULD want when in fact I have already told them what I DO want?  I've now lost 24 hours on something I need and the typesetter wasted his company’s time producing something I didn't ask for and can’t use. 

And of course, no one stops to think of how awful I feel when I have to be so firm (which can translate into “bitchy,” depending on who’s within hearing range).

©  Elena E. Smith, 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mind Reader

So, in my ongoing rant about the sorry state of customer service these days…

In addition to the lack of listening skills, there appears to be an alarming rate of early hearing loss among customer service workers today.  Evidently, their constant use of ear buds, cell phones, and close proximity to noisy machinery in the workplace --- where modern d├ęcor doesn’t include carpeting and drapes to muffle the noise --- is really taking a toll.

I was in my favorite upscale coffee house a few weeks ago, where the counter clerk was not following the procedure of writing my order on my cup when I gave it to him.  This seems to be happening more often as people challenge themselves to memorize potential  orders and experiment with mutli-tasking.

I gave him my order – a grande skinny hot chocolate with no whip.  I gave it to him again, and he appeared to be writing it down the second time.  Then, in a rather aggressive manner (because many clerks speak to me as if I am there to serve THEM and not the other way around) he looked at me and said – ‘Do you want whipped cream on that?’  My exasperated look (since I’d already given the order twice, including the no-whip part) was misinterpreted by the young man, who glared back at me and said, “I’m not a mind-reader, you know.”

©  Elena E. Smith, 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

“The Bar” Has Been Lowered

I was in my favorite local market a few weeks ago, and I have to say that with all of my Customer Service complaints, this one is rarely an offender.  But on this particular day, I got into a line with a fairly young female checker who was definitely not focused on her job.

I had only 4 items --- a Cliff bar, a jug of milk, an onion, and a box of muffins, and as she started to ring them up, I said, “I’ll take the candy bar.”

Since it is customary in many stores for clerks to hand over a small item that looks like something I am about to eat, I did not think there was anything confusing about my request.

But I could tell by the way she was not looking at me that she was also not hearing me, so I repeated it.  After the second time, just to check, I said,” Did you hear me?”

“Oh, yes,” she answered, but she then bagged all 4 items without handing me the Clfif bar.

I couldn’t let it go.  “I thought you said you heard me, when I told you I would take the candy bar.”

Busted, she looked at me indignantly and said that she didn’t know what I meant.  (Then why didn’t she ask me to clarify it?)  As she handed me the Cliff bar, she felt it necessary to scold me by telling me that a “Cliff bar” is not a “candy bar.”

All I can say is --- so which of the other items did she think looked more like a candy bar – the carton of milk, the box of muffins, or the onion?  Be serious!

Or, as my friend George explained, “Many of these young people are busy sending a text in their head.”  Touche, George!

©  Elena E. Smith, 2011