Friday, September 23, 2005

Some notes from the world of customer service

Here at 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, I've long had a retailing pet-peeve. Imagine, if you will: Walking up to the counter of a coffee shop, or restaurant, or the customer service desk at a department store. Or a tire shop. You're the only one in line. The person behind the counter, engrossed in the find-a-word puzzle, looks up, comes to attention, and then says, to anyone who's interested:

"May I help someone?"

As though the use of the term "you" would be too personal, too intimate for a setting as clinical as Kohl's.

(A corollary to this pet peeve involves a similar setting, only the person behind the counter asks: "May I help the next in line?" I always look around, behind me, under tables and such before pretending to only then realize I'm the next in line.)

So the policy at one of the local Starbucks establishments (where, believe it or not, I occasionally buy iced tea) of referring to customers by their name seemed, on its surface, to be a good thing. Yet on one of those recent iced tea runs, the downside of the policy was exposed - as soon as my iced tea order (and thus, my name) was taken, it was apparently open season on the use of the word "Mitch" - starting with "Here's your change, Mitch", and running straight through, "Whoops - don't drop that straw, Mitch."

I had gone from just being the next in line to becoming a character in an uninteresing iced tea-buying narrative.

My other major pet peeve recently has been related to Volkswagen, and the company's inability to make a car window that remains in the up position. This doesn't seem like an especially difficult task. Ford manages it. Hyundai pulls it off. Even Yugo managed to accomplish it. And VW used to manage - my '87 Golf, in fact, has one window that's up so well, it won't even go down.

But my wife and I watched as three of the windows on our 2000 Jetta mysteriously went crashing down into the door, never to reappear. And a few years ago, as we drove 150 miles to our nearest VW dealer to get the third one repaired, we thought it was time to trade up to a 2003 Jetta, supposedly made with new, non-crashing window technology. And yet, I arrived home from a non-iced tea-related errand last week and of course the front passenger window went crashing into the door, never to reappear.

So a roll of duct tape and a 150-mile drive to Phoenix later, not only did the dealer honor VW's non-publicized warranty extension on its windows, but it replaced the faulty part in the driver's side window, even though it wasn't yet broken. And as far as I know, they weren't even aware of my name.

I'll tell you, it was such a shock that it almost made me want to lie down and drink a nice, cold iced tea.


Anonymous said...

Serves you right for giving your name at Starbucks. If you aren't clever enough to amuse yourself with an alternative name such as Arquimedez (as in Pozo of the 1997 Boston Red Sox) or something equally amusing (aka Shnooky lumps) then you deserve to be called by your name.

Anonymous said...

And I believe the right side window on the Golf was actually repaired by modifying a left side window crank and "fixed" by one nameless father-in-law on a dark street in DC!Therefore it may have reason to not go down anymore.

Mitch Teich said...

The 19 Minutes staff would have to add that the closed passenger side window on the '87 is the second-most foolproof theft deterrent feature on the car. The #1 theft deterrent, of course, is the rear passenger-side door handle, which doesn't work from the outside.