Saturday, September 12, 2009

“Thank you. Have a nice day!”

When I was in high school I worked in a hobby shop. It was my first experience working in a store, dealing with people, offering customer service. My boss, Marge, taught me from the very beginning, “The customer is always right.”

Even when they buy a model airplane, break it on the way out the door and then want to exchange it for a new one?

“Yes,” Marge would say. “Even then.”

And so I learned to smile even when the customer was mean or grouchy.

A couple of years later a popular burger chain opened in my town. I was hired as part of their very first crew. Before opening day, there were several evenings where we all went in for group training. Not only did we learn never to put hot fries in the same bag as a milkshake (yes, if you can imagine it, they really used to put the drinks in a bag), but we also spent entire evenings going over different customer-relations scenarios and learning those all important words: “The customer is always right.”

Even when they ordered extra pickles on their burger and then insisted they really wanted a chicken sandwich?

"Yes, even then," Bob or Wally would say. "You smile and thank them, no matter what."

I don’t know about where you live, but here in my hometown that notion is no longer in existence. Where did it go? Is it really so difficult to smile and act friendly even if you don’t feel like it? Or are they simply too busy to take just a few seconds for courtesy?

Apparently so. The fast-food restaurant I worked at all those years ago is still here, along with several others that have sprouted up over time. In spite of the varying menus, they all have one thing in common: The fancy headset that lets them take your money while taking someone else’s order.

The other day I went to a drive-thru for an iced tea. When I arrived at the window, the girl was talking into her headset. She reached out for my money then handed me my change and my tea, all without ever saying a word. I thanked her, but she just turned away and kept talking into her headset.

The next day, my husband and I went to the fast-food place where I’d worked all those years ago. Our experience was almost identical to the one I’d had the day before. The exception came when the girl looked at us and said something. My husband answered her, but she just looked at him like he was crazy and continued talking…into her headset.

It's painfully clear the customer is no longer right because the customer isn’t even worthy of a simple, “Thank you. Have a nice day.”

Or so I thought.

The next evening we decided to forgo fast-food and went to our favorite Mexican restaurant. (Yes, I know we eat out too much. That’s a problem to be solved another day.) While we were eating, we heard the waiters and waitresses singing “Happy Birthday” to someone nearby. No big surprise. People have birthday celebrations in restaurants all the time. But this time when we turned around to see who was having a birthday, we were surprised to see them singing to the owner. Looking a little shy, but pleased, he blew out his candles before he and his staff disappeared with the cake. A few minutes later he came back and set the table across from me with a stack of plates, forks, and napkins. Then, with a huge grin on his face, he put the cake on the table. He turned to me and asked if I’d like a piece of cake. Then he proceeded to serve everyone in the room.

Clearly, customer service is alive and well. Just not in the fast-food restaurants where I live. Now I’m not saying they have to give cake to all of their customers, but is it really so hard to thank them for their business?

My radio station likes to encourage people to make a difference in the lives of others. They call it the drive-thru difference. The idea is to make another person's day a little brighter when you're in a drive-thru line by paying for the order of the car behind you. Then when they get to the window, they receive a flyer that you've given the order-taker, letting them know their order has been paid for and why. I haven't tried it yet because I don't think the person taking my money would know what to do. I don't think they'd give the flyer to the person behind me. And given their preoccupation with their headsets, I think I'd have a hard time even trying to pay for the person behind me.

I realize the purpose of the headsets is to push as many cars through as possible. Keep ‘em moving, don’t hold up the line.

But really, where are we more likely to spend our money? At the drive-thru where the girl reaches out the window to slap a bag of fries into our hands all the while never acknowledging our presence? Or the cozy restaurant where the owner is always happy to see us and is so thankful for his customers that he generously shares a slice of his yummy birthday cake?


  1. Your post really made me smile, Suzie. We moved to a small town a little over a year ago. Everyone kept telling us to visit the fast-food chicken place at the top of the hill. I'm a bit of a health nut, so it took us a while to get there - but eventually the males in my house prevailed.

    Imagine my surprise, when I pulled up to the ordering board and there was no speaker. Instead a PERSON walked out to my car and asked what I'd like to order. I thought the radio set must be broken, but I soon learned that NO . . . this is how they do business. Funny, right? I've learned to love our chicken place, if not for their nutrition for their yummy calories and service. I think KINDNESS will always prevail. : )

  2. You are so right. I hate going to any fast food places in our town, well actually our town is so small all we have is Burger King and McDonalds. But it's the same thank you..most of the time no napkins..and I always have to ask for sauce for my chicken nuggets..I remember they used to offer. There are only two fast food places I will eat at. In N Out Burger..they have fantastic customer service..and Chic Fil A..even better customer service..and they are closed on Sundays which I think is amazing. Of course I would much rather go to a sit down resturaunt with the great owner who is happy for the business. Not too many of those around here though. By the way..I need to come visit because I love eating out so you and Uncle Keith can just keep it up until I come :)

  3. Tiff, I love Chic Fil A. Kirk took me there when I visited him. You're so right. Their customer service was outstanding and the food was delicious. And yes, that was the first time in years that I've come across a place that is closed on Sundays. Don't worry, when you come visit, we'll go out to eat.

  4. Rylee, your chicken place sounds like they've stepped back in time. It sounds like a place I want to visit. Southern hospitality?

  5. Thanks for you comments on my blog..if I have any writing talent it came from you I am sure!

  6. You are so right. I love Chik Fil A and Sonic (found in Colorado too) for this reason. They are in the moment with their customers.


  7. Oh, Tina...Sonic! Home of the cherry-limeade. Yum. I'm drooling just thinking about it. My sister took me there when I visited her in Virginia, and then my son took me when I visited him in Indanapolis (the same trip where I discovered Chik Fil A). Sigh...I wish they had both of those places here...