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Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Customer Service Spectrum

Yes, there's something wrong with these people.
Lately I’ve found myself pulled between the gravity of two equally undesirable planets. One is the Earth of Unservice, or F.U. Earth, whose capital is Shitsville. The other, which occurred in Newtonian counter-reaction to F.U. Earth, is UberEarth, the world of over-the-top customer service. This overwrought analogy brought to you by Blogorrhea! The thought process that arduously replaces actual wit with something like overdoing it immaturely.

For some years now, F.U. Earth has been accreting greater mass, as many menial jobs have been taken on by young folks who know just enough to realize that crappy jobs are not only barely worth clocking in for, they may be so crappy that the only way to do them is by personifying crappiness. More likely, the kids just don’t care. So you’ll encounter cashiers who joke with a co-worker for a while before they realize you’ve been standing there for 30 seconds… and if they keep flirting, you might just go to another register and not bother them.

But lo, and behold, it’s not only young people manning the stations of F.U. Earth. There are also some older folks. Maybe they have been paired with a computing device they don’t really understand, or maybe they can’t hear your moans of frustration when the self checkout thinks your can of hossenfeffer weighs too much, or maybe they just care as little about your shopping experience as the flirting teens do.  

I’ve developed a handy, 3-tiered Goldilocks-inspired ratings system for navigating today’s unpredictable customer service matrix. (Because it's a pleasure to write for you.)


I live quite close to a Sonic, so for much of the past two summers (both have been Summers of Shakes, btw), I’ve been a customer. As a bonus, I no longer live near the Grant Beach Sonic, rumored to have had a meth-cookery found somewhere on the roof. Now I live by the Sunshine & Lone Pine Sonic, which remains meth-free. But, my wife and I both agreed that the drive-through voice saying “It’s been an honor to serve you!” is a bit much. That just makes me feel as if the youngster at the mic has been force-fed an unnatural canned phrase. To make things worse, they really sound like they mean it. That just makes me sad. I’m not saying that drive-through communications is a field that lacks honor. I’m just saying that handing me a shake or a big-ass limeade is nothing to get excited about.

There’s a lady running that joint who’s just too much. She’s been too much for a long time now. It seems like she is unavoidable, almost always there. I really should know her name by now...Wanda or something. She is fundamentally helpful, but I get the idea that she would forego all of her pee breaks if it meant that she could catch someone copying copyrighted material. I feel that, if challenged, she would be ready with her résumé, which would show how she trained extensively at a Kinko's boot camp in Kansas, after being genetically enhanced with DNA from school librarians and Southern Baptist women. She makes me nervous.

Too many people asking if they can help me, even when I'm briskly en route to my item. About a year ago, after three different employees asked me that in one visit, I told the third, "Yeah, don't ask me that." Of course, when you do need help finding something, no way will any employees be handy. On the other unhandy hand, I think it was a Home Depot employee (one of the Home Depot “peopo,” as I like to call them) who tried to make me feel like a chump for buying a $15 light bulb. Suck it, bastard, I love LEDs, and now I’m gonna kick back and let the energy savings trickle in while soaking up the warm glow of my mercury free 2700 kelvin warm white 9.9 watt 25,000 hour light bulb of the gods. It seems like the excessive employee helpfulness dropped off a bit after their credit card biz got hacked last year. Maybe the hackers were sick of it, too.

Most of the time, Lowe’s is just right, but the one in Republic has an irksome old woman who runs the self-checkout array. By “runs” I mean “doesn’t run.” She stands there staring, offering nothing, when for three visits in a row the checkout screen locks up on me for no reason. Poke the screen all you want, she won’t have anything helpful for you. “Unexpected item in bagging area,” the screen would claim, while showing that exact item on the screen. That scale is out of whack, or programmed wrong. The old woman is either oblivious, or taking perverse pleasure in my techno-fail, so I just abandon ship and take my stuff to a human cashier.

The checkout line at Barnes & Noble gets wound off to the side with an implied “velvet rope” scheme, where you stand in a maze of gifty crap and magazines. It’s arranged more like a permeable buffer zone than a line--more like “Plinko” than Glenstone Ave. Some customers approach the serpentine mess from different directions, so the bottleneck can be confusing. I was rebuffed by a middle-aged cashier who, after beckoning to a couple who had arrived 1-2 minutes AFTER me (but they NOBLy gestured that I should be first) she seemed to resent me a little. I said something like, “Sorry, I thought the line used to turn by the magazines.” Instead of just letting me be right, she said, “No, it’s always been this way.” Thanks for not only making me feel stupid, but then bugging me for the umpteenth time to join the fucking Book Club. No thanks. I should have said, in a fake British accent, “You must be Barnes, because you certainly are not noble.”

