Bad service disguised as good service

18.02.2009 | Author: Eric Reiss
They have a saying in Texas, “Don’t pee on my boots and tell me it’s raining.” But that’s how a lot of service offerings appear these days.

Several years ago, I took this picture at the Portland, Oregon Hilton:

Portland 

Hmm. If they were really interested in my convenience they wouldn’t have removed half of the ice machines. Long ago, I came to the realization that anytime someone told me something was “for my convenience” it probably wouldn’t be.

In December, my family and I went to brunch at the Rusty Pelican restaurant on Key Biscayne. Because the parking lot is too small, the restaurant only provides valet parking during peak periods. There is no second option.

We arrived at the restaurant on time, early in fact. But it took another 15 minutes to creep to the entrance and actually get rid of the car. Inside, the hostess curtly informed us that even though we were late for our reservation, she’d “try and squeeze us in.” An inauspicious start to a lovely meal.

Sir Colin Marshall (now Lord Marshall), then CEO of British Airways (later Chairman), once told me that keeping airline customers happy means a lot more than giving them free food and drinks; if the front-line personnel screws up, the overall impression will remain bad despite your best on-board efforts.

Happily, the Rusty Pelican has a GREAT brunch. So everything was fine…or was it?

Here’s the line of people waiting to pick up cars after their meal:

pelican 

Is this good customer service? A 15-minute wait to drop off the car? 30 minutes to get it back again? Hey, don’t pee on my boots…

I always thought valet parking came under the heading of a “luxury service” – after all, I’m expected to be grateful and tip these car jockeys. But is it really a service? No, it’s an unsolved problem hiding behind a misleading label.

Websites pull the same stunt. Check out the so-called welcome screen at Wine.com:

winedot 

Unless you type in the abbreviation for a U.S. state, they won’t let you in. Try FL for Florida – the site with further insist on your zip code. Quite apart from the questionable legality of requesting personal information before it is actually needed to complete a transaction, Wine.com excuses this bizarre on-line experience with the following:

“Because wine availability and pricing may vary from state to state due to the way interstate commerce laws influence our buying patterns, Wine.com created this layover welcome screen to prevent confusion.”

“Welcome screen?” Hey folks, you stopped me at the door before I even had a chance to see what your site was about. No welcome in sight.

And on a SAS flight last week from Frankfurt to Copenhagen, there was no more food for those of us sitting in Economy Crap. Although the in-flight menu said we could buy a sandwich, the stewardess explained that the sandwiches taste so good that they often sell out on the first leg of the flight.

Let me see if I’ve understood this: because the food is good, there isn’t enough of it? Are people booking flights on SAS just to sample the cuisine? Or is SAS simply incapable of anticipating the needs of a plane full of hungry passengers on a noontime flight?

OK. This is slightly unfair. The stewardess was actually very nice and would have really liked to help if she could. But it didn’t stop my tummy from growling at 35,000 feet.

The SAS story is vaguely related to an interesting phenomenon known as being TOO helpful. Computer applications are prone to this: “Do you REALLY want to close this window?” The infamous “Clippy” from early Windows products was a prime example of this. And we’ve all fought with the irritating desktop cleanup service in XP:

bubble 

BTW, if you want to get rid of this, follow the following path:
Control panel > Display options > Desktop > Customize desktop > General
Now unclick the Desktop Cleanup box. Simple, huh? (It took me almost a year to figure this one out).

In a world where products are becoming more and more alike, service is often the only differentiating factor. So don’t let someone con you into thinking that you are receiving good service when the opposite is actually the case – well-intentioned or not. If we don’t demand better service, we will never receive it.

Don’t pee on my boots…

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  21. I really enjoyed this post. Of late I've been amazed at how we seem to be living in the world of 1984, and because something is presented in a certain way, everyone should accept it at face value. "For your convenience"? Hardly.I recently had an interesting encounter. Stopped by a drug store, picked up a few items, and was dismayed to see one register open (the store has 8, but I've never seen them all running), and about 10 people in line. I get it, things are tough, fewer staff on duty. Then I spy the automatic check out. Fantastic. Checked out my items, then basically hit a roadblock. My cold medicine was a "restricted item." I couldn't complete my transaction. This caused a scene; the machine locked up requiring an override, I wound up interrupting the other line to complete my purchase, and received lots of dirty looks. I guess some sort of warning would have helped, I don't know. But a truly inconvenient convenience.

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