Notoriously ungracious, hasty waitresses from a cabal of attractive college-age gals, but they sling some of the best food downtown, so what can you do?

McDonald’s is normally fine, but they failed me at a critical juncture. Last year I was heading, after work, to MSU to see George Saunders read. I was super hungry, but only had time for a drive-through. McDonald’s didn’t even appear busy, but my McChicken and 3 cookies apparently created some kind of logjam in the system. I sat at the window for a few minutes. A really cute girl handed me cookies, but no sandwich. Another long delay, her back to me as she leaned on the window as a chat platform. “Sorry, I have to leave,” I said, abandoning a paid-for McChicken to the ages.

I don’t go to Braum’s very often, but the last time I was there, the counter girl was helpful and understanding about my chronic bewilderment over the too-numerous ice cream/shake flavors. I have the same problem at Subway—too many choices, and when I see something that looks good, I still don’t know what it’s called, and then I start to feel like I’m holding up progress. In fact, a more apt name for Subway, in my mind, would be Agoraphobic Sandwich. I guess verbally steering another person through the steps of sandwich making is not my idea of a good time. Braum’s has ice cream tubs arrayed similarly to Subway’s many toppings tubs, but the pressure is off because I don’t even have to get ice cream. I did want a shake, though. I just defaulted to Strawberry after the girl subtly steered me away from some kind of low-cal sludge. Braum’s is no place to take a diet. Then I had to decide on a size. A boy behind the counter fired me up about the medium size: “Get the medium. It’s the best value,” he proclaimed with mathematical certainty. “Give it to me,” I agreed, riding his wave of decisiveness.

I can’t recall any good anecdotes, but my alignment with this level of service apparently makes me some sort of geezer, considering that the average age of Braum’s and Village Inn customers is around 70. Probably no coincidence that they specialize in epic, delicious pies.

Dillons was never really my favorite place, but it was a Springfield staple that I took for granted. Just when I started warming up to the one near my new residence, the whole chain went under. I wasn’t crazy about their Shopper’s Card doodad, or the relentlessly stupid pricing schemes, such as 10 for $10, or 5 for $4, etc. I was always wondering if I really had to buy 10 yogurts to get them for $1 each. I usually don’t want 10 of anything. If I can buy fewer for a buck each, why test my resolve? Are they just drilling us with remedial math? Feeble math challenges are a bonus for those with a Shopper’s Card?

The only customer service memory I have of Dillons, I offer now in memoriam. It’s neither too hot, nor too cold. It’s probably not even “just right,” but more like “haplessly entertaining.” A few months back, a strikingly rotund cashier opened his register just as I arrived at the checkouts with my three items. “Jackpot” was my first assessment—but I was wrong. He tried for about a minute to key in some kind of code, so he could access the register and do his job. By the third attempt, his joviality was fading. His eyes rolled. He muttered, “Good god!” He called to a Jessica. Someone who was not Jessica came over and gave him a different code. He tried that one twice, failing twice. Not-Jessica was gone, so he called her back again. I think she finally keyed it in herself, with some kind of secret final keystroke, so he could work, maybe under her identity so she would get all his hours or something. Whatever the hell the problem was, he kept his cool throughout the five-minute crisis, which is longer than I could have held back from throwing the register through a candy bar display. I hope his patience was rewarded in the Dillons afterlife, which came to pass about a month ago.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

When Cat Fancying Goes Wrong

2014’s Only Pedigreed Cat Names Rejected by the Cat Fanciers Association

1. Whoremaster’s Kitten Dispenser
2. Mayflower’s Li’l Tortie Brothel Mop
3. Dennis’s Warm Milk on Tender Buttons
4. Black Market Smack Satchel of Pajamalove
5. Ball or Pee-pee Meat, Purrbaby?
6. Brutality’s Seal Point Dung Stain
7. Moist, Tender, Shaved Pussy
8. Harlequin Romance Kitty Kitty Bang Bang
9. Madison’s Dingleberry Brouhaha of Jasmine Larue
10. Mork & Mindy’s Torn Uterine Wall
11. Pandabear’s “Tail Amputations Bring Manx Prices”
12. “Cat”hy